One week from today I will celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety. April 11, 1987, was my first day clean and sober after losing everyone, everything, and trying to end my life. It has been an amazing journey filled with joys, pains, grief, love, adventures, and so much more than I could have ever imagined.
Nic Sheff, an alcoholic and addict, wrote his story in a book called Tweak. He was able to capture so well what I know to be true in these words:
“And though I have done many shameful things, I am not ashamed of who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am because I know who I am. I have tried to rip myself open and expose everything inside – accepting my weaknesses and strengths – not trying to be anyone else. ‘Cause that never works, does it? So my challenge is to be authentic. And I believe I am today. I believe I am.”
In order to be my authentic self, I had to find my way back to God. Glennon Doyle Melton expresses it best saying, “Recovery is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked before God, stripped down to my real identity.” The biggest surprise was that even stripped down to my real identity and becoming my authentic self, God loved me. I had always heard that God is love, but I assumed that love was only for the good people.
I didn’t believe God loved me. In fact, I felt so empty on the inside, and I just wanted to know God the way other people said they did. Jesus was their best friend. God spoke to them all the time. I tried so hard to find the perfect formula to make God love me. All the work I did in the church, starting the day with devotions, reading my Bible, not listening to secular music or certain tv shows, being a submissive wife, and more. But it just didn’t work.
In Anne Lamott’s audiobook, Word by Word she shares a poem written by her dog Sadie Louise. You read that right. Anne Lamott’s dog Sadie wrote a poem. One line from the poem reads, “Drunks drink because they miss Jesus.” Sadie the dog got that right, I believe. In recovery programs, it is better known as “drinking and using tries to fill the God hole in our soul.” Nothing could fill that hole until I let God in.
The person who helped me understand that had started out as my therapist, Jan F. She “made” me get sober. Ok, no one can make you get sober, but it was get sober or stop seeing her. After I finished with therapy, she became my best friend, as well as spiritual mentor and guide. On March 7 of 2008, she unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack leaving me hurt, angry, and questioning God once again. Her memorial service wasn’t held until April 5. During the weeks prior to her service, I slipped back into depression and began having panic attacks. I wanted to drink with every passing day.
It was at her memorial service the week after Easter that I found a sense of peace and acceptance. Her pastor shared the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus after their brother Lazarus had died. Martha runs out to confront Jesus, saying that if He had only come sooner her brother would not have died. I questioned God in the same way after Jan’s death. “God, if you had paid attention, she wouldn’t have died. You could have saved her,”
The pastor went on to say:
“Make what you will of this narrative. It gives license to those of us, who like Jan, struggle with times like these and even struggle with any understanding of God, to let God have it like Martha does. In fact, I suspect one of the lessons Jan learned, very much like Martha, is that it is far better to let God be the object of our anger and frustration, because God can handle it and transform it into something different, new and better, sparing anyone else upon which we may unload it from harm, and us from harming others, whether intentionally or not. So, we come to acknowledge our loss, to acknowledge the pain and even the anger of this loss, but also to recognize that our lives are already mysteriously being changed and transformed as we reflect upon Jan’s life and Jan’s death.”
It has been ten years since Jan’s death and memorial service. I still miss her especially on holidays, or when I want to share important life events with her, and particularly on my AA sober anniversary. I do believe in the Easter message of resurrection. I know that death isn’t the end. At times, I still feel the presence of Jan’s spirit.
As I approach the coming anniversary, I am filled with a sense of awe, a spirit of gratitude, and a renewed belief that God loves my authentic, real self. I also know God is asking me to follow an unknown road during this season of my life. I will celebrate this anniversary with family and friends who love me just as I am. As Anne Lamott says, “You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you, and everyone, not because you believed in certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child.”
Period! No more needs to be said.