I have often asked myself which is harder to live with: a structural/functional defect of the heart, or a spiritual/emotional defect? But I’ve realised that God knows exactly which battles each person will be able to fight – and still walk out victoriously in the end.
I was a very anxious child. My panic attacks started at an early age. I was always afraid of people, unfamiliar situations and change. I was diagnosed with social phobia in primary school, which meant that I had an extreme, irrational fear of being judged negatively by other people. Despite the constant fear, I managed to excel academically. I always had a bunch of good friends, and looking back now, I would say that overall I was a happy, physically healthy child.
At the age of 14 I was sexually assaulted. At the time I thought that what had happened to me wasn’t so terrible, but my whole life changed after this experience. (Unfortunately sexual assault would feature a number of times during my teenage years). Subconsciously my mind wanted to punish my body for what had happened to me. On a conscious level I achieved this by starving myself, as well as by exercising obsessively. On some days I would feel as if my heart was on the brink of giving in – I was jogging for miles every afternoon, whilst allowing myself to eat only 2 or 3 apples per day. At the age of 15 I met my first love, namely alcohol. I call it my first love, because for the next 22 years, I would have a tumultuous relationship with liquor. For many years, the two of us were almost inseparable – whenever my anxiety was unmanageable, I would turn to alcohol in order to get relief and consolation. Despite this toxic relationship, which threatened to destroy my life on many occasions, I managed to graduate from university in my early twenties. I started working in the healthcare industry – isn’t it strange that despite the social phobia, I chose a profession in which I was forced to have contact with people on a constant basis? And isn’t it strange that I chose a profession in which I had to care for sick people, despite my having such a broken heart and deranged mind?
In the next few years after graduation, I managed to work incredibly hard at my job during the daytime, whilst drinking on most nights, in order to drown the dread and loneliness inside my heart. To suppress the symptoms I experienced due to alcohol withdrawal, I would take copious amounts of tranquillisers during the day. I used to eat something every third or fourth day, but would then feel incredibly guilty afterwards. Anorexia and addiction are two of the loneliest, most self-destructive illnesses known to mankind – and often these patients decide to end their own lives.
At the age of 32, I weighed only 44 kilograms. I couldn’t manage to maintain healthy relationships, not with a romantic partner, nor with friends and family. I tried to protect myself from further heartache by pushing away anyone who’d try to get close to me on a personal level. I was angry with God and I blamed him for all the desolation, fear and insecurity, which became part of my everyday life. In my mid-thirties I was ready to die. I decided that this life wasn’t worth living any longer. Fortunately I discussed these suicidal thoughts with my psychiatrist, who managed to have me admitted to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
This was the turning point. The place was aptly named “Ezekiel House”, as just as life was breathed into the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, new life was breathed into my soul during my stay at the centre. From a medical point of view, I should’ve been dead years ago! But the Lord saved me, so that I would be able to have life – and life in abundance.
I realised that I could only experience peace in one way, and that is by spending time in the presence of my Father. He never, ever stopped loving me, no matter how hard I tried to distance myself from Him. And I realised that His love for me is deeper than I will ever be able to imagine. This love between Him and me was able to overcome my biggest fears. It was able to shine light on my darkest secrets and to help me realise that He lets all things work together for my good.
I have been free from alcoholism, dependence on tranquillisers as well as anorexia, for more than two years now. Since I surrendered my whole life to my heavenly Father, not a single day has passed in which I haven’t been blessed in fantastic ways. And after a life filled with fear, hurt and self-destruction, I now live a life filled with joy, freedom and gratitude. My healing is an absolute miracle! And I give my God all the glory for this.
If someone had to ask me if it was worth it to endure so much heartache for so many years, my answer would most definitely be “yes”. For all that suffering brought me closer to God and made me realise how dependent I am on Him.
“Your sun will never set again, your moon will not go down, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your sorrow will be over”. – Isaiah 60:20
I am filled with hope for the future, and whenever fear threatens to take hold of my heart, I simply remind myself to be still, and know that He is God.