“Does God exist?” The question looms largely in our society today. Just mentioning religion or politics is enough to spark a heated debate anywhere, anytime. Your God, my God, no God, and let’s not forget the gods of different religions, cultures and mythologies.
Some are compelled to research the history of this so-called creator of life, and need scientific proof that such a supernatural being could exist. Others of us, however, believe with innocent faith, and tell openly about our devotion and miraculous experiences.
Does God exist? Is he (or she) only present if we believe? In recovery, we learn that our foundation must come from something that is stronger than we are. In ourselves, we are weak and fail. How many times have I attempted to live on my own, only to find my mind swirling with a million negative thoughts? When I ignore my feelings and persist, I am doomed to repeat destructive behaviors. Where does true strength come from?
As a young girl raised in a Southern, private independent Baptist school, religion defined my life. I dressed up and sang songs from the hymns six days a week, sometimes more than once a day. My purity was judged by how long my clothes were and if I wore pantyhose and socks to cover my skin. The more Bible verses I memorized in a week, the more I was considered worthy and acceptable. However, when I couldn’t recite verses perfectly, I was greeted with heavy smacks in the face and head with The Holy Bible.
I learned to equate God with perfection and punishment. I, too, criticized myself harshly when I noticed that I didn’t measure up to impeccable standards. I despised the failure I saw when I looked in the mirror, but no matter how hard I tried to be the best, I could never meet my expectations. I was miserable inside.
I binged and purged to release my pain, only to feel shame soon after.
The vicious cycle would repeat because I couldn’t grasp the truth that I was already perfect the way that I was.
I also became angry with the idea of a God who could love me. Because I had grown up in an abusive environment with all kinds of mental health issues, I felt isolated and afraid. I thought, If God loved me, then why me? Why did I have to go through all of this pain? Why didn’t God protect me?
My anger turned to resentment, and it drove me to make terrible decisions for most of my teenage and adult life. I abused alcohol and drugs, and buried my pain in eating disorders and self harm without any concern for my health. I let go of any idea of God because that meant strict rules and regulations, and that was something that I was not willing to give up my life for.
I spent my twenties reading about all sorts of religions and mystical practices. I believed I was psychic and fantasized most of the time. But regardless of my quest for magic, I was hurting myself. My eating disorder was out of control, and my drive to seek the otherworldly coincided with periods of serious drug and alcohol abuse.
My mind was floating away on another planet, and it wasn’t one that sustained life.
When I entered recovery for the first time in 2010, I was faced with the term “Higher Power.” It scratched my brain and I thought, Oh yeah, something greater than myself…you mean I can’t do my life on my own terms? Scenes of childhood, the Bible, and feelings of anger came flooding back. I had to address these negative emotions in therapy, and with my twelve step mentor that’s exactly what I did.
Through much searching, I discovered that my Higher Power could be God if I chose to call him that. What angered me, however, was religion. It was manipulative; Religion was man-made. What I was seeking was a personal relationship with a God of my understanding, someone who would lead and guide me through life’s challenges; the good and the bad.
As a result of living a life with hardly any clear guidance, I was in desperate need of a loving figure who could help me one-on-one. Whenever I felt tempted to binge, purge, starve or engage in any destructive behaviors, I asked God for his help. I felt uplifted and empowered, and I knew that my God was with me.
I do know that God exists. If it weren’t for his grace upon my life I wouldn’t be in strong recovery. But I believe that God is a spiritual experience, not a religious one.
Knowing him comforts me and enables me to live in victory, not only in recovery but every single day of my life.