I grew up with two opposing viewpoints: unadorned, staunch atheism and decadent spiritualism.
I chose, albeit unconsciously, the route of my grandmother and mother’s spiritualism, if only because they deemed me a sort of psychic wunderkind from the time I was three. My grandmother believed that I had the power to summon flocks of pigeons (a pedestrian and useless power) and foresee the winner at the racetrack, a presumption they would literally pay dearly for. (As an adult, I do not nor have I ever participated in or condoned animal races of any kind.)
My grandmother had pictures of Jesus and angels, and my mother had rosaries and statues of Mother Mary co-mingling with astrology books. My mother will tell you she’s Catholic, though she has never read the Bible or attended mass. I have done both but we will get to that later. It never seemed to occur to them that their ideologies were fundamentally in conflict.
So off I went into the world—believing in my innate, predestined and mysterious purpose on it.
My mother sent me with my God-family to be baptized at eight, and I consumed their copies of Linda Goodman’s texts (as good as gospel truth as far as we were concerned) voraciously while whipping through the small metaphysical section in our local library in breakneck speed. I wanted answers and I was certain they hung somewhere in the ether just out of reach.
I grew up in a dysfunctional family rife with intergenerational trauma, abuse, addiction and untreated mental illness but those things were not discussed as readily as my mother wanted to discuss everyone’s Sun Sign, from the neighbor’s to the courtesy clerk at the grocery store.
In 1995, I turned 13 and throughout my teenage years the legendary witchcraft boom of the 90s was upon us and it easily fit into and informed my worldview, assuaging the feelings of being a displaced youth going through life-altering psychological and hormonal changes that nobody on TV or in the movies was talking about in that era. My family certainly wasn’t. I could believe the history of mental illness in my mystically inclined family was akin to the witches who were wrongfully lynched or otherwise executed historically throughout the world, without having the language to understand misogyny, patriarchy, or colonialism.
With my dark hair and “edgy” style I wasn’t just a surly, at-risk youth with no sense of self. I was a powerful witch and I adopted an unquestioned belief system that would persist for many decades and compound the suffering I was increasingly facing in my life.
Everything in the “Western world” was bad, including and perhaps especially scientific research and medicine. Doctors were agents of oppression who usurped the natural (spiritual) order of things. The unseen world dwarfed the significance of the one I could see, feel, and touch.
When I was in crisis as a homeless street kid, the state-mandated 12-step meetings and their rhetoric of a power greater than myself who could solve my problems was not in conflict with the spiritual jargon I had previously parroted as those exact problems had stacked up. I attended candlelit meetings with other self-professed or government deemed “addicts” and learned to process my trauma with lay people who had never received trauma informed training or attended school for psychological counseling. School, like medicine, was patriarchal and oppressive. Lived experience was all the qualification one needed to treat a traumatized child.
Now, I neither devalue nor underestimate the genuine validity of lived experience, and in many cases doctors and psychiatrists are wrong because they are human, but so are 12-steppers because guess what, they are human as well. At least with doctors there are laws in place and procedures of recourse to circumvent more damage being done in the course of treatment.
Following a brutal gang rape when I was 17, I disclosed to few people and, rather, spent my nights attempting to ward off panic attacks on my knees chanting The Lord’s Prayer with desperate fervor. Descending deeper into addiction, nobody explained to me at that point that I was self-medicating to cope with all of my trauma and the “hopeless addict” label stubbornly stuck. I’m still scrubbing off the residue at 41 years old.
For six years, I immersed myself in AA culture and spiritualism. I received no professional therapy, and I picked up filthy cigarette butts off the ground because a stranger called a sponsor told me to because someone once had told her to and this is apparently a way to manage symptoms of addiction, along with making coffee, re-living your trauma narrative in front of a room full of strangers and hammering it into my head that I was powerless and the only power I would ever have access to came from a loosely defined, intangible source.
I was a 17-year-old sexual assault survivor who believed my life depended on servitude and the input of people I didn’t know.
And so it went. My problems were suppressed, not resolved.
Once they reared their head again…and again and again, I responded with more spiritualism. That must be the problem—my lack of faith or my lack of works in faith and the cures for what ailed me were out there somewhere, in the stars or God’s hands or the flame of a candle flickering communication from a distant ancestor. When my marriage was in shambles, I did what any sane person would do: I prayed and volunteered for more service work I didn’t have time for with two infants and little monetary resources of my own.
As time passed, I analyzed volumes of astrology books as if they were were archeological studies. I meditated, I channeled, I prayed. And then something incredible happened. Some might call it a Kundalini “awakening”:
I was pulled over for swerving all over the road because an officer believed I was drunk—until he spoke to me. I hadn’t had a drink in years.
It must’ve been the Kundalini energy moving through me destroying my bad karma…
I was having flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, stimming, and staring blankly into the distance at regular intervals. I did consult with doctors and they, unfortunately, got it wrong at that point but I also consulted with psychics who my insurance didn’t cover and they also got it wrong. One psychic told me I was destined to be a sex worker who channeled the energy of my clients to write poems. I believed her and was somewhat disappointed in myself when acting on it proved too triggering for me. I bought crystals for protection and carried them in my pocket. I prayed to Hades and my cat died later, which was devastating for my child and I blamed myself and my immense psychic power for unintentionally giving my cat as offering.
I read and interpreted my own tarot cards and followed what I surmised to be the mandates of incorporeal deities with devotion.
As I continued to struggle with my corporeal monetary problems and still undiagnosed and untreated physical and mental disorders, the belief that I had no power whatsoever persisted as did my fear and distrust of professionals and my faith in the unseen, which eventually manifested as a fundamentalist evangelical community—who would probably not call themselves fundamentalists—but follow the teachings of the Bible as fact so there you go. There was faith-based trauma therapy at one point, and when my body shook violently all over the therapist smiled and said it was normal and my body was releasing trauma. Although the body discharging trauma is an integral part of my process now, it was a dangerously out of context and lazy observation.
We were groomed to confirm to biblical ideology and Christian nationalism with “school” being geared toward teaching grown women creationism. Our highest calling was as obedient wives and mothers. I was no longer a self-proclaimed Wiccan or hackneyed amalgamation of Buddhism, Hinduism, and whateverism. Now I was Christian—but it all stemmed from the same place of belief about the “self” being at the mercy of superior forces that had the power to empower you as long as you appeased the respective gods.
My relationship with the invisible was my primary relationship and held the keys to my salvation or peace or prosperity, that held the keys to everything, and I just hadn’t found the right path or combination to unlock my personal catharsis yet. I attended Bible studies that had nothing to do with what I was actually going through. Somehow, men who wrote Samual I&II BC had the answers to what ailed a traumatized single mother in 2013 and Christ had suffered so I wouldn’t have to so that’s a done deal. What’s my problem thinking I even had problems? Lack of faith! You accept Jesus and the rest is just desserts as long as you keep worshipping and serving and I did. I brought the gospel to the prisoners and one of those prisoners held me hostage and raped me repeatedly.
Shortly thereafter, my brain ruptured and I almost died. It was discovered that I had been living with a neurological congenital birth defect all of my life. I was shaking and driving crazy because I have Temporal Lobe and Focal Aware Generalized Epilepsy.
I lived my life with an undiagnosed arterial venous malformation in my right temporal lobe for 34 years as well as the constant toll my Complex-PTSD took on my central nervous system, each condition exacerbating the other while I prayed and analyzed the belief systems of ancient societies, awkwardly superimposing them on my present-day life.
Medication shaming is a real problem in many 12-step, Christian, and new age cultures who have more in common than they may ever admit. Following my life-saving brain surgery, I dove into Catholicism and joined The Legion Of Mary where I prayed on cold linoleum floors for hours on end because that was all I knew
Until finally I decided: it is finished.
I take medication which helps control my epilepsy while also acting as a mood stabilizer for my C-PTSD. I had a negative experience with my first epilepsy specialist so I found a new one and I’ve been working with her for years to much success. I also attend EMDR therapy and behavioral and talk therapy.
I exercise and follow a medical ketogenic diet for epilepsy with the guidance of a nutritionist who works for my neurologist’s office. I do yoga and cardio and read and write.
In spite of all that I have endured, I’m at a more stable and cohesive place in my life than I ever have been before. I haven’t rejected my spirituality as a whole but it’s a small percentage of my total lifestyle. I do believe in the power of energy and in knowingness at a cellular level. I can read a mean astrology chart and I believe astrology is a relevant tool for introspection from a pragmatic, archetypal, and Jungian perspective. And chanting can be physiologically soothing.
I attended massage school where I studied anatomy and learned a lot about the systems of the body and how influential brain chemicals and hormones are to our feelings and functioning. I was recently diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome by my OB-GYN and I’ve received support for my holistic health from psychiatrists, acupuncturists, and many others as well as learning invaluable real-time knowledge by attending multiple trauma-informed care trainings.
All of these things happened on the ground, in the world where I can be present in my mediocre existence without wanting to escape into the vapors now that I’ve faced how fleeting life on this earth really is and can address my problems directly and cherish my time here. When it comes to the journey of my psyche, I’m in the drivers seat now.