I joined Alcoholics Anonymous when I was nineteen or twenty. I was, as the Big Book puts it, “Hardly more than a potential alcoholic,” but I felt I needed help.Read More
Books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking for Alaska shaped my adolescence. Filled with pithy quotes that appeal to angst-ridden teens like I was, they provided an escape from the depression I felt in high school.Read More
Before I begin, let me back up. On Wednesday night, I went to an AA meeting at the clubhouse at 8:00 PM. It was an 11th Step meeting, so we read from the 12&12 about how we “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
And it pissed me off.
I’ve been known to twist people’s words. At the meeting, it sounded like here was a roomful of people telling me how to pray. Don’t pray for yourself. Don’t beg God to relieve some of this unbearable pain. Don’t ask Him to quiet the trauma storm inside you, to soften your heart, to help you be kind. Just ask God to do His thing, which He’s going to do regardless of whether or not I ask Him to. That’s not how I want my “conscious contact” to be.
I have conversations with my Higher Power. She wants me to make good choices, to be the best version of myself that I can be. Sometimes, She makes mistakes. But She never abandons me. She is always listening.
Sometimes, I forget this. I get hung up on the patriarchal, Old Testament version of God, and I think He is vindictive, cold, not listening, and punishing. I hadn’t been maintaining conscious contact with God, regardless of whether God is male or female or something else entirely, so that night, I told God to fuck off. I turned off my faith for a little while, and it was like vomiting right out of my heart.
I didn’t pray for the next few days. I didn’t go to synagogue on Friday. I went to a meeting instead and left early because I was angry at the people there for having faith.
I felt so empty. Alone. In free-fall.
So after a couple of days of reminding myself not to ask God for help, not to reach out to God, not to pray, I broke down in tears and prayed. “God, it hurts so much,” I cried. I begged Him to ease the pain, to show me that He loves me. I went to a meeting, where I saw an old friend I haven’t seen in months. Stubbornly, I didn’t say the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer at the respective beginning and end of the meeting.
I asked myself, “Why?” over and over. “Why did God allow me to be abused at such a young age? Why did He put abusive people in my life over and over? Was I put here just to be hurt over and over?”
The way I choose to make sense of these questions is by telling myself that God has all the answers and is keeping them safe for me until I die. The answers are so much more perfect, beautiful, and complex than anything any mere human could comprehend.
I am okay.
I apologized to God for telling Him to fuck off. When I was a teenager and I’d slam the door in my parents’ faces, eventually I’d have to apologize and make things right. My parents always knew that I didn’t hate them, that I was just having a “moment.” God knows my heart. He made it, with all it’s flaws and imperfections and character defects–all the awful things that are inside me, but He also gave me so much goodness, a little spark, ruach, or, Divine magic.
I am okay.
Ever since I started experiencing psychotic symptoms, I’ve had a really hard time with religion. Going to temple is just inviting the voices in, and prayer only stirs them up and gets them screaming at me. I don’t even know how to start a conversation with God. I thought God hates me, or even that God isn’t real. I’d basically given up on having any kind of spirituality in my life, which was a big deal, considering I previously wanted to become a cantor. I was recently hospitalized because I was suicidal and having flashbacks to a traumatic childhood event. While I was in the hospital, I had an illuminating conversation with the hospital chaplain. After talking to him, I felt lighter. The chaplain, Tony, told me that God must love me because God made me, and She doesn’t make garbage. God loves Her creations, and God can be whoever I want her to be, so I decided that God is a woman. If God loves me, then She has to understand how devastating it was to be hurt by men. I love women so much more deeply than I could ever love a man; I connect to them; I understand them; I laugh with them; I ache with them. I am sure that God, that my God, is a woman, and She loves me.
As a child of God, I have no right to hate Her creations. If I can love my own creations– my photos and my writing– then I have to be able to love the person that God made me. So that’s it. After a lifetime of hating myself, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to love myself. It’s hard, and it’s weird, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m managing. I am learning not to tear myself down, but to build myself up– or at least keep my head above water. I am loved from all around. My parents love and support me no matter what I do. My elementary school classmates have stuck with me through my very first hospitalization to college; I don’t think they would have done that if I was the bad, worthless friend I thought myself to be. My English professor from last semester stopped me at work to tell me I’m a spectacular writer. I doubt he was doing that just to be nice. I have my friends from GSA who I always have fun with. And of course, there’s Christin, who pours so much love into our relationship that it’s almost impossible to believe I’m not everything she says I am.
I’m learning that it’s painful to love someone who doesn’t love herself, and I don’t want to put people through that pain anymore.
I’m finally gaining insight into all the nights I spent crying in my mom’s arms telling her I would do anything to see my collarbones again. She would tell me that I was beautiful as I was, and I’d argue with her because I hated myself so much I couldn’t understand how anyone could see any goodness at all in me. I have learned firsthand that you can’t plant self-love in someone else. That’s why it’s called SELF-love– it has to come from inside. Christin has inspired me to make a change in myself. If she can treat me as caringly and lovingly as she does, then I’m going to return the favor to myself because I am worth that much. I no longer say mean things to myself. I don’t tolerate it. I’ve gained enough confidence and self-respect not to let anyone else talk to me the way I talk to myself, and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and continue to treat myself like trash. I am a good person. I am smart. I am valuable. I am kind. And yes, I am beautiful.
Happiness is not getting on the scale and seeing that you’ve lost weight. Happiness was what I experienced today. I went out to brunch with Christin, and we walked on the beach where we tried to feed stale matzah to the birds. On the drive home, we held hands in the car, and I felt truly present in the moment. We had the windows down, and I wasn’t obsessing over my hair getting messed up or my makeup running. Why would I have wanted to think about that when I could have focused on the beautiful girl sitting next to me laughing at my passenger seat dancing and holding my hand? I was grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful that God brought so many wonderful people into my life, and grateful to be in love.
I learned about mitzvot at a very young age. A mitzvah (plural: mitzvot) is Hebrew for “good deed,” or “commandment,” as in, God commands His people to perform good deeds throughout their lives. When I was a child, I did mitzvot by bringing tzedakah (charity) to Sunday school. When I got older and had my bat mitzvah, I was required to do a mitzvah project to commemorate my formal transition into Jewish adulthood. I chose to raise money for a local homeless shelter by selling handmade bracelets. My parents did their best to instill charity and kindness in me, so that I would grow up to be a good person–a mensch, like my grandpa.
I can evaluate my mental health by many factors, some simple some not. Am I self-harming? Am I eating? How are my relationships? How am I doing in work and school? Most importantly, how is my relationship with God? For a few years when my depression was at its worst, I gave up on God. I thought I had outsmarted religion and prided myself on being an intelligent atheist.
As I progressed through the ups and downs of recovery, my faith waxed and waned. On some Shabbats, I was on the bema as the guest cantorial soloist; other nights, I swore there was no God, and even if there was, He surely hated me. Just before I left for treatment, my faith took a huge blow.
After I was sexually assaulted, I turned to the synagogue for support. I met the rabbi in his office and told him what had happened. I could never have anticipated his response. He told me that I’d made a mistake, that my assailant behaved “caringly” towards me, and joked about it inevitably happening again. Too shocked to stand up for myself, I listened quietly as my faith in God disappeared. At the Creek, spirituality was a big part of treatment, whether it was finding Good Orderly Direction at a 12-Step meeting, one of Cori’s spirituality groups, or the weekly outings to church (or shul in my case). I grappled with my ideas of God, and still do.
A common theme I noticed in the 12-Step meetings I attended while at the Creek was service–helping yourself by helping others. At first, it seemed like a backwards notion. How could I possibly be useful to anyone else when I was falling apart? However, as I listened to recovering addicts and alcoholics, formerly broken people like myself, talk about how helping others had helped them, I started to understand. God wants me to do mitzvot. I am not here simply to take up space and write sad poems. God gifted me with a beautiful life–no, perhaps this life is not a gift, but merely a loan. Perhaps it is my duty to repay God for the time He has given me with service, with mitzvot.
Today, I was driving home from my last day of photography class, feeling rather glum about my sudden surplus of free time when I saw a man standing on the street corner with a sign that read, “Three kids, one newborn. Need diapers and formula.” I pulled into a parking lot and approached him. He explained to me that he was struggling to feed his family and any help would be appreciated. I offered to drive him to the nearby Publix where I work and buy him whatever he needed. He got in my car, and I turned up the AC and gave him a bottle of water; he’d been outside in the heat for too long.
When we got to Publix, we filled his cart with baby essentials and some groceries. He thanked me over and over as I paid for his groceries, earing me some strange looks from my coworkers, but I didn’t care. I drove him a few blocks back to where he was meeting his wife and kids and we said goodbye. I will probably never see him again, and that’s okay. I’m happy that I was able to help someone. As we were saying goodbye, I said something rather out of character for me. Without thinking, I blurted, “God bless you.” The man grinned and said, “I know He loves me.” He said it with such conviction, that I’m starting to believe again.