Meeting God in the Disaster of My Life

When I was 31, I needed to stop drinking. I really, really, really needed to stop drinking.

I was blacking out four times a week. I smelled bad. I had given up on luxuries like sheets or box springs. Instead, I slept wrapped in a blanket on a sweaty, bare mattress like I lived in a flop house.

Only it wasn't a flop house, or at least it didn't look like one on the outside. I lived in a beautiful vintage apartment in Chicago, with dark wood around the windows that looked out on treetops. And I was cute! I was in art school, one of the best graduate schools in the country! I was fancy.

But, I smelled. I didn't like getting wet, so I had stopped taking showers. And I was having hallucinations. I kept seeing bugs and mice run across the floor in my peripheral vision.

I had so many dirty dishes that I had started getting water for coffee from the bathroom sink. I kept coming home drunk and falling in the bathroom, and when I fell, it felt like I was falling forever. I'd hit my head on the wall, and just think thank you, God, that the falling had stopped. That was all I was looking for: for the falling to stop.

I had a lot of problems. And I was running out of solutions.

I tried doing nothing. I stopped looking at the hallucinations. I thought, really, it's people who RESPOND to their hallucinations who have a problem. So, even though I see that mouse over in the corner, I'm going to pretend it's not there, because it's not. Probably.

But I was scared. I thought I was smart. I was in the gifted program in grade school, after all. I had won some writing contests. I needed to be smart.

Pretty, that could go. Sweet, fine, that’s not important. But smart? I needed that. These hallucinations had me scared. "Not looking" wasn't really cutting it anymore. I needed to stop drinking.

This wasn't a self-improvement project. This was a staying-alive project. I didn't see a way out. And yet - I needed out.

I tried a bunch of things.

I did yoga every morning for years and then I ran around the park near my house every morning one summer. I got new friends. I got new boyfriends. I moved across the country.

I paid $400 to get my black hair dyed blonde. I got a tattoo. I got new clothes every chance I got. I went to college.

I bought a million self-help books. I went to grad school. I burned my bridges with one mentor and chose another. I got a job.

I got another job. I got promoted. I got a different job. I moved. I moved. I moved.

Nothing worked.

So one night, I was out. My friend group had shifted a bit, but there were still some people around. They were different people, but whatever. They were people.

I was out with the guy I was dating, sort of, though he seemed to be dating someone else, and he seemed to be about to start dating one of our professors. But whatever. I didn't really like him. In fact, I kind of hated him.

The relationship, if you could call it that, started in a blackout when I was trying to hook up with someone else. I came to for a minute, standing between this guy's legs, wearing his tie. I couldn't admit I made a mistake so I just stuck with him. We were dating!

But this night, I kept coming in and out of a blackout, it was like a strobe-light life, and every time I came to for a minute, I saw that we were in a different bar. Each time, I had to look around to figure out what I was doing, and who I was with. Where I was. Did I have any money left?

Finally, I came to completely naked, standing in my living room with two of my friends, newer friends but still, friends, standing there staring at me and I just thought, Why? Why don't you go home? I don't want you to see this. Thankfully, I blacked out again.

The next morning, I woke up on my hobo mattress -- no sheets, just the blanket wrapped around me, staring at the huge mound of dirty clothes at the foot of the bed, having puked on the floor. I was wearing a bra still but my beautiful sweater was off, the one with the metallic green thread and the jewel-like buttons. It lay on the edge of the vomit, mixed into it, sort of, and I thought, No wonder no one's here for this. No wonder I'm alone. Who could see this? Who could I share this with?

And I thought, God, this sucks.

And a voice answered, in my head, as plain as day, Yeah, it does.

That was the beginning of my spiritual awakening.

That was the beginning of a new relationship with my Higher Power.

Because I'd always believed in God. I just thought God was way out in the Universe. I thought God was like a star, and I was an ant. That we were that far apart.

I thought God could barely hear me, let alone help me. God had never helped me, as far as I could see, and I had been asking for help my entire life.

Now it's years later. Over a decade. And I'm still working on it. Still building this connection with a Higher Power.

I know a lot of people struggle with the idea of God. That's ok. You don't have to believe in anything in particular.

But if you want to connect with something bigger than yourself, it's possible.

This is just my experience. I know this is blasphemy to some people. But I trust God. I trust that if there is only one way, only one path to God, I trust that God will find me.

But I get to show up, exactly as I am. I don’t have to lie and say I believe things I don’t believe in order to connect with God.  

I met someone who said suspiciously, “It sounds like you’re talking about Unitarian Universalism,” and then got sort of a bored look on his face and told me his baptism story and how he felt God’s love wash over him in that moment when he was ten years old. He said, “So I KNOW God is real.”

I’ve felt God’s presence, too. It just didn’t happen in the context of a specific religious ritual so I don’t associate God with a particular religion. I think God is bigger than all that. God is big and wide. God is as wide as the whole world.

And God is bigger than the world. Whatever we imagine God to be, God is bigger than that. That’s the nature of God.

God’s here for us, in all these guises. God is in the specific and in the abstract.

However you connect with God is good enough. And if you want more from that relationship, you can use the tools others have used. You can pray, even if you don’t know what you’re praying to. You can ask for help, or say thank you.

Your relationship with God is just that - it’s yours. You get to build that connection. You get to carry it out in whatever ways are right for you.

If you’ve found just the right tools, that’s awesome. And then they’ll change. You’ll need something else. That’s how we are. What worked one day doesn’t always work the next.

But for today, I’m just offering you my story. This is how I came to God. Through a disaster.

With honesty and our own experiences, we can find a Higher Power that works for us. We can find God in ways that are right for us. And we can build from there.