"Love One Another!" 15/2010 → Suffering and Love
For the last nine of my fifty-two years I have been struggling with depression. I would like to relate to your readers how this illness arose and how I am overcoming it. Perhaps my testimony will be of help to at least a few people who suffer from similar problems.
I come from a Catholic family. My parents tried their best to pass on the faith to my siblings and myself. Every evening we would see them on their knees praying. As for me, I only knelt down to pray in rough times; and when things went smoothly, I would forget about God. Since early childhood I had always seen God in a severe light, as someone who was always waiting to punish me for my sins. I went to church only because I had to, because that was where my parents went, and not out of a need to meet God.
At age thirteen, I discovered the delights of alcohol. At first I drank only occasionally and in small quantities. Gradually my consumption increased in frequency and quantity. The early stages of my addiction seemed pleasant enough. On taking a drink, I would feel like a real man, despite my young age and short stature. I exuded good humor and became the life of the party. But when the effects of the alcohol wore off, things became nowhere near so pleasant. Adding to the physical hangover was the much worse moral hangover. My faith began to lapse. I neglected to pray, and my church attendance became spotty. My life had less and less in common with the teachings of the Church, and I fell into more serious sin. Though I tried to ease my conscience by telling myself that this was what most people did, the guilt pangs remained, and these I would at once drown in alcohol.
Things went downhill from there. In September of 1983, I went into a depression. Some doctors call this affliction a sickness of the soul. In my case, this is exactly what it looked like. At such times I was utterly unable to feel the love and presence of God. The doctors put me on psychotropic drugs and told me to go off alcohol altogether. Instead of heeding these instructions, I continued to drink for another sixteen years. That period of my life was a real nightmare: suicide attempts, numerous spells in psychiatric hospitals, etc. I fell into despair, and the gulf between God and myself became ever wider. In hindsight I can see that I had fallen into the hands of the devil. As the father of lies, he brought my life to reckoning. Because of him, I was unable to believe that God loved me, was merciful, and would forgive my sins.
Lying still for hours in the hospital bed, I would ask God the same question over and over again. “Why me? Why has all this happened to me?” Then I would experience an anguish of fear before God. As a result, I would go to confession and confess the same sins over again, even though they had been forgiven long ago. Giving in to despair, not believing in God’s mercy and the fact that Jesus had died for me as well, I rejected His help.
The breakthrough occurred in May of 1999. It was then, while not yet a member of Renewal in the Holy Spirit, that I accompanied a charismatic group to Czestochowa for a prayer vigil. Though it rained and was cold at the time, I felt none of it. Instead I began to feel the closeness of Jesus and His Mother. I felt loved, and was so moved that the tears poured from my eyes.
I believe that was the beginning of my conversion. It was then that I found God and began my slow journey back to health. On returning from Czestochowa, I began to pray more frequently — mostly the rosary. Later, in August of the same year, God made it possible for me to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. There He allowed me to come to know Him still more, as He really was: not as a severe punishing judge, but as a loving and merciful Father. After a general confession in which I entrusted to Jesus all my weaknesses, including my alcohol addiction, I shed an ocean of tears. I felt like a man who, having been condemned to death, discovers suddenly that life and freedom have been restored to him. Only then was I completely convinced that if I gave my life to God and allowed Him to guide me, I would not, as I had believed for years, end up in hell. My joy knew no bounds.
Looking back on my life, I will admit that my problems stem in part from the influence of my disordered emotions. After returning from the pilgrimage, I once again landed in the psychiatric hospital, though that is the last time to date. On being discharged from the hospital, I wanted to know God still more, for I knew I could do nothing without Him. I began to attend meetings of our parish Renewal in the Holy Spirit group. By consciously entrusting myself to Jesus, I have lost nothing. On the contrary, I have gained a new and better life. I have regained my will to live and even a robust sense of humor, which no longer needs the prop of alcohol. I no longer suffer from self-destructive thoughts. I want to live for as long as God allows me. Though I am still a sinner, I know now that it was for me as well that Jesus gave His life, that He loves me as I am, with all my strengths and weaknesses. That is one of the greatest revelations I have gained from participating in the Renewal group.
Today I actually thank God for that sixteen-year-long nightmare, for without it I would be unable to compare life lived in sin, without God, with life lived in His presence and love. I now know what joy and peace He gives to those who allow Him to take first place in their life. Now I cannot imagine a life without daily prayer, monthly confession, and frequent and full participation in the Eucharist. Glory to God!