I left us on a rather grim note, last time. Obviously, I am not dead. I am still here, still going, and you know what, life is pretty good these days. So the question is, how did I get from the deep pit of awful I was in to here? Not easily. And not alone.
I hit my lowest point my freshman year of college. The stress of being far from family, from home, of classes and managing cliques and friends, was just too much. Stress has always been my trigger. It’s my kryptonite. I sank so deep, I actually considered just … walking into traffic and seeing where that got me. I don’t think I would ever have actually done anything, I’m a bit of a coward at heart and I’m not a fan of pain, but there you have it. I couldn’t take anymore. So I made a deal with the Good Lord. I told Him that either He helped me out of my mess, or I was done.
He delivered. I gave the ultimatum on a Thursday. On Friday—Good Friday, because of course it was—I found out that the college was hosting a dozen or so priests to hear confessions all through the night. Okay, I can take a hint. So I grudgingly went and I got in line. And I waited. And waited. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to go to confession. Each time, the words just wouldn’t come. Telling my secret to someone else, especially to a priest in such a setting, would have required an actual effort to change my life. I was convinced I didn’t have the strength for it. Some mean, bitter part of me also clung to what I’d become, reveling in the filth like a pig in a nice, deep puddle. I believe we’ve all got something like that within us. Call it sin, call it the devil, whatever it is, it can be hard not to give in to it. That same ‘thing’ was also actively trying to discourage me from waiting in line, telling me over and over how I wasn’t worth saving, how I was weak, and unlovable, and how confession wouldn’t change anything, that it was too late.
Two people kept me in that line, their presence and voices stronger than any self-doubt or devil could ever have been. My brothers, both passed on as babies, have always been with me. When I was little, they were my companions. I played with them every day, either pushing them on swings or giving them roles in my stuffed-animal parties. At Mass, I held one or both of their hands during the Our Father. Never had I felt them more strongly with me than I did that night. For three hours, I waited and they kept me in place. It’s weird, I know. Please don’t mistake me. I’m not talking about ghosts. I’m not talking about seeing them there, or sensing spirits, or anything else. I can’t explain it. But their love for me gave me the courage and the strength I needed to get through those long hours.
Still, when I went in at last, I fully intended it to be like any other confession I’d made before. Shallow, avoiding the hard stuff, and then moving on with life as best I could. I set my butt down in that chair, opened my mouth, and the most extraordinary thing happened. Again, it’s very difficult for me to describe. I can only call it an extreme sense of—of physical warmth flooding through me. Then a rush of pureness, of a love so intense I can’t—begin to say what I felt in my body and in my soul. With that came the absolute certainty of something I had doubted for many, many years. I was loved. No judgements, not just a part me, no—all of me. All of me was loved with a burning passion, my faults, my sins, and my failures, all of it. It was a love worth dying for. It took maybe a half a second for it all to happen, a few seconds more for me to register it. You cannot imagine, reader, what it does to a wandering soul to find home.
Overwhelmed, I lost it. I cried like I had never cried in my life. Part hysterical joy, part wretchedness at the realization of how unworthy of this love I was, it exploded from the very depths of my being. I think I might have scared the priest a little, or at least startled him. He understood once I’d calmed and made my confession. And after? Oh reader! It was just the beginning! I left with renewed sobs of joy. People talk about feeling like they’re on a cloud. I was beyond that, straight to the low gravity of the moon and over it. Yeah, including lack of oxygen, because it was getting pretty hard to breathe through all that. I decided it was better to calm a little before freaking out my roommate so I went to a hill on campus and lay down in the grass. I stared up at the stars and soared on unimaginable waves of pure happiness. I—still freaked out my roommate, seeing as by 2:00am I was still riding the happy train but I was also really tired and wanted to go to bed.
The next day, I called my mother, as I had been doing nearly every day of that freshman year. She had been pushing me to go to confession for a while, and it is in big part thanks to her that I found the courage to go at all. I really didn’t plan on telling her my ‘secret’ at all, but I was in such joyful turmoil over the previous night that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I’ve found that that’s usually how my telling my story happens: it’s a spur of the moment, rarely ever planned. And you know what? She still loves me. My whole family knows, now, and a few special friends. And guess what? They still love me! To feel loved and supported and understood by fellow human beings is the most wonderful thing in the world.
So with the help of Heaven and Earth, I’ve made it. That Holy Week remains one of the most amazing times of my life. I went to Mass every day in thanksgiving, and good golly how I was rewarded! I couldn’t go into a church without weeping. I saw little miracles everywhere. The sight of the Eucharist was enough to undo me entirely. I could have danced for the joy of being alive and free. Easter Sunday was magnificent. I swear I celebrated in a way I’ll only be to again in Heaven. I felt a whole host of saints and angels present with me, my brothers included. I was surrounded by the warmth of a grace that cannot be described in human words. Even when the church was dark, there was light around me. Even when walking home from the cathedral in the darkness of night, I felt no fear. Only pure joy.
That doesn’t mean life was easy, or that my addiction was gone entirely after that first confession. I fell countless times. After being clean eleven months, I fell again. That was a hard moment to live through, let me tell you. I had people I was now held accountable to that I had to go to and admit my failure. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s been six months since my last fall, and life has never been so sweet. I’ve learned to live again. To feel again. A terrible weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I have rebuilt myself, rebuilt my life. Happiness really is a choice. It’s one I try to make every day. And yeah, some days I fail miserably. The difference with the past is that now I have the ability to bounce back, to find joy in life again. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t make it impossible. It’s only impossible if we try to do it alone. I am not alone. And neither are you.