Gaining faith

Photo: Janis Olson Photo: Janis Olson

Finding God helped Dale Snyder get sober and lose more than 150 pounds

Dale Snyder was in deep trouble, and not just with the law.

After drinking and fighting with her husband Carl, driving alone to the neighborhood bar to drink some more, and then rear-ending a car on the way home, Dale decided not to stop.

“I get home and I immediately just have another drink, because I’m really upset,” Dale recalled. “And then the cops show up at the door.” They took her to jail, gave her a breath test, arrested her for driving under the influence and released her.

After coming home from a court appearance the next day, Dale spent time “really just thinking about the decisions that had got me there.” At nearly 40 years old, she realized she had to get her act together.

“And so I actually prayed for the first time in quite a long time,” Dale recalled. “The first thing I said was, ‘Help me through this and I promise that I will talk to you and pray every day. And I also promise that I will never drink again.”

It was the beginning of her journey through a painful past to a relationship with God, to getting sober, losing 155 pounds and finding her spiritual home in the Catholic Church.

“By the time I decided to put down the booze and to put down the junk food — my two favorite coping mechanisms — I had no idea of who I was or who I was meant to be. That’s why I needed God,” said Dale, now a parishioner at Holy Cross Parish in Lake Stevens.

“I needed someone in my corner that could give me a glimmer of what I could become and to remind me of who I was.”

From fearless to abused

Dale Snyder
Dale Snyder starts the day on her home treadmill, where she reads a daily devotion and prays “that the light will shine through me, the light of Christ.” Photo: Janis Olson

Growing up in Southern California, near Palm Springs, “I was the littlest thing on the street,” but fearless, Dale recalled. Her family was one of lapsed faiths: her father, Catholic; her mother, Episcopalian; her half-brother and half-sister, Lutherans.

Her parents believed in God, but Dale was never baptized. The philosophy was, “We’ll just let her make up her own mind.”

Her father died just before her 13th birthday, right before Christmas. At age 17 or 18, through a “calamity of bad choices,” Dale ended up in an abusive relationship — “beat up practically every day for six years,” she said. She began putting on the pounds. “Before I was in that relationship, I never had an issue with my weight,” Dale said. “Being heavy is a good way to be invisible.”

When Dale finally broke off the relationship at age 24, she lost some weight. But her relationship with food had changed. “For me, food was my therapist, it was my friend,” she said. “I didn’t have God, so it was my spirituality in there someplace. It was everything to me.”

For a decade Dale yo-yoed, losing weight, gaining it back. At one point, she lost 65 pounds, and then her mother died. The two had been close and Dale thought she was dealing with the loss OK. But she gained 120 pounds in about three years; at her heaviest, Dale carried nearly 300 pounds on her 5-foot frame.

The weight gain and poor eating habits were “a tremendous source of shame,” Dale said. She didn’t want to go to family functions, which made her more isolated. “The bigger I got, the more shame I felt and that just erodes every bit of self-confidence you’ve ever had.”

“You really do need something bigger than you to help you through it, to help you get out of it.”

Micromanaging God

Dale met Carl at a bar; she laughs at the irony of it now. They drank together and sometimes had horrible fights. Although she swore she would never be abused again, “I turned into a verbally abusive alcoholic. I was mean,” Dale said.

She and Carl, who grew up Catholic, weren’t married in the church, but they did go to Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Edmonds on Christmas and Easter, and occasionally met friends for Mass. Dale remembers just sitting there, not understanding what was happening.

But when she got the DUI in 2004, everything began changing.

“I realized at that point that I’d always been trying to find something. What I found instead was alcohol when I was younger, and pot … and also food. I was constantly stuffing everything in me to fill the hole that only God could fill.”

It was such a stressful time in her life — the shame of the DUI was compounded by the thousands of dollars in legal expenses that went with it. Living in Lynnwood and working as a manicurist in Carnation, Dale had to have a car to get to work. How would she pay for the legal bills if she couldn’t get to work?

“The whole time … I’m praying, ‘Your will be done,’” Dale said, “but I’m still trying to micromanage God: I don’t want the Breathalyzer in my car and I can’t really lose my license. He really had some ideas about how this was gonna work out and they didn’t jibe with what I wanted.”

Then, after six months of her case working its way through the legal system, came what Dale calls “the biggest miracle.”

“I just said to the Lord, ‘You know what, God, I am so done with this. You just do whatever … you have to do. You just take care of it and just be with me no matter what,’” Dale recalled.

“The very next day my attorney called [saying] they dropped the charges.”

Losing weight, gaining faith

Dale took seriously her post-DUI promise to find God, but felt she needed guidance on how to develop a relationship with him. She went to services at four or five different Christian churches, sometimes invited by friends, but “I just really wasn’t feeling the presence of God. And the last place I thought I would find it was in the Catholic Church, the Mass.”

Still, she knew Holy Rosary was starting its classes in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. She snuck out for the first class, not even telling Carl that she was going. The pastor explained that Catholic means “universal” and that the church practices tolerance toward all people. “And that floored me. The Catholic Church was the last place I thought I’d ever hear that.”

She decided to give the church a shot.

As she began RCIA classes, Dale had also started trying to lose weight. She was taking a look at unpleasant things in her life, things that made her want to cope with food. And so she hit a wall.

“It doesn’t matter what you do to lose weight, whether you go with a commercial diet, a commercial lifestyle, whether you decide to join a gym. You just can’t do it on your own and everybody thinks they can,” Dale said with a laugh.

She found help through a weight-loss program and its group gatherings. At home, she turned to God to stay on track. “I just started praying to keep me out of the food,” Dale said, laughing, “just give me that pause. But he also helped me kind of take the edge off some of the things that I had to look at.”

As the weight-loss group supported Dale’s efforts to shed the pounds, the people in her RCIA class were feeding her faith. “The parallels are just uncanny,” Dale said. Her weight loss was broken into small increments, “just like you gather your faith,” she said. “It doesn’t come on like a flood.”

And as she was learning about the Catholic faith, “I started to view myself not quite so harshly, because God could forgive me,” Dale said. “And because God could forgive me, I didn’t feel like I was a fraud.”

Dale SnyderAt her heaviest, Dale Snyder carried nearly 300 pounds on her 5-foot frame — and she also carried shame, the pain of a past abusive relationship and a drinking problem. A DUI in 2004 upended her life, leading her to a relationship with Jesus and a life free of alcohol and excess weight. Photos: (left) Courtesy Dale Snyder and (right) Janis Olson

Giving hope to others

It’s been 13 years since Dale was baptized a Catholic (her mother-in-law was her sponsor). She hasn’t had a drink in 14 years; she hit her goal weight 11 years ago and stopped smoking a decade ago.

“The only reason I have anything good in my life is because I have Jesus in my life,” she said. “I couldn’t have gotten sober, I couldn’t have lost weight, I wouldn’t have stayed with my husband, I wouldn’t have this house.”

Dale tries to live with gratitude each day. “Every morning I get up and I say, ‘Good morning, Lord,’” she said. She regularly says the Canticle of Zechariah, from the flap of her Magnificat magazine. “I get on my treadmill and I get on my bike and I always pray that the light will shine through me, the light of Christ.”

Today she is a wellness coach, leading about nine weight-loss workshops each week. It’s work she feels called to do. “I can remember … when I was heavy and I felt hopeless,” Dale said. “People see me and they see what I looked like and it gives them hope.”

“She is inspiring and hilarious,” said Terri Peters, a Holy Rosary parishioner who was on Dale’s RCIA team and now attends one of her weight-loss groups. “She is so forthright in just sharing herself.” (And she was a great lector during her time at Holy Rosary, Peters added.)

While Dale was going through RCIA, Carl reengaged with his faith, going to some classes for returning Catholics and making his first confession in maybe 20 years, she said. They later were married in the church (their first wedding was not recognized as valid, Dale said) at Holy Rosary Church in Edmonds. They’ll celebrate their 25th anniversary in April.

Inspired by the positive changes in Dale’s life, her sister also went through the RCIA. Now when she comes for a visit, the sisters enjoy going to Mass together: “We have this wonderful thing to share,” Dale said, noting that other family members have also become Catholic.

Dale finds “great comfort” in the liturgy and likes knowing that, no matter where she goes in the world, she can participate in the same Mass. “There are times when I take the Eucharist and I just feel flooded with Christ and it brings me to tears,” Dale said. “I can’t think of any other life experience that made me feel that way.”

Life isn’t perfect, of course. “I’m still trying to micromanage God,” Dale says, laughing. “I tried to give up swearing, but it hasn’t worked quite as well.” And she struggles with food at times. “I’m not going to tell you I’ve got this thing licked,” she said, but “if I gain a little weight, it’s not a big deal; I can take it off.”

So far, her life has been “a heck of journey,” Dale said. “I’m not ashamed of any of it, because that’s what I had to go through to recognize God in my life today and to have it as good as I have it.

“It all comes back to the saving grace, what the Lord and the church have given me.”

Northwest Catholic - January/February 2019

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.