Alice Matagora is a licensed marriage and family therapist, currently living and working in Southern California. She recently shared the story of her own mental health journey and talked about the role of discipleship and the role counseling. (Spoiler, she—like many people—needed both kinds of help.) Here is a transcript of the podcast, edited for clarity and length. Listen to the original here.
The older I get—and the more I come to know Jesus’ voice—the better I hear his tenderness and his compassion for me, and the better I understand that he was also human and endured every temptation known to man and can identify with us in our struggles. And that our shame—the reasons why we think we’re not good enough or we should be separated from community—was also crucified on the cross with him, that it was also put to death on the cross with him. And so, Jesus, if he has all this compassion, and if he looks at me and he says, “You are worthy, you are loved, you’re my child no matter what,” who am I to say, “No, no, no, no God. I’m gonna exile myself some more. I’m gonna keep myself and withdraw from community more.” And so, I’ve learned I can’t earn it (and I don’t deserve it), but Jesus took my shame, not just my sin, but my shame on the cross—and it’s dead.
Of course, I didn’t start with this understanding, and it has taken a long journey to get here.
When I got to my second year of college, I had just come out of the hospital for an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and I had swung over to the other side, to binge eating. I had just put on 40 pounds, and for an anorexic, that’s really devastating emotionally, but it was good for my health, my physical health. But because of the weight, I was really, really low, just really depressed, really anxious, a lot of OCD tendencies and other troubles. (You’re getting a whole nice mix of mental health history here!)
This is where I was when I first came to the University of California Irvine and transferred as a sophomore. I’d been through a lot of therapy at that point: in-patient therapy, intensive outpatient, day treatments, nutrition counseling, group counseling. And all of those things, they were good, in fact, they were necessary—they saved my life!
But somehow, I still needed more. After I’d finished a round of treatment, I’d soon be saying to myself, “Ok, now how do I go back to my eating disorder ways,” you know? There was something deeper that was missing. My fellowship where I did my freshman year of college, it was a really, really cool ministry. Really emotional worship, big revivals. And that was great for so many people. But for me, when I was in the crowds during the revival time, singing songs to God, I felt “I’m so close to God!” But then when I was back in my dorm room alone, I’d say, “I don’t know. God feels as far as the stars in the sky. I don’t know him anymore.”
So, when I went to Irvine, I knew I wanted to find the least sexy Christian group possible. And that was The Navigators. I knew I needed to know God, and a big part of it was all my emotions, they were so fleeting! One second, I’m high, one second, I’m low. With where I was mentally, emotionally, psychologically, I just needed something steadying and anchoring.
And so, I found The Navigators. I knew they were really big on the Word. Deep in the Word. But I didn’t know they were big on disciplemaking. But even in that first year before someone started meeting with me regularly to teach me the basics, just being around people who authentically loved Jesus and wanted to know him, I learned how to have a quiet time, I learned how to walk with Jesus on my own. And at the end of that year, all these eating disorder patterns and OC/obsessive compulsions I would get caught up in, I noticed I was doing them less. I was experiencing this freedom in God just by knowing him more knowing, really knowing him more.
So today, yes, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I would never counsel somebody, if they were in my situation, and say something like, “Only go ‘spiritual’ alone and that’s all you need.” I would tell them they needed counseling. And I would (and I do) tell a lot of people they need counseling, not just someone in my situation. Of course, you need help if there is urgent danger but also sometimes just when you are feeling stuck or anxious or not sleeping well (or sleeping too much). I know I did. I needed professional counselling. (I am a professional counselor!) But I also needed help learning how to walk with Jesus, and I needed, and still need, friends I can be open and honest with.
Reflect: Where are you in your story?
- In the fight, but tired of going alone
- Seeing signs of trouble (sleep, anxiety, eating, bored, isolated, feeling trapped in a bad relationship or even just a little more tired or frustrated or irritable or wanting to be alone more than usual)
- Wondering how I can help someone else
Pray: Is there anybody you need to reach out to today?