By guest writer T.E.W., with Jean Elizabeth Seah.
I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.
– attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
My life thus far might seem a waste, even something loathsome, to many people, but now I know it has been redeemed, and is in the process of being redeemed. God willing, I shall yet honor Christ, though I have been all things unholy.
I was raised by a hard-working father and a loving, vivacious mother in a quiet outer suburb of Queensland, on four acres of lush property. From the tender age of three, I joined dance classes which were the highlight of my days, starting with jazz and then progressing to tap-dancing with my mother. All my life, I have found it difficult to remain committed to anything – save dance.
Unfortunately, this love of dancing contributed to my ostracization in school. The other boys were typical jocks, who enjoyed sport and play-fighting. I never understood them, and they labelled me a “gay” for being a dancer.
Being bullied through school, and never finding a true friend, I suffered from low self-esteem and found it difficult to concentrate in class. Things became worse when my family was forced to move to an inner suburb in my teens, where I was abused by a family friend, and introduced to drugs by someone who lived next to the dance school.
No one in my family knew what damage hard drugs could do, and I accepted them, hungry for what appeared to be friendship from the person who proffered them. As Professor Peter Cohen, Director of the Center for Drug Research in Amsterdam, has concluded from sociological research, drugs are a replacement for human connection.
“…human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe… we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”
– Johann Hari, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”, The Huffington Post, 20 January 2015
Thus, at the age of 19, I began my relationship with speed, and later moved on to ice. My reliance on methamphetamines started off innocuously, producing highs which enabled me to create exquisite drawings, expressing my inner self which had been rejected by my schoolmates. Then I craved more and more of the drugs, and they swallowed up my life.
My parents went through hell. Sometimes I went without drugs for six months, so I labored under the illusion that I was in control – but no, I had long ceded control to the drugs. Once, after having been awake for about four days injecting ice, I drove home (only God knows how I got home without running off the road) and made a bowl of Weet-Bix before crashing on the couch. The next thing I knew, I was standing, in motion and having checked the time began to panic because I was supposed to meet a friend. I drove to her place, and after some frantic phone calls I managed to get in contact with her. She too had been on drugs, and we both couldn’t remember what we had been doing for a whole two-hour period. I ran my hand through my hair and found Weet-Bix mashed against it. I wonder what the living room looks like, I thought.
When I returned home, my mother was terrified. She had watched me standing in the living room contorting my hands and uttering garbled words for approximately two hours before dashing out of the house. Her little boy had turned into a monster.
Life progressed from bad to worse. An acquaintance taught me how to break into homes, stealing any copper we could find in order to finance our drug habits. I had failed high school, and had no aim in life, save the next hit which could release me from this misery, for awhile.
Then my mother had cancer.
I had been brought up in the [Australian] Uniting Church, but never understood any of its teachings. Over time, I became an arrogant, agnostic atheist, but not so arrogant as to reject any evidence of a higher power if it was presented to me. I immersed myself in the goth subculture.
After three years of caring for my mother at home while my father continued working to support us, the certainty grew on me that the end of her life was near. My birthday is on the Feast of St. Monica (as I now know), and I had the strong feeling that my mother was going to die exactly a month later.
The last week of my mother’s life was spent in palliative care in the QE2 Hospital in Brisbane. I was about to step into the shower when Dad called to say that Mum had passed away. I received the news with dead calmness, and returned to the bathroom. It was only when the water hit my body that I felt my heart break, and let out a primal scream of loss.
This was the beginning of a series of events and signs which led me to conclude that a higher power must exist. For the first few months, I refused to even acknowledge this supreme power as God, instead resorting to New Age terms like “the universe” and “source energy.”
I began visiting various churches and reading the Bible about three and a half years later, after spending the intervening time dabbling in tarot, crystals and chakra meditations, an attempt to understand God from a mathematical and scientific perspective. I could never find a home in any of those churches. The Pentecostal services left me with an emotional high which would quickly subside.
Then, last year, after staying clean for awhile, I visited an old acquaintance and fell headlong into the trap of drug addiction again.
Yet, this was what eventually led me to the Catholic Church, for I resolved to amend my life, and checked myself into a facility which happened to be right beside a lovely old church near the Brisbane River.
Still, I would not have stepped into a Catholic church, if my room-mate had not said, “There’s free food next door!” The church has a coffee ministry for the homeless twice a week. Through their corporal work of mercy, they performed the greatest spiritual mercy for me – leading me home to my heavenly Father, away from my sinful past.
At first, as an obstinate Protestant, I shied away from addressing the priests as “Father.” But soon, I began to see how the Catholics truly lived the Gospel, and in my first Mass, kneeling before the Holy Eucharist, I finally found the peace of Christ, the peace which the world cannot give.
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16).
— Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est
I was received into the Catholic Church this past Easter Vigil, and am just beginning to grasp its glorious spiritual treasures. Further, God has blessed me with a loving new spiritual family, in the parish, in Verbum Dei, and in granting me what I thought impossible – a human being who loves me in spite of my past, and who wants to share a life with me, though grave uncertainty lies ahead. Our only certainty is God, after all. What amazing grace, which saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now, I see.
If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today.
– St. Josephine Bakhita
Originally published at Aleteia.