My spiritual journey was a journey which, for a while, I didn’t exactly realize I was even on. Arguably, I’ve been aware of my spirituality my entire life. I just didn’t acknowledge it in those terms until much more recently.
As a kid, I went to church because I was told I was “supposed to.” My parents brought my sister and me to mass every weekend and when we were old enough, we both went to religious education classes every week during the school year. I wouldn’t say I particularly loved going to either of these things, but I was an attentive student in the classes, and the hospitality bagel brunch held after Sunday morning masses were a fair offering enough to get me out the door.
As a teenager, I began to resist going to church every weekend, in part because I had started working, and also because, like many teenagers, I didn’t want to be told by my parents what to do. I had many arguments with my dad about this, and although I may not have articulated myself very well at the time, what bothered me most was the forced sense of obligation. I stopped regularly attending church when I was 16 years old, much to the chagrin of my parents, although I will say, I think my mom has been far more understanding of this than my dad because she herself went through a similar phase at that age.
It was the summer of 2003 when I stopped regularly attending church. Throughout college and into my early adulthood, the only times I went were to celebrate Christmas, Easter, or to attend a funeral. It was nine years between the time I stopped regularly attending mass and the time I found myself back at my old church, but not for mass…
In 2011, I was at a crossroads in my career, and frankly, my life. I was unhappy with my employment situation and there was no end in sight. Despite having a background in education, I decided to explore a career in sports statistics. After months of preparation, travel, and interviews I was offered a job at ESPN, which I accepted, knowing it would bring about many major changes.
I moved out on my own for the first time, farther away from home than I had ever lived before. Doing so also brought about the amicable end of a long-term relationship, where we decided that rather than place the added challenge of distance to our relationship, it was best to preserve our friendship instead. None of these were easy decisions for me, but I felt as though I needed to change the path I was on. I hoped that by doing this, I would find greater fulfillment.
I enjoyed a lot of things about my new job, apartment, and independent lifestyle, but being nowhere near the social support of my friends and family, I also found myself feeling isolated. I decided to try dating again and started to push myself out of my comfort zone in an effort to “put myself out there.” I told myself that in order to move forward I couldn’t half-heartedly date, and so I “jumped in with both feet” so to speak.
I met a girl in January of 2012 and found myself in a new relationship. I wanted to consciously make an effort to move on and get myself out of the rut I was in.
I was 25 years old, living on my own and working in (what I believed was) my “dream” field. I had made some new friends and was in a new relationship. I was a caring, attentive, thoughtful boyfriend who did what I believed were all of “the little things that you’re supposed to” do in a relationship, as best as I could. Not only that, but I had been open about my friendship with my ex, and she understood. Things were going pretty well.
Then, on my 26th birthday, it all came crashing down.
That spring, I had begun to found myself in a bit of a predicament. While I enjoyed my job as a statistics analyst, I was still on a part-time seasonal contract at that point and was without health benefits. I had also learned that despite my desire to expand my role, the likelihood of me advancing into a full-time role anytime soon was slim.
Now, 26 happened to be the year that I would no longer be eligible for health insurance under my family’s plan, and I would need my own coverage either through work, or paying roughly $800 a month out-of-pocket. Needless to say, I was quite anxious and in a bit of a panic about my work situation and health insurance. I began looking for work both near my new apartment in Connecticut and back home in New York.
I had some time off and decided to come home for my 26th birthday, and invited everyone— my girlfriend, my friends… and my ex. “It’ll be fine,” I thought… I was wrong.
I had the best intentions. I really, really did. But on the night of my 26th birthday, my girlfriend broke up with me. She did it in particularly dramatic fashion, in front of a bunch of my friends. It was awful.
In hindsight, there were several things about that situation that I would have handled differently, and yes, many of those things you probably easily saw coming as I retold this little story. Of course, I misjudged many things that day, and I quickly realized that while I didn’t do so intentionally, what I did was hurtful to her.
I learned quite a lot from the fallout of that day.
For the next several weeks of the summer, I was in complete disarray. I had no full-time job prospects, no health insurance, and no relationship. I had nearly two months before my next work term began, and an apartment 10 minutes from my now newest ex, but no real reason or desire to be there because I also had a ton of idle time on my hands. So, I decided to stay home for a while.
My obsessions, compulsions, and overall anxiety were at an astronomically high level, to the point where I could barely function. Every thirty seconds (not an exaggeration), I would check my phone looking for a text or a missed call and debating whether or not to send one. I was so barely functional that my sister would take my phone away from me for an hour at a time, literally hiding it and telling me I could have it back when the hour was up.
I spent that hour obsessing over everything anyway. The last time I had experienced such crippling anxiety I was eight years old, trying desperately to walk from one room to another to sit on the couch and watch TV. If you aren’t familiar with that story, here it is.
I knew that I needed to try to do “normal” things, even if I had to force myself to do them. Over those next couple of weeks, I went on vacation with my family, spent some time with friends, and tried not to let the breakup completely consume me. I also spent a lot of time riding my bike.
Having hoped my move out the year before would be permanent, it was surreal to be back home sleeping in my old room. It was surreal to be riding my bike around my hometown each day trying to clear my head. It was even more surreal when one day while riding around town, I found myself back at my old church.
I rode around for nearly two hours that afternoon, rehashing things over and over again, haunted by the whole situation. I hadn’t gone out that day intending to go anywhere in particular, I just wanted to get some fresh air and some exercise. Even as I rode there, I felt it was almost an out-of-body experience— I never really had the thought, “You know where I’ll go? I’ll go over to church.” But two hours later, there I was.
I walked into the administrative building and asked if there was anyone who might be able to talk to me. The receptionist made a call, and a few minutes later I found myself talking with the pastor of the parish.
His first question to me was simple: “What brings you here today?”
My answer was just as simple as the question preceding it, and was far more profound than I ever expected it would be: “I just… I feel like… I’m not at peace.”
For as much time as I had spent the last couple of weeks thinking, agonizing over what to say, when to say it, or if I should say anything at all, there was no real thought involved in my answer. These words just came out of my mouth.
“I’m not at peace.”
These words became the beginning of my return to spirituality.
“Peace of Mind: Finding Mental Clarity Through Spirituality” continues on February 14th, 2018.
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