When I was around 8 years old, I received a children’s Bible as a gift from a family friend. It had paintings depicting some of the most popular stories in the Bible and a short child-friendly version of the same story on the opposite page. It was my favorite book. I often looked at the pictures and read the stories that seemed interesting to me. I was especially interested in any of the stories related to Jesus, and I remember looking at the crucifixion story before bed one night. The image and details of the story made me feel sad and confused. I didn’t understand how people could be so cruel and hurt another person in that way. By the time my dad came to tuck me in, I was in tears. I asked him why the people did this to Jesus? And why did Jesus have to die? And whether I was going to die someday? And what happened after we died?! I was panicking, crying, and I had an endless stream of hard questions for my poor dad, who probably didn’t see this coming.
I thought my dad knew everything and I always turned to him for answers. But for the first time in my life, I remember him looking troubled, pausing, and then simply saying, “I don’t know.” My dad truly had no idea how to answer my questions, so he gently removed the obvious culprit: my Bible. He said he thought it might be best to put it away for a while, and he took it with him after calming me down and tucking me in. I was sad that he took it away. I felt like I had done something wrong by asking these questions, and I didn’t ask them again.
I don’t think it was my father’s intention to completely shut down my questions. He just didn’t know what to say. That’s not his fault and he didn’t do anything wrong. No one has the answers to the questions I was asking! But that experience is something that I look back on when I am searching for a beginning to my issues with food and, later on, alcohol. As a result of the loss of my Bible, I had nowhere to look for answers or comfort. And I think that after this experience, I was sort of…lost.
I was also around 8 years old when started using food for comfort. I put on weight quickly. By the end of the 5th grade, I was nearly twice the weight I should have been for my height and age. I hated how I looked, but I kept eating to feel better. I couldn’t stop. Eating gave me a temporary sense of peace. I didn’t know any other way to get that.
My tween and teen years were extremely turbulent. I often feel guilty for what I put my parents through during those years. I wish I could have been a perfect daughter who did well in school, participated in sports, and had normal, healthy friendships. But I was severely depressed during those years and it led me down some dark paths. I had no idea how to feel better, so I turned to alcohol and drugs. My parents did their best to help me. They took me to weekly appointments with a therapist, found me a psychiatrist who prescribed me an antidepressant medication, and went out of their way to spend extra time with me. I believe that without all of the effort they put into helping me, I might not have survived those years.
Another thing my parents did during this period was join a church. I think that was as much for them as it was for me, but I am so glad they did this. Although I continued to have problems for years after that, I believe that attending those church services developed something in me that would make a huge difference in my life later on.
I continued with the drinking and drugs until I was 17. Then, I had an experience that changed me. I overdosed and the people I was with thought I was dead. I woke up in the back of a friend’s car on the way to the hospital. I won’t go into detail about what that near death experience was like as it’s something I could easily write a whole blog post about. I’ll save that for another time. I stopped using drugs after that happened, but I didn’t give up alcohol. I thought for many years that it was different and safer than drugs, and I needed something. It seemed to give me what I was searching for, so I kept drinking. I still never allowed myself to consider if there was another way to get what I needed.
Over the past 20 years, I have struggled with drinking, but it’s never been obvious to anyone but me. In my college years and even into my 20s, I honestly don’t think I was drinking much more than any of my peers. I generally got drunk a couple nights per week, sometimes more if I was stressed or celebrating. It didn’t seem to interfere as I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree during that time all while working multiple jobs. I had 3 part-time jobs at one point while I was earning my master’s degree! Sure, I had hangovers sometimes and my mood could be volatile, but otherwise things seemed fine.
I didn’t consider my drinking a problem until around the time I turned 30. I was in graduate school pursuing a degree I didn’t care about. I had gotten full funding to pursue a PhD in English. I didn’t want to do it, but I had applied on the insistence of my professors. I didn’t think I’d get in, and when I did, I thought I had to do it because and everyone would be disappointed if I didn’t. (I am a chronic people-pleaser, often to my own detriment. Another long story for another blog post!)
So there I was, living in a new city, far away from my friends and family. I was lonely, stressed, and confused. I wanted to quit the program and move home. I wanted to start having kids with my husband, buy a house, and build our life together. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but I felt like I couldn’t. I felt like I had to get just one more degree, one more accomplishment to feel like I mattered.
I started to drink more soon after moving and beginning the program. I would stop at the store on my way home from campus and pick up a couple of bottles of wine on the way. I’d drink them both, wake up hungover, head to campus, and then do it all over again.
This pattern continued for about 1 year and 4 months. I finally hit a wall mentally, emotionally, and physically, and I was done. I was desperate to stop this cycle. And nothing was going to stop me except for me. I knew this because despite this drinking pattern, I had earned all A’s in my full-time PhD program while also teaching college writing courses. I was what you might call, high-functioning, although I was clearly hungover in class every day. No one seemed to notice and no one said a word….
I quit drinking for 3 years at this point, and those 3 years were amazing. I accomplished more and felt better than I had in years. However, I still kept forcing myself to do things I didn’t want to do, like that degree program and living in the new city that I hated. I finally broke free and moved back home. (Yet another story for another time.)
Unfortunately, I started drinking again because I convinced myself that I was missing out on something by not drinking. I was wrong. Over the past 5 years, I’ve stopped and started multiple times thinking as long as I take a break now and then, it’s fine. But in the past year, I’ve started to see that I am so much happier when I don’t drink at all. I still have negative emotions, but I’ve found a better way to cope with them.
When I had my last drink on June 28, 2020, I was desperate for a happier existence. I was honestly probably drinking less than I was when I first decided to quit drinking at the age of 30. I probably averaged about 5 drinks per night aka a bottle of wine. But my marriage was falling apart, I had given up on all of my hobbies, and I was irritable and anxious most of the time. Worst of all, I felt like I was failing my son. I wanted to set a good example for him in life, and I was already off to a terrible start. I was beginning to feel like there was no point to anything I did. I had no spiritual life at the time, but I felt like I had nowhere else to go for help, so I asked God to help me. And thankfully, God showed me how I could change.
On the first day that I didn’t drink, I went out onto my porch in the morning with a cup of coffee. While I sat there, I listened to some calm music, read a Bible verse using an app on my phone, wrote a few lines about it, and then prayed. I felt amazing, and best of all, I didn’t want to drink. I wanted to get up and spend time with God again the following morning more than drinking. I repeated this ritual every morning throughout the summer. And when the weather got too cold to sit outside, I moved my daily spiritual practice inside to my favorite chair in our living room. These morning sessions give me what I always thought drinking gave me…peace, comfort, and a sense that I matter. I feel connected to God, aligned with this incredible source of love and power. It’s something I have become dependent on in place of alcohol, yet it does me no harm.
My daily spiritual practice was also a return of sorts to that childhood ritual that I had of reading my children’s Bible before bed every night. I didn’t know it then, but I was seeking answers the same way that I am now. The only difference is that now I have a process. I know that if something doesn’t make sense, it’s okay. I can keep exploring the question. It’s okay to keep searching.
Growing up, I was told that religion–going to church, singing hymns, and praying as a group–was the only way to connect with God. I thought I couldn’t access God on my own. My family went to church, and I had fleeting moments of connection with God then. In the presence of others, I felt self-conscious about surrendering myself to spirituality, so it was rare that I did. But in adulthood, I have found that God is available to me any time, anywhere. I can speak with Him day or night in the privacy of my home. I can ask for His wisdom and comfort whenever I need it. I can read the Bible for deeper understanding.
Spirituality is about seeking answers to difficult questions and searching for meaning in life. It doesn’t have to be attached to a religion. Spirituality can happen through a religious context, such as by reading the Bible, or in another way. I didn’t know it at the time, but as a child looking at that Bible, I was seeking answers to some of life’s big questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we have to die? Is there an afterlife? I had questions that no one has answers to. That is what spirituality is about. Asking and searching.
I am spiritual, not religious, and this is what works for me. My daily routine is only one example of what spirituality can look like. Reading the bible, writing, and praying is my form of spirituality. For others, spirituality might take the form of spending time in nature, reading poetry, meditating, playing an instrument, painting, writing fiction, doing yoga, or something else that allows them to ask questions, explore possible answers, and connect with a higher power. There is more than one way to form a spiritual habit. The most important feature is that it is meaningful to you.
I didn’t see my children’s Bible again until very recently. I found it in a box in my parents’ garage and took it home. It’s sitting on one of my bookshelves now, and I plan to give it to my son when he is older. But before I do, I want him to know that it may cause him to ask some big questions. I want to tell him that it’s okay to feel anxious, frightened, or confused about the questions that arise. And if he asks me hard questions like I asked my father, I will say, “I don’t know, but maybe we can look for some answers together.”