Aphrodite, Paganism, Spiritual Growth

Lessons in Faith (-OR- How I Learned to Like Spicy Food)

I’ll be honest: Faith for me is really, really hard.

I’ve never been good at having faith. Even as a child, I was too much of an independent thinker to “have faith” and accept what others say at face value with no questions asked. While I view this as a generally good thing, it did not allow me to take comfort easily from others. (“How do YOU know it’s all going to be okay?” demanded petulant, eight-year-old me.) From the spiritual side of things, I grew up in a vaguely Protestant culture with some warm fuzzies along with the fire-and-brimstone. To me, the idea of “giving your problems to God” seemed very disempowering on a personal level, and a really terrible excuse to not deal with your own shit on an interpersonal/societal level. Until the past year, I wouldn’t even call my religion “my faith.” The word never resonated with me for a number of reasons.

One of the reasons I am bad at having faith is the perpetual struggle with my OCD. My OCD is convinced that nothing is ever okay, EVER and worry is the appropriate response to pretty much anything. Everything ranging from “That plate that clearly just came out of the dishwasher must have gotten dirty on the way to the kitchen counter. WASH IT AGAIN!” to “It’s my second day at my new job and I’m doing everything wrong and they are going to find out I’m a fraud and I have no idea how to deal with children and I’M GOING TO GET FIRED!” has been running through my head since I was twelve years old. When it comes down to it, OCD is basically a lack of trust that things will be okay, and all of the obsessive thoughts about it not being okay and compulsive behaviors to make life feel a little more okay. (OCD sucks, by the way, though that’s a post for another time.)

Another part of my difficulty with faith stems from betrayal from people in my past whom I thought I could trust. My ex from high school and the first part of college cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender. (I walked away from that relationship with two checked suitcases and a carry-on full of emotional baggage.) My parents have also broken my trust over the years. When I was younger, they wouldn’t take me seriously when I tried to talk to them about Paganism. When I was older, I discovered that they lied to me about several family health issues, as well as some foundational beliefs about our family. (Surprise! I was born out of wedlock and didn’t find out until I was 22 years old. AND I only found out because my parents had a knock-down-drag-out fight with my grandmother that ended with us not speaking to my dad’s side of the family. Hooray!) It wasn’t even so much the content of the lies, but the act of lying itself that really hurt me. I’ve had several people whom I considered close friends abandon our friendship for no discernable reason, including my roommate/best friend in college.

Graduate school was a complete and utter disaster that led me to doubt my intelligence and self-worth as a person. It destroyed most of my trust in the world of higher education. Job hunting after graduating was demoralizing and shattered the illusion of “if you work hard and are talented at what you do, you’ll get a good-paying job you enjoy.” (HA!)

Never was my faith tested so much as when my boyfriend moved out. I was depressed. I was suicidal (no plan, just wanted to quit existing so the pain would end). I felt like I had no future because grad school was simultaneously going down the tube. I had one more semester of grad school, and that was it. All my life plans went up in a poof of smoke in the space of a year. And I was a complete wreck.

Finding the right kind of therapy helped a lot, as did finally taking the right psychiatric medications for my OCD and anxiety. It made the day-to-day bearable, and I went from crying myself to sleep every night to only occasionally sobbing into my pillow. But the therapy and the medication didn’t take away the great existential dread of “What am I doing with my life?” It didn’t give me a purpose. It didn’t give me something bigger to believe in. The Divine, specifically Aphrodite, did that.

As I mentioned in my first post on My Journey to Aphrodite, I sought her out in crisis. In grad school, I had everything I trusted pulled out from under me, and I was drowning in the sheer helplessness of it all. Before my boyfriend moved out, I had already discovered that I wasn’t going to get my PhD. I still had one semester to go before earning my Master’s, but grad school was already a closed book. When my boyfriend left, I couldn’t take any more loss. I knew we were worth fighting for, and I would not give up on our relationship. I would move earth and sea and sky for us to heal. I would prove to him and myself that I would not be ruled by fucked-up circumstances or my mental disorder. It just took my world ending for me to gather the muster to actually do it.

I wasn’t courageous about it. Hardly. I cried ALL THE TIME, and went kicking and screaming into my new way of life. Every time I made progress in therapy, there would be a set back. Every time I thought my boyfriend and I were getting to a better place, he would suggest breaking up again. Every time I went to school, I was on the verge of tears. Every time I tried to look for a job, I’d have a panic attack. Every time I tried to think about the future, I thought I had none. But I kept on – Because Aphrodite gave me hope.

I felt Her with me those dark nights sobbing into my pillow. My rituals and prayers to Her became a comfort – an extreme feeling of right-ness in my world that had gone so wrong. I began to see other possibilities, new ways of being that I hadn’t thought of. A way out of the dark tunnel. And above all, a reason to want to get to the other side.

My life began to have new meaning. I was invested in my friendships and heavily involved in my Pagan community. I found a job sharing the joy and sacredness of nature with others. (It ended up being a dud because of a terrible supervisor, but I still felt like I was making a difference.) I learned to live on my own and to tolerate emotional discomfort in a way I never had before.

Part of being able to change was proving to myself that I could, and having faith that it would be okay. I started doing all sorts of things to test myself. I started leading public rituals. I got more sexually adventurous with my boyfriend. I took some courageous steps at work. I set firm boundaries with my parents. I touched doorknobs and didn’t wash my hands. And I tried to like spicy food.

I had never understood spicy food. Why would anyone want to be in pain while they eat? And who would think that was enjoyable?? At the crux, my dislike of spicy food was very much parallel to my OCD. I didn’t trust that things were going to be okay. I didn’t have faith – in myself, in the world, or in the Divine. I would touch this shopping cart handle, get sick, and die. I would eat this spicy thing, the pain would go on forever, and I would never be able to taste anything again. My boyfriend would break up with me, I would be heartbroken, and the emotional pain would never, ever stop. There was never a scenario in which I got through the terrible thing, and was stronger on the other side of it.

Learning to regulate my emotions in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) helped a lot. A phrase that one of my therapists used will stick with me for the rest of my life: “If you have a jacket, and it’s cold, wouldn’t you put the jacket on so you wouldn’t be cold anymore? If you’re sad, and you could do something to make yourself not as sad, why wouldn’t you do that thing?” I didn’t have to stay in the sadness. I didn’t have to live in the fear. I could do something about it. The sadness didn’t have to last forever. And it wasn’t disingenuous to not want to be sad – just like it’s not disingenuous to not want to be cold.

My world cracked open.

So, in addition to doing a lot of other brave things to make my life better, I started to eat spicy food. At first, it was awful. My roommate in college loved wasabi peas, so I bought a container at the grocery store. I tried a few and immediately regretted it. My nose was on fire, my eyes were watering, and my tongue was numb. My whole face was consumed in an inferno of torture, and I was SURE my tastebuds would never taste delicious ice cream ever again. And then… it was over. I wasn’t dead. I could feel my tongue. My sinuses felt clearer. And I was OKAY. So I ate a few more. The same terrible, torturous fate awaited. My nose, eyes, and tongue burned – but I knew that I was going to be okay, and I actually enjoyed it.

I trusted more – in myself, in the world, and in the Divine. I took more leaps of faith. When something bad happened, I assumed it would turn out okay instead of imagining the worst possible scenario (not all the time, but at least some of the time). I did more magick because I wasn’t as afraid of screwing things up. And it was all okay.

I took a big leap of faith when I quit my job to get away from my terrible supervisor. I didn’t have anything else lined up, and had been casually applying for jobs for months already with no luck. I couldn’t take it anymore and I knew I had to get out of that situation. I didn’t have a back up plan, but I trusted that everything would work out. It did. I found another job a few months later, right before all my bank accounts hit zero. It certainly wasn’t a luxe life, and it was definitely stressful, but it was all okay.

The whole inspiration for writing this post is that I recently had a crisis of faith. What I thought would be my next big step in the realm of my career and the fusion of my mundane and spiritual work isn’t going to happen. At least not right now. I was devastated when I found out. I cried and I felt like a worthless piece of shit. And I was angry. Angry at the external circumstances, and yes, angry with the Divine. In a fit of emotionally charged frustration, I shouted at the sky, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?” Because I thought I knew. I thought this was it. And it was not.

To be honest, I’m still coming down from that place. I know I need to take some time to talk with Aphrodite seriously when I can actually listen and not be caught up in my own head. I haven’t come up with a Plan B for the future yet (though to be honest, as far as Big Life Plans go, I’m on Plan D now). I hate feeling directionless, so I’m sure that will happen sooner rather than later, but I definitely need some time to process everything I’m feeling and really tune in. However, despite all of this, after the first couple of days, I’m not actually angry anymore. I’m disappointed, but I’m not sad. I have this indescribable feeling that things are going to go in a very interesting and better direction, though I have no idea what that is at the moment.

But I have faith. And I believe that things will be okay. Because they will.

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