Sometimes, all my body knows to do is reject. To make itself smaller, concave, as if flesh itself is recoiling from the world. To become untouchable. To be entirely self-sufficient, feeding by cannibalising itself.
But last winter something toppled this logic and up-ended my world. I was choked with Valium and at the centre of increasingly elaborate religious delusions: I was special, chosen, a reincarnated fallen angel with important work to do. I felt desperately that I should go to midnight mass.
I approached the altar to receive a blessing. Psychotic as I was, I knew, somehow, that I wasn't ready for the bread and wine. The priest put his hands on my head and I remember how it passed through me like a shudder but warm, full of something. That night, I walked out of my flat barefoot and walked a mile or so through slushy piles of leaves to jump off a bridge. I have no idea what was going through my mind, no idea if I would have done it if someone hadn't pulled over and wrapped me in a coat seconds after I climbed onto the ledge in the early hours of Christmas Day. It's only after a year that I understand what happened.
I had tasted love and it made me want to die.
Faith, it turns out, is not the sedate and gentle thing I imagined it to be. It is confusing, often brutal, often violent, and transformative in the sense of losing the ground beneath your feet. I was baptised recently, and for three weeks afterwards I descended into an all-out breakdown. I was drunk constantly, using cocaine daily and benzos to cushion the nights. I didn't eat. In sober moments, I screamed and writhed because I couldn't stand to occupy this body, this brain, to be so raw at the mercy of my own self. I was blank-eyed in confusion. Baptism was supposed to be about being wrapped up in God's love – like a hug, right? It felt more like a punch in the face.
There's a poem for advent by Kathleen Raine called Northumbrian Sequence 4. One part of it goes:
"Let in the dark,
Let in the dead,
Let in your love tonight."
Loving, especially loving God, is usually caught in the language of kitsch and sentimentality. Honk if you love Jesus. Jesus as best friend, holding your hand, taking the wheel. But love is terrifying: as it warms, it burns. At the centre of love are five still-bleeding wounds. This is never going to be easy.
When I tasted my first communion, the chaos fell into place. This is love, I thought. Perfect, unconditional, all-forgiving love, given to everyone whether we think we deserve it or not. I didn't think I deserved it. And yet there I was, turning up to a nearly empty church on a Thursday morning, because I needed it.
I opened my hands. I ate.