I couldn’t breathe! As an addict who suffered from bipolar disorder, I was used to taking short and shallow breaths. To breathe as others do was physically painful for me. I seldom left my apartment, except for alcohol or drug runs, and I had an aversion to being around people. Sunglasses and a hat protected me from anyone approaching or talking to me. I’d given up my son, my marriage, my home, my family and my friends. I was depressed and I cried all the time. I was lost.
But then I went to a Sunday morning service at The Salvation Army Bloor Central church in Toronto. I was 53 years old and attending my first church service ever.
No sooner had I walked through the doors when panic overtook me. My chest felt as if it was in a vice, and my breathing became laboured and choppy. My hands were shaking, I was bathed in sweat and I felt sick to my stomach. Why am I here?
Why indeed? I was raised in an angry and dysfunctional family. For my parents, trips to the liquor store were as frequent as trips to the grocery store, and probably more important. I took my first drink at the age of 13, and I was hooked. I spent 40 years trying to quit on my own, but nothing worked. Something was missing.
At 15, I was diagnosed as manic depressive, now called bipolar disorder, and I spent the next few decades in and out of psychiatric facilities, on and off countless medications and therapy up to and including shock treatment. Again, nothing worked. Again, something was missing.
On October 2, 2008, I checked into The Salvation Army’s Homestead treatment centre. It was my first attempt at rehab, and I chose the Homestead for a reason. I was raised to believe that there was no God and that the Bible was a book of fiction. But I’d come to realize that I had been fed a lie and that what I was missing was a relationship with God. I couldn’t stop drinking by my own strength; I needed Someone stronger than me. The Homestead boasted a spiritually-based program, and that’s exactly what had been missing in my life.
Three days later, I attended my first church service.
As I sat in the pew, I was wracked by waves of nausea. My Salvation Army friend who had accompanied me thought I was going to bolt. I was shaking, sweating and quietly sobbing. I can’t do this, my mind screamed.
But in less than 30 seconds, as the pastor started to speak, my fear and anxiety started to dissipate. Major Douglas Hammond’s sermon was on the atheist and the agnostic, which showed how perfect God’s timing was. I felt the pastor’s words were directed only at me.
As the sermon went on, I started to calm down. My breathing changed, becoming measured, slower and deeper. By the end of the sermon, I was drained but I felt amazing. I inhaled the first deep, cleansing breath that I had taken in years. I felt reborn, renewed.
Most important, I felt that God had given me a second chance at life.
A New Life
From that day on, I faithfully attended the Sunday services. Each week, something said in the sermon seemed to refer directly to my life. My sense of calm continued to grow.
I soon began to pray for the first time in my life. At first, the prayers were long lists of things I needed. After a while, though, I recognized how arrogant I was to think I could tell God what I needed. He knew what I needed long before I did, and He’d provided for me all along.
From being someone who’d had an aversion to people, I am now the receptionist for The Salvation Army’s community and family services at Bloor Central. I also volunteer at the “Coffee Corner” at a Salvation Army thrift store and spend time with a group of women at Evangeline Residence to share the benefits of journaling. I’m dealing with the public on a daily basis. And I love it! I’m surrounded by people who care for me and support me, who give me a sense of value and worth, and in whom I trust.
I am growing in my faith and every day is full of blessings.
Today, I see life as a collection of opportunities from God, and it is through these opportunities that I learn
and grow. He provides me with everything I need. My commitment to Him brings me unconditional love, trust and forgiveness. I have peace, contentment and joy. These are my daily gifts.
And I can breathe again.