Remember My Name

recovery Aug 13, 2012

I remember the first time I met God in the tomb. I was in a mental hospital. I was laid out on a cold white sheet, in a Thorazine induced exhaustion. I was seventeen years old, diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been lying on that hospital bed for three days. My body was stiff and heavy from the Thorazine, which had left my tongue cracked and dried and swollen within my parched mouth. A hospital attendant shook my bed to awaken me and helped to prop me up. He said the chaplain had come by to administer the sacrament of communion. I managed to receive the blessing, and as I began to slump back into unconsciousness, a terrible coldness came upon me. I was so afraid! I was afraid because I was so far away and all alone. I felt so desolate, so erased, so utterly disappeared and buried, that no human hand could possibly reach me. And as the drugged darkness began to swallow me away, I remember experiencing God's presence and saying, "It's just you and me. Just you and me God." And that was all. But that was enough.

To find that God was already there; to find that God was already dwelling in that tomb; to find that in the place-where-no-human-hands-could-reach-me, there, already, was my God with the hands to catch my collapse, now that was grace. The Psalmist bursts into praise at such revelations: "Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence where can I flee? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; If I sink to the nether world, you are present there." (Psalm 139:7-10). But I was no Psalmist. I was just a teenager diagnosed with schizophrenia, passing out on a hospital bed. Yet this discovery that God was already present in my suffering, was the experiential foundation of my recovery.

The discovery that God-was-with-me meant I was not forsaken. It meant even when the professionals got it wrong or even when the limits of human helping had been reached, there was still hope for me. No matter how scary, how forlorn, how afraid, how psychotic, how depressed, anxious, panicked, weary, or disorganized I became, God was with me. And importantly, this God had no agenda to change me; no treatment plan for me; no magic bullet for me; no miracle to work on me; and no magic spells to make me normal again. This God simply is, was and always had been there, in my madness, in my pain, in my despair. There's something deeply healing in that. For me, I think it was just the knowledge that I could never truly get lost if God was always, already there with me.

It was deeply healing for me to discover I could never truly get lost, if God was always, already there with me. That knowledge was healing because it promised that schizophrenia was not about being lost. Rather, schizophrenia could be a passageway, and God was already with me as I began to move through it. It meant schizophrenia could be a passageway and not a destination. It meant psychosis was hallowed ground, blessed by God's presence. Understand I am not saying I saw the pathway to recovery clearly laid out before me, in some type of divine revelation. Rather, I experienced a certainty that I could never really be lost, if the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Path towards which all paths lead, was already walking by my side.