I was raised Catholic, and a devout one at that: Catholic school, weekly confessions, Communion, Confirmation, even a Catholic wedding. I remember how the religion seemed to give me a feeling of warmth and safety. As a child I would sit in church, looking up at the striking rendition of Jesus on the cross. I prayed to Jesus, asking for things I wanted (like a puppy) but also asking for strength. When the time came to give the sign of peace in Mass, I would shake the hands of those around me and feel myself well up with hope and peace. Catholicism was safe and familiar, a refuge for a sensitive, anxious child like me.
By the time I was 10 years old, the faith and security I once had was gone. I had lost my father to alcoholism- he was still alive, but had turned into a completely different person. As I watched my home turn into a chaotic mess, I remember asking God why this was happening to my life. I was still so young and there was much I didn’t understand. I had no way to handle the anxiety and sadness I felt so I turned to my faith, which had always been a source of strength. That faith was gone. When I prayed, there was no answer. In fact, it was during this time that I realized I felt there had never been an answer. I felt that I was, and always had been, completely alone.
Looking back, I can see exactly where my anxiety and despair led me down the road to anorexia. I began to withdraw even before I realized I was withdrawing. Anxiety replaced faith. A hole opened in my chest, so big it threatened to swallow me up. I began to have frequent dreams of falling, and I just knew one day I’d fall right into that void in my chest. And I did- within a few years anorexia swallowed me whole.
I have not been able to return to the childlike faith in God I once had. I do believe in some of the teachings of Catholicism, but I do not go to church. I do read the Bible on occasion, but I do not see it as the absolute Word of God as it was taught to me. I now see the Bible as a source of inspiration and a guide for living a decent life.
I have studied other religions and philosophies, and found that Buddhism closely matches my beliefs and is the best fit for the way I want to live my life. The obstacle I encounter is guilt- I am a baptized Catholic, should I be studying other religions, practicing meditation, and reading sacred texts other than the Bible? I have thought about this long and hard, trying to separate what I believe from what I was taught. The conclusion is this: I am fundamentally a good person. Sure I have made a million mistakes and will make a million more. I have lived according to Catholic beliefs and principles, and I have lived in the exact opposite way. I have struggled tremendously in my young life with anxiety, depression, anorexia, and I am still alive. I believe that it is okay for me to appreciate and follow the teachings and beliefs of different religions and philosophies, ultimately creating my own path to achieving stronger faith. It is okay for me to talk to God, because I believe in Him. But I also believe in the Buddhist philosophy and way of life. Both are fine, and both can live harmoniously within me.
I have found that Buddhist practices help me most in recovery because there is no shame or guilt- only acceptance of what is. That is very freeing and definitely something I need that helps me let go of grasping and holding to anorexia and other issues. But I still keep a Bible on my nightstand, and I flip it open to read whatever passage it opens to. Often I find that the passage applies to an issue I am dealing with. The Bible gives me great comfort, as does meditation and practicing mindfulness. They coexist peacefully, and I have discovered faith again for the first time in many years. I think it is good to try things on for size, experiment with all the resources available to us, and then create a spiritual support system that works for our unique situation. Another gift of recovery- the ability to choose freely and create a positive, supremely supportive experience that will maximize positive recovery and minimize relapses.