Gemma tells us about her journey of faith and how her own experiences led her to come on Alpha.
I wasn’t brought up a Christian. Church for our family was simply a place you went to for a wedding or funeral, I didn’t have a good opinion of it and found it boring… I guess it just wasn’t for me.
Although I have a great family, my upbringing was tough after the loss of my brother at such a young age. My family and I didn't know how to deal with the grief. It eventually played out in other ways: by my teenage years I was into going to raves and doing drugs. By the time I left school I had lost contact with all of my close friends and although I was dating someone, the relationship was unhealthy with lots of emotional abuse. He introduced me to cocaine and it ruined me. I became totally hooked. I relied on him to supply me with it. I had hit rock bottom, but then things got worse. My parents told me that they were getting a divorce.
On the outside I pretended everything was fine but inside I couldn’t cope with the news and didn’t deal with it well at all. I was drinking more than I ever had. In fact, I would drink myself unconscious regularly. Days would go by before I ate something and my pay check would only fund my ever-growing addiction to drugs. I would go to local pubs, find out which men had cocaine and invite them home with me. I wasn’t earning enough to fund how bad my addiction had gotten. In 5 months I had not once done a food shop, looking back I’m not actually sure how I survived!
It felt like I was in this big black hole. In an attempt to distance myself from it all, I split up with my boyfriend. However, with that, it meant that I had nowhere to live. I couldn’t go home to my parents. I had nowhere to go.
I was a mess, I couldn’t function, I felt like I couldn’t even work properly. It was such a dark place to be in and I couldn’t find a way out.
I remember one evening, I was sat on my bed and just felt completely dead. I literally felt that I had lost the ability to feel anything or to love anyone, let alone be loved back. Then it hit me, I didn’t have to be here any more! Why should I just struggle through life when I could just end it and get it over with? It felt like I had cracked it, the answer to all my problems! I had decided who I would leave letters for, had decided how I was going to achieve it but there was something in me that was whispering “not yet”.
As I carried on my day-to-day routine, a girl I worked with, Lisa, mentioned to me that she was a Christian. It didn’t mean much to me at first but I found myself in these long conversations with her about what she believed and what faith was all about. I wanted to know about angels, I wanted to know about the Bible, I wanted to know as much as I could. I found it all so interesting. I didn’t agree with much of what she said but I was captivated by it. I wanted to know more. She invited me to Alpha and I thought, why not? I don’t have much to lose?
Each week I would arrive at Alpha with a million questions but gradually more than that. I arrived with a sense of hope. For the first time in a long time I actually felt excited about something. The people there received me just as I was – they loved me just as I was.
I was invited to the Weekend Away and although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I couldn’t wait to hang out with everyone I had met at Alpha. There was such a sense of community in our group; they really had become my friends. The weekend consisted of great food, a few short talks and songs – as well as some praying... which at first I found extremely awkward!
But then, during of the sessions they invited us to say our own prayers. I did. I didn't even know if God was real but I thought well the worst that can happen is He isn't and I don't really have much to lose do I? At that moment, as I prayed, I felt a change in my body, a kind of heat, like something was happening, I encountered the Holy Spirit. I suddenly felt as though after years of abusing myself, I was clean.
My whole life flipped on its head. I now believed God was real and he loved me no matter what had happened to me or what I'd done. When I went home I didn't want to do drugs anymore. I'd gone from a cocaine addict to a Christian! I didn’t want to hurt myself anymore. I was living for something bigger, for God. It felt like I wasn’t the person I used to be and my life was transformed.
Today I am really involved in my church and the friends I have there feel like family. I also have my own amazing family - I'm married to Tom with two wonderful children Willow and Robin. To anyone who feels like there might be more to life, I’d recommend going along to your local Alpha. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my faith.