photography of people near cave at night time

Hell is where the heart is


There’s a saying that ‘home is where the heart is’ and I’ve often thought about this saying while traveling the world. No matter where I found myself, I always seemed to feel a sense of being at home, because I felt love in my heart. At the same time, I felt a sense of homelessness because I never truly felt settled down; as if I had a true place to call my physical home.

There are a lot of reasons I felt ‘homeless’ – be it single-year apartment leases, a wanderlust heart or even having roommates that I knew were only temporary, I felt it hard to truly feel like I was at peace and grounded where I lay my head.

I remember how those days felt, and it wasn’t fun. It was a strange feeling to feel ‘homeless’ even though I lived in beautiful places.

Recently, I saw a post from somebody I have only recently met; a skating instructor who spent an hour giving me a lesson at the local skatepark. After our lesson, we talked a bit about our lives and he shared with me that he didn’t like where his life was at. He’d get through the week with a prescription, pipe and beer and felt completely trapped in the ‘rat race’ he lived with his ‘day job’ working at a large financial institution.

In his post, he shared his frustration with being presented with the message of Jesus – pondering why he ought to put his faith in something that science can’t prove (it can) and a sense of injustice that if he doesn’t believe something, that he’ll be sent to Hell.

For years, I shared his feelings. Having grown up in a Christian household, I was exposed to the idea of Heaven and Hell as a child. When I was about 17, I started to turn away from the doctrine and instead chose to walk a path that was led by nothing more than what I wanted to do. At that time, I felt a sense of freedom in being able to drink alcohol, do drugs, have sex and everything else that went with the party lifestyle.

I walked that road for years reached the point where I thought it was everything I ever wanted. In all reality, there was one thing I didn’t want to admit; I wasn’t happy – or at peace.

There’s one thing I know for certain about the ‘party lifestyle’ and that is this – it’s never enough. It’s never enough to have one drink, one drug, one sexual partner or even to live in one place. There’s this incessant need for more gratification that never goes away when you build your foundation on things that only satisfy for a short moment.

There’s one common theme that I found in this lifestyle – distraction. It’s distraction from the cold, hard feeling you have when you are at rest and feel the truth of your reality – which is utter sadness and a sense of being alone.

I spent nearly a decade of my life high. Now fully sober, I look back at those days and realize that none of the drugs ever brought me any closer to being truly happy. I mean, the sort of happiness that you fall asleep with and is still there in the morning when you wake up. Rather, the party simply made me chase my tail and I’d lie to myself that the constant sense of motion was where I found my happiness.

It wasn’t.

I remember one night during those years where I came back to an empty house. As I sat down on the plush sofa in the living room, I looked outside of the floor-to-ceiling windows and had a startling moment. It only lasted for a few seconds, but I felt as if the presence of God had left me entirely. It was a cold, crushing weight that made my lungs feel like they were stripped of all of their oxygen in the blink of an eye. It was a thousand panic attacks, depressive slumps and nightmares all rolled into the span of about three seconds. It felt like I had descended into the bottom of Hell, and it was the first time in my life where I ever experienced something like that.

The feeling was short, but so intense that I felt like running out of the glass window to escape the coldness I was experiencing. No sooner had I taken another breath, it was over. It felt like the life and light had entered the room again and I could feel my soul return to a state of partial peace despite the haze my mind was in from all of the things I put into my body that night.

I continued in that lifestyle for a year or two, and continued to feel that same sense of hopelessness and unrest – only in smaller measures that seemed to portion themselves off with every night I had ‘out’. Despite all of the big smiles, I was miserable inside and felt myself falling apart.

One night, I had a dream that I won’t forget. In my dream, I was in this cold, dark town that seemed to have a darkness creeping in on it. I turned around and saw a huge castle behind me with incredibly large steps that seemed to make a wall around it. I didn’t know how I was going to make it up the steps, but quickly found myself at the very top of them and walking inside the walls of the castle.

Through the dark corridors, I heard the sound of house music and quickly ran toward the sound. Behind a large door I heard what sounded like an incredible party, and I pushed open the door.

Inside, there was nothing but a cold, dark room that seemed to suck me into it. I felt fear and panic as I tried to turn around. Once I turned around, I saw a huge man, dressed in white, who looked down at me with love and kindness.

“Jesus.” I said, as I looked into His face.

Then, I woke up – and my eyes were glued to a small picture of Jesus that was hanging inside of my room – in the same place my eyes gazed when I looked at His face in my dream.

I continued on the party lifestyle despite having these experiences, though when I would go home at the end of the night, I’d secretly pray to Jesus and ask him to protect me despite my state of mind and intoxication.

It wasn’t until years later that I began to see things differently about Jesus, Church and even sobriety – something I found in the last year – entirely.

In many ways, it wasn’t a gospel message that caused me to turn from my ways, as much as it was an adult mind that mentally calculated the cost of all of the parties, drinks and substances I’ve consumed in my life – realizing I’d give anything to have that time, money and brain cells back in my life. None of those things brought me any closer to being at peace than when I first started down the road of the party train. Those years simply took from me, and never gave me something of real substance that made my life better.

I reached out to a pastor at a local church and asked if he would be willing to have coffee with me before I attended his church. He happily accepted and sat down to answer a plethora of questions I had for him about his church. At the time, I was highly critical of anything that looked or smelled like a church.

That church and its people were some of the most pivotal people in my life that helped me reach true sobriety. After a decade of smoking weed, I decided it was time to quit and finally find out what it meant to be truly sober.

Withdrawal. It was hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever experienced. I remember going to church during those times and simply sitting in the back of the building where I would weep and work my way through the purge my body was experiencing. There was never a look of judgement or concern from anybody there – simply love, hugs and heartfelt prayer.

For weeks, I battled insomnia, night sweats and racing anxiety as I did my best to continue putting one foot in front of the other; knowing that each step through the pain would bring me closer to the day where I didn’t feel that way anymore.

Then, it happened. I woke up and didn’t feel anxiety. I didn’t feel the need to escape from my thoughts, emotions or self. It felt like being in the middle of a thousand calm oceans at the same time.


I slept like a baby that night.

I woke up the next morning and experienced the same thing, only in greater measures than the first morning I felt that peace and calm. It was incredible.

Since that day, I’ve experienced a lot of things that would normally cause me untold amounts of stress. Yet, I now know who to call out to when I experience those moments, and I feel as if I’m able to deftly move around these events with the presence of mind and clarity I need to manage them.

Now, I understand what it means to have true peace, Love from above and to cast my cares on the One who made me.

I share all of this because I believe that some people may need to read these words and see the struggles I’ve been through, in hopes that they won’t feel isolated or alone in their own journey to peace. I believe that each and every one of us has a unique path in our life that was truly meant to be walked on only by the feet we’ve been given and that it’s possible to have ‘peace within the storm’ as we navigate these challenges.

Do I believe in Hell? Absolutely, because I’ve walked in it, drank in its bars and shoveled the fruits of its tree into my body – and spent the most miserable years of my life in this chaos. It wasn’t in doing what I wanted to do that I found peace – rather, it was in doing what I was made to do that I found contentment.

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