This week we have a special blog post by Anita Wilson. Anita has an incredible story of faith and resilience by overcoming addiction and depression, all while coping with a chronic illness. Her story and testimony is below and we hope that whoever may be reading this it will touch you in whatever way you need it to. Enjoy and thank you to Anita for sharing her story with us and our listeners and readers.
ARP: Tell us your name, where you’re from, and what you do for a living.
Anita: I am Anita Wilson from Westerville, OH. It is a suburb of Columbus. I used to be a Senior Database Marketing Analyst until an insidious chronic illness took over my life. I am now on permanent disability.
ARP: When did you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
Anita: I was a very young girl of 5 years old. Although it was over 45 years ago, I still remember the experience. My family was in church and I remember distinctly listening to the sermon and what Jesus did for me became very clear. I remember going to the altar and asking Jesus to come into my heart. From that moment on I felt I was his and he was mine. I remember wanting to be a nun and being disappointed that Baptists didn’t have nuns. I just knew in my heart I wanted my life to belong to my Lord.
ARP: What was your earliest memory of dealing with depression?
Anita: Depression set in for me in my early twenties. It was a chemical imbalance in my brain. I know this because the medication worked wonders for me and to this day as long as I stay on my medication my depression remains under control.
ARP: In the Christian community, many people brush over things such as depression, suicide, and addiction. What’s your story? What led you to addiction? How did you get to a place of depression?
Anita: I became afflicted with a chronic illness. My diagnosis has changed over the years, but my symptoms have remained the same. After 8 years of dealing with the illness, I came to the point where I was absolutely debilitated. I had to give up my career, resign as an elder at my church, stop doing other volunteer work and I continue to be housebound several days a month.
Because of the rareness of my illness there were no local support groups available to me. So I found support in an online community. I was having a terrible day with vertigo and one of my online friends suggested that I take a shot of whiskey because it is a nervous system suppressant. It worked. It lessened my vertigo. However, tolerance of alcohol being what it is, one shot was soon not enough. Then two shots weren’t enough...then three shots.
Soon I was drinking, not to lessen the vertigo, but to escape my feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and grief from losing my life as I knew it. Before long I was secretly drinking a full liter of 100 proof alcohol everyday. The escape was amazing.
Then I had a major injury from a fall and was prescribed pain pills. Once I started mixing the pain pills with the alcohol I was able to numb everything and I found myself addicted to pain pills and alcohol abuse.
The alcohol took my depression to a deeper level. One that prescription medication could no longer touch. I slipped deeper and deeper into the mire and began feeling worthless and not worthy of life. It came to the point where I attempted suicide by taking an entire bottle of sleeping pills with ½ liter of 100 proof alcohol. I should not have survived. But God had other plans for me.
ARP: How have you been able to stay focused on God?
Anita: My journals are filled with me crying out to God for forgiveness, and rescue. Interspersed with these pleas are writings where you can see the hopelessness I felt spilled all over the pages of the journal. I was truly trapped in a pattern of self-flagellation, and anger at God for not healing me, not rescuing me, not answering my prayers in the way I expected.
It took the suicide attempt and the subsequent intervention to break the cycle. The morning after my suicide attempt I walked out of my bedroom into a living room filled with family and friends. It was like walking into a warm wall of love. I felt so ashamed, but I entered that room with a heart that only love like that can open. I don’t remember the words spoken to me, but I will never forget the love in the room. Love is a language that even an alcohol soaked brain can understand.
I would get help for them. I would love them back. I would learn to love myself. I would go into treatment for the sake of love.
ARP: As you discussed, it can feel like failure as a Christian. How do you battle with thoughts of feeling like there is “something wrong with you?”
Anita: At the beginning of my 8 week stay in the psychiatric hospital my mind was obliterated with thoughts of inadequacy. How could such a strong Christian fall so far so fast? How dare I let Satan get a foothold. My mind was flooded with these thoughts and not much else. My mind was mush brain. But something miraculous began happening. God started to flood my mind with scriptures and words to old hymns. These were the only thoughts that had clarity.
At night, I would go into the bathroom and shut the door so I wouldn’t disturb my roommate. I sat on the cold bathroom floor and relished in the thoughts from the still small voice from God. Sometimes, I would write down these thoughts in my hospital journal. Other times I just sat and relished in the thoughts streaming to me from that still small voice. One of the most precious moments with my God was on the bathroom floor of a psychiatric hospital.
ARP: How has writing been an outlet for you?
Anita: When I came home from the hospital I had to understand how this all happened to me. I started pouring through over a decade worth of journals pulling out excerpts that related to my story. I had already incorporated art as a coping mechanism, so I began telling my story through the end of a paint brush. I included poetry and essays and created an art journal. It was so cathartic and I felt like I found answers. Then I placed it between two handmade covers and sat it on a shelf.
Then I listened to a TED talk by Brene Brown. She spoke on vulnerability. She stated that the word courage has a latin root word cur which means heart. So the original meaning of courage was to express yourself with your whole heart. I remembered my recovery art journal and felt God saying to me, “Tell your story.” It was a challenge because I had included very personal journal entries and had written something very raw. But I was obedient and translated that art journal into the book Well - A Memoir by Alias In Town.
ARP: Tell us about Alias in Town? How did it get started? How has it helped your healing process?
Anita: Alias In Town is an anagram of my name Anita Wilson. I purposely chose this pen name because there are alias people in every town living with addiction, depression and chronic illness. They hide in the shadows of shame. I was one of those people. I write for these people and it has helped my healing process to know that my story can help them come from the shadows and seek help.
Since authoring the book and speaking in public it has been a sad surprise to me how many alias people there are. I began hearing stories at live events, receiving messages and emails and my heart aches for these people. They are my burden, my passion and my calling. God continues to say to my heart, “Tell your story. Tell your story.”
ARP: What resources would you offer to others who may be dealing with depression, addiction, or suicide?
Anita: If you are suicidal or having suicidal thoughts please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Your life is precious, especially to your creator. There is hope of living a full life.
If you are trying to deal with depression on your own, it does not work. Begin with your medical doctor. Seek counseling through your church or counseling centers. Don’t be an alias. Don’t be ashamed. Depression is a chronic illness just like diabetes. It requires treatment. There should be no stigma attached. There is hope of a life lived well.
If you are struggling with addiction, do not suffer one more day. Do not suffer one more minute. The Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Association, SAMHSA is a national government association that can direct you to services. Go online to https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline or call 1-800-662-HELP Don’t let excuses or your drug addled brain convince you to wait even one more moment for help. There is hope to live a life free of addiction.
ARP: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
Anita: My life verse is Deuteronomy 30:19-20a 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life...
I submit to you that we choose life in the small choices that we make everyday. For example, if you choose to turn off the television and go for a walk instead you are choosing life. When I chose to drink shots to force away vertigo, I chose death.
There are ways to rewire your mind from bad and dangerous coping mechanisms to healthy, life affirming coping mechanisms. We all deal with stressors in life. How we choose to cope with those stressors can lead us toward life or death. I discuss coping in detail in my book Well.
So I leave you with these words. Choose Life.