In the subway you can see proselytizers carrying the message to the people. Sometimes a Jehovah's witness will approach me to talk. Often I see people reading the Bible. It always makes me wonder what people find of use in this stuff, because it didn't work for me.
I have tried it all. Once, in high school, I was pretty into the Bible. Then I found a boyfriend. Then I started drinking and using drugs. Then I quit drinking and, eventually, even quit smoking. And all these were attempts to find something that will make me stop feeling so angst-y. I have to find a faith that works.
What my spiritual solution must be is some solid deep essential kind of remedy for my vast, engulfing loneliness and deep sadness. It's taken me years to get in touch with this existential angst at my core. It took me a long time to acquire the courage to feel it. And I only can stand to feel a little of it at a time, and then I want to put it back in its box where it throbs and tingles, waiting for me to look a little longer.
I have used a lot of things to keep this loneliness at bay. Naturally I hoped to use people, I hoped to use them up, parasitically. As a kid, though, I was pathetically inept at connecting up with people. It was a dance I could not get the hang of. It seemed like other people knew the moves, but I never figured out whom to ask, who was safe enough, to whom I might admit I didn't know how to do this stuff.
In high school everybody went to this after-school club called Young Life, which was this evangelical endeavor that tried to be cool. I went "religiously" to these meetings, which were held on Wednesday evenings. There was singing and skits and a sermon, it was kind of loosely a church service really, but the big hook was the social angle. This was a way I could connect with people.
Ultimately, though, these proselytizers' message seemed too clean and wholesome and, well, IRRELEVANT. I still felt like shit! I was still desperately alone! I moved on to sex. I found a boyfriend, someone whose neuroses fit mine like two matched pieces of a puzzle, and we took each other under interlocking wings and kept each other company for a long time. We grew up together, really; but then we grew apart. So he and I broke up, took other hostages. I put other people in his place, or didn't. I had a lot of one-night stands.
Finally my spirtual search took me to volatile substance, to those spirits of the material world. I used drugs and alcohol like an alchemist, to arrive at the precise way I wanted to feel. "Cocktail" is such a trivial word for such an essential elixir: alcohol fucking rode in on a white charger and scooped me up out of this existential angst. Finally I had found something that really worked to dull the pain. Of course, alcohol turned on me, eventually (and that's another story -- it's a good story, but it's not this one). I found spiritual fulfillment in (better living through) chemicals for a long time, years and years, before I finally discerned I was looking in the wrong place.
Then my best friend killed himself. I was still drinking then. I didn't have a phone and a friend had to come out to my apartment to find me to tell me. I was rocked to the core, naturally; but, although I can't tell you why, my response was to "party heartier". It's hard to find the words to convey the self-loathing I felt, because I knew it was the most INAPPROPRIATE reaction one could have to a friend's suicide. But it was how I finally saw how I was, what my life had come to. It was the wake-up call, as they say.
After that, things quickly unraveled. My own suicidal depression had already taken me, desperate, to psychotherapy. My drinking buddy had a shrink who told her to quit drinking or find a new therapist. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out the jig was up. So we both quit drinking and using drugs--quit cold turkey.
I thought I would be bored without drinking. It turned out things had only just gotten interesting! For one thing, without alcohol and drugs I started to be able to feel everything. Not all pleasant, especially at first. For three weeks I couldn't sit in a chair because my kidneys ached so badly. I shook, I had violent mood swings; but eventually things started mellowing out.
Without drinking to fall back on I have gone through a variety of "solutions" in the intervening years. Again I found a boyfriend, not unlike the first, with whom I hibernated for a couple of years, until that relationship fell apart too. I smoked cigarettes for a long time, but finally had to quit that too. I watched movies addictively, threw myself into work, overexercised...I have tried pretty much everything...and none of it works anymore.
Only after everything else stopped working did I finally return to the spiritual search. It is a huge fucking struggle.
The thing I never dug about religion was, it never seemed to address the fact that life SUCKS! It's sad and painful, a lot of the time. There's bad breakups that feel like they can separate body and soul. There's jonesing. There's times when the backs of my legs hurt. I get sick and it seems like I've always been tired my whole damn life long. I can't think when I last felt glad to be alive, and depression looms large every day. I can't get close to anyone and I feel oppressed by the people who still stay in my life. I am afraid to be honest about who I am (especially with myself) and I can't live with dissembling one more minute. I don't quit my crappy subsistence job one minute at a time. I am not sure I am giving anything back. I don't think I got my share anyway.
Nowhere could I find that addressed by priests and preachers. I approached them with these complaints and they said I was a complainer. They spoke in platitudes and cliches, when I was having trouble not slicing my wrists. Therapy helped, but I needed more.
Eventually I found a spiritual mentor, someone I could talk to about this stuff. This woman was a forceful personality toward whom I gravitated, and we became friends. I felt comfortable confiding in her. I was going through a difficult time with my boyfriend; for a while I leaned on her, sometimes heavily. By her own example, as well as by investment of time and willingness to listen, she helped me start to grow into the person I wanted to be. She helped me begin to find a way to work through all this stuff.
Mostly it seems to be about acceptance: that life DOES suck, a lot of the time, that it's NOT fair, pretty often, that pain is just around the corner; and that all these things can be stood.
The thing I have discovered I do have faith in (because I don't trust God) is the inevitability of the process of being alive, the certainty of change. I have acquired perspective on things, enough to know that whatever I'm going through now cannot possibly stay the way it is forever. There's an Arab proverb that says something to the effect that if I feel bad now, I know I will feel good later. But also, of course, if I feel good now, I can be sure I'll feel bad later too. And so on. The I Ching, the Book of Changes, has also brought me a great deal of comfort in this area.
The hardest thing when I'm going through a hard time is, I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think, "Great, there's the light at the end of the tunnel. Can't be much longer now!" So I trudge along, and then I look up a little later, only to no tice that, yeah, cool, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel still, only IT'S STILL THE SAME DISTANCE AWAY! "What the fuck?" I ask, I ask God, because I can't for the life of me stop believing, despite wanting to. God reminds me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur is charging the castle and he keeps charging from a pretty far distance and charging and charging and never getting any closer, then SUDDENLY he's AT THE CASTLE, surreal-ly. That's how God's will (or the Tao or however it works for you to think of it, it's all the same damn thing, of course) lands in my life, without preamble or premonition, plops in my life when I've given up on it ever plopping, when I've accepted not having the thing I hoped for, really truly accepted it, then it does finally come.
But how do I accept not having something without doing so in order to try to force it to come? By finding something to occupy my mind. As the I Ching is fond of advising, "It is helpful to have somewhere to go." Advice I take to mean, when I feel like shit and wish there were no God, and I've stood ten days already of feeling this way and can't face an eleventh, find something to do. Call someone. Work on something. Clean the bathroom. Make cookies. Exercise. Do something that will take it out of me, that will wear me out, that will help me sleep, that will change my mood. Then things change, and I feel okay again. Not great, but okay.