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It was January 21, 1977, the day after I was discharged from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. I did not feel like the hospital stay had helped solve any of my problems. It was all about drugs, nothing about what brought me to this point or how to come to terms with it all. I left there, dejected, and defeated. The time in the hospital did not prepare me for going home; my hospital stay was ineffective.

My thinking seemed to move in exaggerated slowness. I’m living in hell. Tormented in my mind, was the only way I could describe what was happening. How long will this torture last? I should just end it all, so I don’t have to think any longer.

Other than being consumed by fear, I had no emotions. I shuffled when I walked. My heart pounded. My tongue felt thick and stuck out. I drooled. My fingers felt stiff. Unaware Thorazine caused these conditions and masked my emotions, I thought I was more mentally ill than I was. In fact, these were all side effects to Thorazine and not symptoms of mental illness. But no one told me that these were side effects.

My friend, Ann, came to visit one day. While I sat listlessly on the couch, I told Ann that God was punishing me and that is why I had a mental illness.

Ann took my hands in hers and said very gently, “God is not punishing you. He loves you and He allowed you to become mentally ill because He knew He could trust you with it. He has a beautiful plan for your life. You will get better, and He will use you to help others learn how to heal too.”

Then she picked up the Bible on the table and read, “…God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation He will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

She went on to explain, “This means that God never gives you more than you can handle, and He always makes a way of escape. The escape for you is spiritual healing. He loves you so much. You belong to Him, and you are called according to His purpose.”

When I studied the Bible on my own, I read in Proverbs 10:24, “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him.” I felt the weight of those words. I did not see anything after that, just “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him.”

The voices in my head screamed, “You are wicked! Wicked! Wicked!” repeatedly.

“That’s me,” I thought. “I am wicked. I am going to burn in hell and will wail and gnash my teeth,” I thought, “just like it says here in the Bible.” The voices rang out in my head, “Guilty! Guilty!” I saw myself in the furnace of fire, stooping over with my arms wrapped around my knees. I was rocking back and forth. I was inside a furnace with flames all around me, sweat pouring down my face, “wailing and gnashing my teeth.”  I was living in hell.

The missionaries understood how I was living my life. They showed me a passage that read, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.”

They explained to me that knowing that God loves me is what casts out all the fear. One of the young missionaries went on to tell me, “You are tormenting yourself mentally and emotionally because you believed the lies your priest and your father told you. God loves you. God has always loved you. God will always love you and there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love. Affirm to yourself over and over that God loves you and there is no fear in His love for you. This is your prayer every day.” I was beginning to wake up and I began a spiritual journey that day.

Vine Deloria, Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux lawyer, teacher, activist and writer described the difference between religion and spirituality this way: “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve already been there.” I identified with this because I believed I was living in hell because my father’s religion sent me that message when I was excommunicated. When I healed spiritually, I believed I was living in heaven because life no longer felt like a living hell to me.

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