Friday, January 4, 2013

How I Found Peace at the Bottom of a Bottle


I stood there, holding the toothbrush in my hand and holding within me the sea of anxiety that had always been a part of me. Once again, the question haunted me:

Is it God’s will that I do this?

What was the question that was haunting me? Which church to join? Who to marry? Should I have the Come To Jesus talk with my non-Christian friends?

Nope. The question was Should I brush my teeth?

I mean, I’m all for good dental hygiene. I knew I had to brush my teeth at some point. But was this the time God had ordained time for it today?

On some level, I knew all the reasons why this was a ridiculous question. On another level: Yeah, but is this the time God has ordained for me to brush my teeth?

I mean, he has a detailed plan for my life. What if he wants me to be doing something else right now?

Such was my life as an Evangelical Christian with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder

God had a plan for my life, I was told, and I had better follow it, or else there would be consequences. But no worries! I could tell when I was following God’s will because I would feel a sense of peace about my decision!

Yeah, that’s what a person with near constant severe anxiety needs to hear.

I was anxious before I became a Christian, and I’m still anxious now that I’m...whatever it is that I am. Christianity was not the root cause of my anxiety. But it did make it worse. The ever present specter of violating God’s will followed me everywhere. It was what the military refers to as a force multiplier.

I did get to a point where I could brush my teeth anxiety free. But with big decisions, the specter remained. Should I buy this house? Should I take this job? Should we join this church?

I know, I know...I needed to pray more, right? And pray I did, dear readers. Praying was a relief, because it shifted the anxiety from the actual question to the new questions of Am I praying enough? Am I praying the right way? Is that brief feeling of peace from God or from me?

Ah, but what about the Bible? Surely I would find peace within it’s pages? Well, let’s see what the Bible has to say about anxiety:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” -- Philippians 4:6-7

Hmm, I tried that, and it didn’t work. What else have you got?

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?’” -- Luke 12:22-26, NIV

Thanks Jesus, great advice.  Birds don’t sow or reap, because THEY DON’T HAVE HANDS.  And last time I checked, squirrels store food for the winter. And are we really more valuable than birds when God allows quite a few of us to starve to death every day? And allows quite a few birds to become roadkill?

I will say that I found comfort in this verse:

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”  -- Romans 8:26-28

I liked the idea of the Holy Spirit praying for me without me even knowing about it. I also liked the idea of God taking every decision I made and somehow using it for good, like life was a cosmic game of Dungeons and Dragons with God as the Dungeon Master. The problem was, I didn’t see any evidence of this actually happening when I checked Google News.

The other problem was that the Bible’s biggest piece of advice when it comes to anxiety is: Hey, just stop doing it! This is like telling an alcoholic, “Hey, have you considered not drinking an entire bottle of vodka every day?”

Ok, but surely I could get comfort at church, right? Well, some of the music did the trick for a while. But most sermons in conservative circles are designed to do the exact opposite of creating peace. Conservative pastors scorn feel good sermons that just make people feel good about themselves. Their sermons portray a war between the forces of Satan, The Evil World, Our Sinful Flesh, and the forces of God, with us as God’s cannon fodder. So on top of everything else, I have to worry about demons too? Wow, I feel better already!

I found some peace when I went to counselling. But true peace came when I started taking Prozac. The funny thing was, the longer I was on Prozac, the less I needed God. I realized that the reason I hadn’t been able to find peace wasn’t due to lack of prayer or faith - my brain just needed more serotonin. I had always rolled my eyes at Christians who refused medical treatment and relied on prayer, but I had been doing the exact same thing.

It’s a strange thing to realize that your brain is a meat based computer, and the terrifying thougts that seemed so real were, in actuality, caused by a chemical imbalance. Balance things out, and the thoughts go away as if by magic.

This was what Christianity promised but never delivered.  And don’t tell me that Prozac comes from God, because it didn’t go on the market in the U.S until 1987, so if it’s from God, God sure took his sweet fucking time getting it to us, so I’m not impressed.

I’ve heard Christians who are dealing with severe illness say they just can’t understand how people get through these things without Jesus. Jesus gives them so much peace!

Yet people do it every day, don’t they? It’s not as if every non-Christian falls to pieces at the first sign of hardship in their lives.

I don’t know how people go through trials believing that there is an omnipotent being who could take it all away, but chooses not to. My peace comes from a bottle of pills, and I’m fine with that.

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