30 years ago, I (again) woke up in a basement apartment, not remembering how I got there, much less who I was sleeping next to.
30 years ago, I was filled with fear.
30 years ago, I could not imagine giving up alcohol because alcohol was the only way I got through the life I was “living”.
30 years ago, this was me:
The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did - then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen - Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. (Big Book of AA)
I couldn’t afford treatment. I just “white-knuckled it”, shakily showing up in church basements for an hour a day, often standing in the corner refusing to even sit down or remove my sunglasses, arms crossed over my sleeveless Public Enemy t-shit, scowling at people who I was certain were lying about being clean and sober. But despite my best efforts, I was unsuccessful in pushing these people away. They insisted on loving me until I could love myself. Had one of them said “Hey angry girl, one day you will split your time in these same churches between the basements and the pulpits” I’d have thought they’d lost their last mind.
What I mean to say is: you can’t get from there to here. The math doesn’t work.
But one thing I’ve learned is that when the math doesn’t work, when there is a factor you cannot solve for, the factor might just be: God. I hesitate to speak like this; saying “God gave me this wonderful life” sounds perilously close to a combination of spiritual self-flattery and delusional privilege. But I am here to say that God has done for me what I could never have done for myself; all I can hope is that the rest of my life is lived as a grateful response to this gift of sobriety.
Because taking some simple instructions from other recovering alcoholics has given me everything. I have been offered a way to live life on life’s terms, without being such an asshole - and when I am lucky - I even get to be of service to others. I have been offered a way of life in which I am never expected to be more powerful than I am.
In the basements of churches I have learned to pray, and learned about grace, and learned to say “thy will be done” more than I ever have in the sanctuaries of churches. And at the same time, were it not for the 12-steps, I doubt I would have ever felt comfortable returning to Christianity and returning to Christianity 25 years ago has given me what AA alone could not have. Sometimes blessings fold in on themselves like that.
If you yourself have a problem with booze - if it is costing you more than the price of the bottle, if when you take one drink you cannot, despite your resolve, control the amount you drink after that, I promise you: 1. you are not alone and 2. there is a solution. (You can find meetings near you here)
Making promises is a perilous business, but these are the ones found in the Big Book of AA:
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
All of these…all of them have come to pass for an angry girl in a sleeveless Public Enemy t-shirt who didn’t want to sit down, or take off her sunglasses.* And it didn’t happen because I pulled myself up by my spiritual bootstraps. It happened because I admitted how hopeless I was, I asked God for help, I got brutally honest about my defects of character and how they harmed others, I cleaned up my messes, and then I tried to pray a lot and help others in any way I could.
*she does sometimes still have a sleeveless Janis Joplin tee under her clergy shirt when she is standing in the pulpit of a church whose basements she knows so well.
I won’t blow sunshine up your ass - it’s not easy. The shakes, the fear, the humiliation, the facing of the truth - none of it is blissful. But all of it is worth it. If you are sober and struggling please know that it is still worth it and you are not alone. There is no problem that is improved by drinking. I know it’s hard, but please don’t forget to ask for help from God and other drunks.
I am more grateful for my sobriety than words can hold. The “hideous Four Horsemen” are a distant memory. And, as I like to say, 30 years is a long time for a girl like me to not wake up in vodka vomit. (horrible, just horrible for the skin…trust me). So, to everyone who has ever sat their ass down in a 12-step meeting, thank you for my life.
(Richard Rohr, in his book Learning to Breath Underwater; Spirituality and The Twelve Steps claims that the 12 steps are America’s single, yet very important contribution to human spirituality. I agree. I mean, racking my brain for other possibilities I came up with mega churches and tv evangelists . . . so I’ll go with AA.)
My prayer for addicts:
(and for those of us who have lost those we love to the beast of addiction)
Dear Power Greater Than Myself,
Today, as we approach a new year, I pray for addicts of every kind, that we may accept that resolutions can’t save us.
I pray for everyone who understandably chose to use vodka, or weed, or pills or gambling or binge eating to get through the isolation of this last year; but who have lost the ability to CHOOSE and are addicted, that they might ask for help, no matter how impossible that may feel.
I pray for all of us who think that this time will be different. That this time, unlike every other time, we will muster up enough willpower to stop; that we might accept that if will power was enough, we would already have changed.
I pray for the ones who are still lying to everyone (including themselves) – because they can’t stomach the idea of giving up the high, even though the high is costing them so much more than it is giving them.
I pray for everyone who is watching our friends and family destroy themselves that we might know that if love could get someone sober, it would have already happened, and that it’s ok to love and let go.
I pray for everyone who is hiding their relapse, that they might know they did not fail and that there is no shame in hitting the reset button. (We love you. Come back, please.)
I pray for those who feel we are too far gone, that we may know that there is no hell from which you are not capable of rescuing your children.
Be with everyone who suffers from this shit. Help us know that there is not enough resolve, not enough love, not enough willpower to overcome the beasts of addiction, but that there is enough power and that power does not have to come from us but mercifully comes from you, and there is always enough if we avail ourselves of it.
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