My last confession was 20 years ago.
Iced coffee in hand, I plopped down on my regular comfy, worn-out, leather chair in a local coffee shop. Digging out my journal and headphones from my overstuffed bag, my ears perked up and my attention immediately turned to a nearby conversation.
I didn’t want to eavesdrop, I wanted to mind my own business, relax, sip my coffee, journal, and do my own thing; that lasted about 10 seconds.
“Confess your sins to God, Jesus Christ died for our sins.”
Confess. Sins. God. Jesus Christ. It struck a chord. A deeply wounded cord. I couldn’t pull away.
A Pastor was mentoring and supporting the younger gentleman, maybe early 20s, on his path of sobriety. They went back and forth reading passages from the bible about Jesus dying for us and how we need to confess to be absolved of our sins. Then they ended in prayer.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9)
I was raised Catholic, attended weekly mass as a kid, went to CCD to learn about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Seven Sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. It’s all I knew about faith, religion, and God growing up in a small New Hampshire town without much diversity. Once I made my Confirmation, around 16 years old, I went to church less and less until it turned into the obligatory Easter and Christmas family mass, wedding, baptism, or funeral.
My parents were devoted Catholics, my father in particular. His faith and practice substantially increased once he became ill during my late 20s. He attended daily mass, sat in the first pew, and knew everyone by name. Rosaries and portraits of Jesus sprawled across any surface in his home. Bibles, books on Saints, Catholicism, and the path to heaven along with CDs, movies, and lists of sins to confess were piled up on desks, tables, and nightstands.
Bars, that’s where people knew me by name. If I was lucky, my drink was even waiting for me once I walked through the door.
My mid-late 20s consisted of engaging in drunken, sloppy, meaningless one-night stands, short-lived flings, and lustful desires. I craved attention from men. I wanted to feel beautiful, desirable, and worthy. I needed validation. There was no love, no intimacy, no passion, no respect, no feelings, just physical sex.
An abortion. A decision I never thought I would have to make, especially in my 30s, particularly while in a relationship. A choice that ruminates in my mind, body, and soul.
Shame. Guilt. Self-judgement. Emptiness. Sadness. Unworthy. Unforgivable. Dirty.
But this isn’t necessarily about sleeping around, abortion, right or wrong, pro-choice or pro-life, my reasoning or justifications. This is about the ingrained belief I had of Sin and my relationship with God, or so I thought.
The so-called notion of “Catholic Guilt” took over. Little Miss Goody Two-shoes—growing up too scared to break the rules, get yelled at, or God forbid, get detention—now sleeping around, binge drinking, and an abortion! I was going to Hell. Who was I? What happened to me?
I guess I figured my inherent “good” outweighed my “bad.” After all, didn’t everyone do something they weren’t proud of, make mistakes, or regret a decision? Wasn’t God omniscient? Couldn’t He also see I was friendly, compassionate, close with my family, a hard worker, reliable, and put everyone else’s needs before mine?
I suppose part of me didn’t understand, or possibly accept, why I had to confess to a priest to be forgiven.
After ending an emotionally damaging and draining long-term relationship in my mid-30s, I spiraled even further down a black hole digging myself deeper and deeper into the depths of unworthiness, depression, and suicidal ideation. With constant reminders of my faults and insecurities being thrown in my face, it was hard to feel or see any love. Any inherent “good” I had in myself, was now knocked down.
Drinking more frequently, isolating myself, giving up hobbies that once brought me joy and confidence, gaining weight, burying any hope of love, and losing the desire to follow my dreams—something had to give.
I felt like a failure, a disappointment, and that I didn’t belong. I was constantly comparing myself to everything and everybody. I wasn’t as fit and healthy as I once was, I wasn’t married with kids, didn’t own my own home or make “X” amount of money, I moved back home, I was miserable at my job, and felt as if I wasted my college education. I wanted out of this life, one way or another.
There had to be some way out of this darkness before it was too late.
So, I surrendered. I checked myself into the hospital to detox, not just from alcohol, but mostly from my mind, my thoughts, my judgements.
I was ready and willing to climb out of my dungeon.
Sh*t came up! It was ugly, mucky, and painful. I thought the path of healing was supposed to bring me happiness and confidence. Where was the light at the end of the tunnel? I didn’t realize I was going to analyze every emotion and thought, examine decisions I had made, reflect on those I’ve hurt and those who have hurt me, or why I had to agonize over the abortion. It was all in the past, I just wanted to jump into a new life and start fresh.
I would try anything to release this pain. To feel whole, worthy, and happy. To come to terms with my past, move forward, and maybe even love myself. I didn’t want to give up and bury myself all over again.
I sought spiritual guidance, or rather, it sought me. Yoga and running came back to my life, meditation, journaling, reading, chanting, mantra, acupuncture, breath work, essential oils, Reiki, support groups, spiritual life coaching, walking over fire.
It was working. I could actually feel a shift, a difference in myself.
Books, articles, YouTube videos, apps, lectures, trainings, anything around yoga, Buddhist philosophy, energy healing, meditation, mindfulness, and spirituality. Sign me up; I couldn’t get enough.
Yes, parts were painful and dark, but simultaneously insightful, refreshing, and even cathartic.
I discovered this rejection, unworthiness, and shame didn’t necessarily come from God and the Church, as I originally believed, but from within myself. It was easier to put blame on outside circumstances and people than take a look in the mirror and explore what was really going on deep inside me. I was easily influenced and let certain experiences and people define my self-worth and shape the direction of my life.
I don’t condone or condemn all my actions, but I can embrace my choices with compassion and a loving heart. My sex life was no one’s business. I wasn’t hurting anybody, just myself. It’s not the future I envisioned, and the truth behind it was I lacked self-love and if for just one night, I felt accepted.
The abortion tore me apart. I was conflicted, part of me wanting a baby, but believing I was incapable of parenting, decided to terminate. I was weak. I allowed someone else to dictate my ability to love and care for another. I doubt I’ll ever completely stop thinking about this choice, but have come to terms with my decision.
I started listening to my body and following my intuition. It’s liberating to hear my voice, to laugh, to have the courage to take action toward my dreams, to find joy in life again, and believe that I do have something good to offer this world. It’s a constant practice, but I catch myself much faster when self-sabotaging thoughts arise.
Love. Hope. Acceptance. Worthy. Content. Joy. Confidence.
I’m not a practicing Catholic and have adopted different methods and doctrines to heal, forgive, and to live by. My library of tools may be different from the young gentleman’s at that coffee shop, but the path to self-acceptance and recovery is personal. I wish him well on his journey of sobriety.
I’m not going to hell and I’m not a bad person. I’m human trying to navigate in this world.