"Love One Another!" 13/2009 → A testimony
I was born and raised in a mining town in Southern Poland. I liked to hang out by the apartment block and had no interest in school. I never paid much attention to my parents. They were always quarreling. I chose a different way of life. I started listening to heavy metal music, wore black, and identified myself with satanic symbols. And so began that most difficult period of my life. I did not study, I spray painted walls, was aggressive with my friends and teachers. Some were even afraid of me. My mother was often called into the school. Every year I came home with the worst grade for overall conduct.
It was then that I got to know a local punk group and other kids immersed in various subcultures. I spent all my free time with them, whiling away the hours on the benches or in stairwells. We smoked grass, cigarettes, and drank booze. At rock concerts and rave parties we would let off steam and vent our anger. Such was my careless teenager’s life: zero responsibility, no duties — total freedom! But when my best friend hanged himself when he was seventeen, everything came to an end. The kids I chummed around with dropped out of sight, and I had to find a new group to hang out with.
A friend of mine invited me to an out-of-town soccer match. There we had a scuffle with the rival fans. The experience appealed to me, and I became a soccer fan. From then on, for a period of several years, I went to every match. The train parties, the brawls, the games away from home — all this I found great fun. Here I could really be myself and prove my mettle. Often the excursions involved physical attacks, theft, and other petty crimes. A couple of court appearances for assault and battery gave me pause for thought — mainly on account of the stiff fines my parents had to pay. I was not yet working and so had no money of my own. For a while I worked as a bouncer at a local bar. There I gave someone a severe beating. Another court appearance for assault and battery: this time I was really afraid they would send me to prison. I decided to give up soccer matches, but this was not easy. For a while I stopped going and quieted down. After finishing vocational school, I got a job at the mine. I met a girl and started thinking about a quieter life. I dreamed of a normal life. A few months passed; but I soon felt the need to prove myself again.
I began to work out in a gym. I wanted to be big and strong. Without considering the side effects, I took steroids. My muscle mass increased rapidly, but I also became increasingly more aggressive. At the gym I met new people — mostly bouncer types. Drugs appeared on the scene, and this led to all-night parties. I thought this was the real thing. I had found my niche. I felt big, strong, and proud and no longer had anything to do with my old friends. I was little more than a goon. For the right money or merely from a desire to “show my stuff” I was ready to take on anything or anybody.
Once, at the funeral of one of my fellow bouncers (he had been killed in an automobile accident), the priest talked about the need to be watchful, for the Lord would come like a thief in the night. I remember thinking that all this made sense. Sometimes at night I cried in my pillow. I felt I was heading for big trouble. But I’d soon put these thoughts behind me. I would go to the next party and forget all about it. Meanwhile my physical and psychological state was steadily worsening. I began to suffer depressions and bouts of anxiety.
I continued to work as a bouncer at the discotheque. We guarded various parties. Somebody would call us up, we’d go and beat someone up, and then somebody would pay us — all this anonymously, without the slightest reflection on my part. Not a week went by without drugs and booze. I was ruining my health. I could not sleep. I felt afraid. Everyone seemed to have it in for me. I was convinced someone wanted to kill me.
I realized I was in big trouble. My mother was the one person who quietly believed that I would change one day. She kept telling me to go to confession and change my ways, but I pretended not to listen. But of course I knew she was right. Whenever a police car drove by our apartment building, I would think they were coming for me. Totally soused after one party, I got into my car. The police chased me. When they finally stopped me, I tried to play the hero and woke up in a police holding cell. They took my driver’s license away.
My anxiety attacks grew worse. I saw everything in dark colors. I stopped going to the gym. It was the beginning of the end. I was drinking more and more often, and in larger quantities. I began having suicidal thoughts. I sold my things and spent all the money on booze. My friends had had enough of my antics. I was slowly killing myself. Nothing amused me anymore. But all this time my mother continued to pray for me, entrusting me to the Mother of God and, I guess, to everyone else in heaven. Perhaps because of her prayers, I began to think more about God and reforming my life. I saw no other way out. And though shame and fear and the thought of what my buddies would think held me back, I knew that I could not help myself on my own. Everything seemed empty and meaningless. I wanted to die, but I did not know how to kill myself. In fact, I was afraid of death. And yet I did not want to live. Total emptiness!
And so I’d come home after a party, fall on my knees, and beg God to help me, or at least do something with me, since I had no desire for anything. After praying like this, I would experience a sense of peace and want to go to church, for I was up to my ears in sins and addictions. Finally, I got myself together and, for the first time in many years, of my own accord, I went to Holy Mass. I no longer cared what others said of me or how they looked at me. For many I must have been a scandal. There were days when, hung over, I would get up, go to church, and listen to the Gospel. Gradually something inside me began to change. I would come out of Mass feeling peaceful. But I was still afraid to go to confession. My mother gave me Saint Luke’s Gospel to read as well as a book on heaven and hell. Reading this material made a great impression on me. It was like a ray of hope. I began to reflect seriously on the meaning of human life, about life and death. I wondered where I would end up when I died. The thought of eternity and damnation terrified me. I began to spend more time at home, bought myself a computer, and became interested in it. Instead of boozing it up in the bars, I would spend whole days and nights in front of the monitor. But this did not satisfy my desires. All it did was introduce me to another — virtual! — darkness. By now I was going out less often, and drinking less. But the unsatisfied feeling remained. I was unable to control my behavior. Sometimes I did things that were against my nature.
One evening, at a party, I met a friend whom I used to meet by chance at various interesting points in my life. This was another such chance meeting. I told him drinking no longer gave me any pleasure. I wanted to change my life, begin anew, and live like a normal person. I told him I was going to church. It was a serious conversation. He had a similar problem and thought as I did. Even though we were high on various drugs, we talked very seriously about God and our lives. Luke — that was my friend’s name — suggested we go to confession, the kind known as a general confession, in which the penitent confesses all his past sins, and not only those since the last confession. We arranged to go the following week. The day was December Thirteenth.
After that confession I felt several dozen pounds lighter; and upon
receiving Holy Communion I came down with a high fever! I felt so weak that they had to drive me home,
as I had no strength to walk.
Ever since then, I have been making regular confessions, sometimes every week. On June 16, 2002, Luke and I attended Father Pio’s canonization at the Vatican. Some of my friends make fun of me for going on pilgrimages and attending church. But I try to stay close to God and feel safe only with Him. In one parish we launched a Father Pio prayer group where we pray every Friday. I find such a prayer community very important and necessary. I also try to involve myself in evangelization and do something useful. Now I can see how beautifully one can live without drugs and booze, and also — though this requires daily effort — by staying chaste.
Conversion means turning away from evil and turning toward the good. When I tried to break with sin by gritting my teeth and clenching my fists, I lapsed back into it. On my own I was unable to overcome my addictions, weaknesses, and sins. It was simply impossible, unachievable! Only by offering it all to God and begging His forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance could I pick myself up and strengthen my weak, wounded will.
Every day I try to say at least a decade of the rosary, the chaplet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the chaplet of Divine Mercy. I entrust everything to Our Blessed Mother and to the intercession of the entire army of Saints. I see God working in my life and in the lives of those whom God sends my way. Sometimes I manage to help people, lead them to confession, or give witness talks at retreats or other places. But my greatest and most important witness is my daily life! This is what is hardest, and I notice that Satan can be very cunning here.
Now that I have got to know this new life, I am learning to accept others and myself. I can see how much pride, dirt, and turbulence there is in me. It has been a struggle all the way — frequent confessions, falls, and getting up again. The process of conversion continues apace, and the way is narrow. Often I have had enough and been at a loss to understand certain events in my life. It is as if I was beginning my life anew, like a small child, from the very foundations. I want to find my way in life, to be an
ordinary, normal person, who does not have to pretend who he is. I wish never to harm anyone again. Amen!