Photo: Ernestine on ISP’s Inaugural Witness Retreat
Three or four years ago, I was staying at a Salvation Army shelter in Milwaukee, WI and my case manager suggested that I go on a retreat with the Ignatian Spirituality Project. At the time, I had been in recovery for more than six months and I was spiritual. It was my first retreat. It was at the St. Vincent Pallotti Center in Wisconsin. I was excited about getting out of the shelter. Before going on the retreat I had never experienced a spiritual awakening. After the retreat, I felt big doors had opened wide in my heart.
On the retreat, I heard a witness share her story. I felt it was such a blessing. It made me want to share my story. So I will share it with you:
My parents were both alcoholics. I had my first drink at 12 years old. At 26 years old I started using cocaine. I used until I was 50 years old. In November of 1992, on Thanksgiving, I was abducted off the street and taken into a building. A man threw me out the window and then raped me. My head was swollen to this size of two heads. My left leg was twisted the wrong way. I was not able to do anything for myself. Someone had to feed me, bathe me and I was not even allowed painkillers because of my drug-use.
Even this would not stop me from using. I continued to use until I became homeless. I was sleeping on porches and in abandoned cars. I was going to Heart to Heart and getting Wal-Mart certificates.
It almost got to the end. When I was asked where I stayed, I said I stay in a semi-truck. This was in October, and someone asked me if I wanted help. I said “yes”. She wrote a letter and got me into a treatment center. In the treatment center, I had a wake up call from God. I had fallen into the cocaine crisis and no matter what I do I can’t break the cycle. This was on August 19, 2006 and I have not used drugs since.
As I said, I had never had a spiritual awakening before I got to the ISP retreat. The Pallotti center was so calming and relaxing. Before the retreat, I did a lot of praying to prepare and asked God to lead my words. So I was not too nervous or scared, the spirit just lead me.
On the retreat we talked about fear. When I was asked what my fear was, I said “I have no fear since God lifted me up.” Two hours later, I went to the chapel and I experienced fear. Tears just came to me. And I had to ask for more forgiveness, I’m not sure what he did to me but even more burden became lifted off my shoulders. When I came back to the group, God gave me confirmation of his presence through that fear. I realized that experience of fear was the presence of God. He comforted me and let me know He was there on that retreat. I don’t know what God did on this retreat but he was there. I must have cried a half a bucket of tears. The tears were burning my face but it was the Lord touching me again.
I feel like tons of weight was lifted up off of me after the retreat. I feel at peace. I feel like I took a big stretch of every bone in my body. I feel real good about myself and about telling my story. God lead me to meet these women.
The presence of God was there on that retreat. It is the only way I can explain my experience. I had space to share my story and I realized it made a difference. After the retreat, I found myself laughing more. Laughter from the stomach. I had never had something to laugh about. The retreat opened me up.