The Story of My Conversion
Part IV Continued: Hitting Bottom (Warning: The following post is rated PG-13.)
To St. Ignatius of Loyola, with gratitude and great affection
“Every sinful act involves a separation from God. This is the greatest deception a man can fall prey to. This is true evil. Sin takes away sanctifying grace, the life of God in the soul, that which is the most precious gift we possess.
“The road to hell is itself a living hell.” (In Conversation with God, Vol. IV)
It really is a matter of giving in when you shouldn’t.
It’s a matter of original sin and concupiscence.
It’s a matter of music, and magazines, and choices, and drinking.
It’s a life of sin and I led it.
What led you to make the big mistakes that you did? Is this just an unavoidable part of growing up? I can’t believe that it is, really. I can’t believe that such sinfulness was God’s plan for me.
Yes, we all make mistakes. Yes, we are fallen creatures and will say yes to the lure of sin from time to time. What is it, though, that compels some of us to be a “big fish” in terms of our immorality (to use the words of the priest who heard my general confession) and others to only sample and move on?
In thinking it through and applying my “grown-up” wisdom to the girl that I once was, I have tried to determine what factors led to my spiritual demise. I can’t change the past but I can try to learn from it.
Being the youngest in the family–and a surprise for my 42-year-old parents–meant going it on my own for most of my adolescence. My parents were tired and my siblings were busy with their growing families. Unfortunately, with as attention-seeking and affirmation-craving as I was, I needed a firmer hand to guide me. (This is one of the reasons I’m a stay-at-home mom, by the way. My children are just like me!)
Another factor is my outgoing, artistic temperament, which in high school and college led me to want see the world in different ways and experiment with perspective. (In short, I did a lot of drugs. More on that later.)
Finally, we have my lousy taste in entertainment. I’ve talked about this at length in my earlier posts–about the effects of my having grown up immersed in modern music and reading pulpy teen literature.
This is a big concern for me. I worry about the influence of books and music all the time. Where do we draw the line at what we let our children do?
- For example, do we let them watch “Friends” reruns? (Which episode should we watch tonight, kids? The one where Monica and Chandler are in bed together? Or the one where Rachel and Joey are in bed together? Or how about the one where Rachel and Ross are in bed together? Such selection!)
- Do we let them read Seventeen magazine? I found this online at Seventeen.com: “When it comes to sex, remember: you are ultimately the person in charge of your own happiness and your own body.”
- Do we let them listen to music with explicit lyrics? (Some would ask, do we let them listen to Rock at all? The expression is not, after all, “Sex, drugs & Vivaldi”.)
- Do we throw our old CDs away?
These are the questions that I am asking now—post-conversion and as a concerned mother. I would love to hear from parents of older teens and twenty-somethings with an answer to the following: Is it possible to make it through to adulthood without so many sinful detours? Is pop culture to blame?
Part of me wonders if this was just something I had to go through—I mean, I know that there is a certain amount of selfishness and soul-searching inherent to young adulthood.
But some of these memories just kill me.
“It’s getting harder and harder to deal with this me. I don’t like her. She’sfat—she talks too much and drinks too much—and if she meets a fellow coming out of the restroom who offers her a jay, she’ll take it. I am never prepared for her hypocrisy. I wonder how the Lord can stand her.” (From my journal, dated 6/10/89)
I drank a lot and I basically smoked my weight in marijuana. Things progressed from there. By the time I was in college, I was no longer having just a drink or two; I drank to get drunk and that was that.
Why bother drinking otherwise?
It wasn’t long before I became a slave to sin. You’ve heard that expression and it’s true, so true. I was a slave to sin. There were sexual sins and eating disorders and mind-altering drugs and so on. You can’t just give the devil an inch, you know. He’s way too powerful to let you get away with that.
And the thing about drinking and drug use is that you never know where your choices will lead you. It may be funny when your friend throws up on the lead singer’s shoes, but it’s not so funny when you are frightened—really frightened—because the bass guitarist won’t let you leave his motel room.
I lived a life of guilt and regret. I became the cause of pain, disappointment and scandal to my friends and family. I broke my dear parents’ hearts.
I went to confession this afternoon. It was Monsignor, and I didn’t get the wisdom and hope that I usually get from Fr. Don—but I went. I needed to go—desperately—because once again I’d become a victim of myself. (From my journal: 6/10/89)
When I was at my “worst”, as it was, when I was hopping from mortal sin to mortal sin and skipping weeks of college at a time, I decided to just stop praying. Because really, why should I bother? Even though I believed in God—loved Him, and longed for Him, and was still “Catholic” in name—I thought that praying would be hypocritical.
So I just stopped.
Score one: Satan.
The most major news at this writing—I was in a car accident, and by some strange twist of fate, was saved from a brutal death. I was smoking at the time. I can’t help but wonder if this influenced the occurrence of the accident. Perhaps it didn’t—we hit a sheet of ice and the car went out of control. Perhaps it would have happened anyway. Perhaps it wouldn’t have. All I remember is holding the joint, and looking up as the car began a series of severe fishtails across the road. Roger Daltry was screaming, “Free me!” on the radio. The car was all over the road, and then we hit the ditch. I can still hear each and every crunch as the car preceded to roll. And then there was silence. Except for the radio. “Free me!” And that was the most terrifying moment of my life—because I didn’t know who was dead, and who was alive. (From my journal: 11/13/85)
My friend changed her ways after the accident. I, being clueless, did not.
Obviously, there is much that I regret about the decisions I made while growing up. At the top of my list is the fact that there are great big gaps in my education. The late teens and early twenties should be a time of tremendous learning—the sky’s the limit for a young adult in college!—but instead, I frittered away my freedom on beer and cigarettes. I chose the lesser path; I didn’t get it.
Here’s as good an example of that as any: When I was 20 years old, I spent the summer studying art in Glasgow, Scotland. One of the grad students from the school offered me a place to paint in his studio. I knew who he was–he was the most talented artist in the school and had already been commissioned by galleries throughout Europe. I knew this was a golden opportunity…but did I take it?
No, I didn’t. I partied with the members of the pop band Simple Minds but did I paint? No, I didn’t, and it was because of my intemperance and poor judgment that I missed out on the opportunity to work next to one of the best-known artists in Scotland today.
It’s not just these “sins of omission” that I regret, either. I am also burdened by the memory of the evils I committed. There are so many sins that tag along on the heels of alcohol and drug use; you know that as well as I do, and I don’t want to revisit them at this time or ever. I will say my deepest regrets in life concern my actions when I was high or drunk.
And I can’t take those moments back. Ever.
“Give me the strength to change my life. Give me the strength to change this f***-up life of mine.” (Gear Daddies)
I hit bottom many times. I knew what I needed in my life—I knew I needed God and ached for peace—but I did not know a way out. This was the person I was, I thought—this was who my friends were. Increasingly, though, those nights in the bar just left me empty. “I don’t get it,” I said to my friend one weekend. “I didn’t do anything embarrassing last night and yet, I still feel really guilty.”
A whisper in my heart…I strained to hear it.
There is nothing as lonely as the sound of church bells on a Sunday morning when you are just getting home from the night before. Truth has a way of piercing the clouds; the promise of heaven beckons.
Yes, God began to call to me home—quietly at first and then, with trumpet blasts and the intercession of true friends who cared. Two events were to happen that changed my life forever: I reconnected with a cousin on my way home from Scotland, and I spent the summer with Kurt Vonnegut.
I’ve been so down lately—little did I realize that all I needed was God in my life. He is always there to guide me—to offer me strength and forgiveness. In return, I offer You this day, Lord. The day that You have given me I give back to You. (From my journal: 12/12/85)
To be cont.
[Next installment: Free at Last ]