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.
I need to make a confession. Late last year, I surrendered to the pressure of my classmates and watched the Netflix Sci-Fi series Stranger Things. It is a Stephen King’ish scenario set in the 80’s. In season one, a young boy disappears, and his friends soon discover that he has been taken to the “upside down.” The “upside down” is a parallel dimension to our world; it is a dimension that is a dark reflection of our world filled with monsters and despair. Spoiler Alert! The young boy does get rescued and returned to the world as we know it because of the efforts of his family and friends. However, there were still things that haunted him from the “upside down.”
I could spend some time presenting the spiritual and religious allegories of the show, but I will save that for another time. Several theologians have written about it already. I am more interested in the “upside down” because I found myself trapped in a place very much like it. My world had become dark, filled with hopelessness, and haunted by monsters that I didn’t want to go on. In late February, 31 one years ago, I felt there was no way out. I decided to end my life. The sermon in church today reminded me of this time in my life.
Much like the young boy in Stranger Things, I would be rescued. My rescue came from strangers at first, not family and friends. I had driven them all away. I was really alone, or so I thought. I knew God thought I was a hopeless case and had moved on to other things. I had one person who still accepted my calls. She was a friend from seminary days and a pastor of a small church in Maryland. Drunk and angry, I called her at 2:00 am. It seemed she was finished with me, just like God. She told me she could not go through this with me any longer. She made me write a phone number down and promise to call it. Then she hung up. I was devastated. I just told her I was trying to kill myself. How could she hang up on me? (I had no way of knowing that she had been going to AlAnon.)
I don’t know why I made the call to the number she gave me, but the Hotline counselor stayed on the phone with me until dawn. It was the beginning of my rescue from the “upside down.” Because of that call, I found my way to a therapist, who after two years of therapy would become my closest friend, confidant, spiritual mentor, and guide for the next eighteen years. I became part of the fellowship of a twelve-step program where strangers became a family who showed me that God still and had always loved me.
Although I have never returned to the “upside down,” I know it still exists. Many are trapped there without any hope. I often share my story with others, and I write about it on this blog because I want those who have lost faith to see that there is life on the other side. I want them to hear someone say that God always has and still loves them.
I have been given everything back everything I lost and more. I was blessed for many years with a job working on staff for the same type of Hotline that I had called. I was able to listen and talk with those who had lost hope. I am now in college about to finish my undergrad degree, hoping to pursue my masters, and begin a journey to follow where God is calling me. I am going to begin even though I am not sure where that journey will lead. I have genuine friendships, a family that continues to grow, and on top of it all, I have peace and serenity knowing that God is with me.
During this time of year, I hold tightly to my faith. While I escaped the “upside down,” much like the young boy I am sometimes still haunted by memories. As February ends, and March comes in to welcome spring, I am faced with the tenth anniversary of the death of the woman who was my closest friend as well as the anniversary of the death of Mama Pearl. Mama Pearl was a second mother to me throughout my life. While there is profound pain in these memories, there is joy in my remembrances of them. They will be with me in spirit as I celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety in April.
I got lost in the “upside down” a long time ago, but God pulled me back through grace and love. I know I never have to return-even during periods of questioning or suffering. Anne Lamott wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” God met me in a place of darkness and despair and brought me out into a new life. I am excited to see where God leads me next.
I have been thinking a lot about recent events, both private and public. Don’t tell anyone, but I am sixty-six years old and, in a week, will become a great-grandmother. I am going to take a moment here to pause because I still have a hard time saying and accepting that. My life has had many twists and turns along what Robert Frost describes as the road less traveled. I have been standing at an intersection recently, but have made a decision to follow a path where I feel led.
So many times in my life, I have chosen to stand and wait, offering only “thoughts and prayers” to my journey. While taking time to think and pray before acting is essential, often I stop short of doing anything. I have been reminded that choosing to do nothing is a choice. This is true not only of my life journey but in my day to day actions as well.
The facebook posts after the school shooting last week followed the same pattern as other such tragedies. Posts offering “thoughts and prayers” follow shock and anger. Heated debate and name calling are next to appear. Soon everyone forgets as we await the next shooting or child abduction or horrific stories of abuse. Please hear me as I say that prayer is powerful and much needed. Yet, I have to ask if it is enough. I was reminded of a story that still haunts me.
A few years ago, I was driving on a busy four-lane highway to my church prayer lunch. The road is one where no one slows down for anything. People pass and bounce from lane to lane without the benefit of blinkers or common sense. As I made my way to church, suddenly the tail lights on the cars ahead of me flashed red as cars in both lanes came to a sudden stop.
I tried to see what caused the delay when I saw what looked like the front of a broken shopping cart coming across the front of the line of cars. I was surprised as I saw a broken walker being pushed by an elderly man. He walked so slowly that I wasn’t sure how he got into the road at all since traffic is usually constant. He had only one good arm; the other seemed to be at an angle as if he had an injury or perhaps the remnants of a stroke. He walked with a bit of a limp, as well. The walker had front wheels, but there were no wheels on the back. He made it past the cars reaching the safety of the grass median. However, the grassy area seemed to make it harder for him to push and maneuver.
My heart ached as a watched his broken body push the feeble walker. There was no expression in his eyes or face. It appeared that his spirit was broken as badly as his body. As the cars began to move, I felt a battle raging in my heart and head. I wanted more than anything to pull my car into the grass and see if I could help him. The logical side of my brain wondered how in the world I could help. What if he was violent? What if he was mentally ill and didn’t understand my gesture or offer of help? What if he was ill and I was exposed? Would I offer him a ride? What would I say?
I pulled into a parking lot for a down the road to think for a moment. I fought tears as I wondered if this man had family or food or a place to stay. I certainly had nothing I could offer him. My finances were already limited without trying to help someone else. Maybe I could go back and just say a kind word to him. The logical side of my mind asked what good that would do. Sure, go and say, “Hi, I saw you struggling to get across the road. I don’t have any way to help you but just wanted to say Howdy!”
In the end, I didn’t turn around even though I felt led to do so. I don’t know why this man touched my heart the way he did. I did say a prayer for him. I believe in the power of prayer. There have been many times in my life where I felt so very broken, and I prayed for someone to reach out to me. I am so grateful for the people who took time to pray for me, talk to me, and help me. How could I not return what had been so freely given to me?
I don’t know the life journey of the man I saw that day. I don’t know if he had friends or family or anyone to help him in his brokenness. All I did for him that day was pray. I know in my heart praying wasn’t enough.
Matthew West’s song “Do Something” encourages us to take the time to do something for others: I Said, “God, why don’t You do something?” He said, “I did, yeah, I created you.”
None of us can solve all of the world’s problems. None can address every issue or the challenges faced by others. Yet, each of us can find a way to take action. Yes, I pray and continue in prayer. I didn’t stop and help a broken man a few years ago, but I choose today to offer my thoughts and prayers – and then I take the next step. I find a way to do the next right thing to try and make a difference.
It is January 2018 and the beginning of a new year. This is the time that we all make decisions to go to the gym, eat healthier, made amends, go to church, or make other life altering choices. I will admit that I too have been guilty of waiting for January to make changes that could have and should have been made long before. Instead of feeling guilty, I choose to see this as a positive thing – at least I am willing to make changes and when better to start than January.
My move to the Upstate of South Carolina from the Lowcountry this summer created the opportunity for many changes. These changes include where will I get my hair cut, what doctor to choose, what grocery store is best, and the list goes on. I am grateful that my best friend Jan moved back to this area from Charleston before I arrived. Having a “local” friend is a huge blessing.
Two decisions that would have a large impact on my life were how would I continue my exercise and healthy eating program without my trainer, Arron. I will admit that I haven’t done as well as I had hoped. Going to a new gym with new people and new routines is difficult. There is an amazing gym at Clemson, and I have a membership at Gold’s Gym. I simply need to put on my gym shoes and go. I give you all permission to hold me accountable to my commitment to continuing this journey.
The second decision was where to go to church. This one has taken longer than I thought. I came to the upstate with a church already in mind. I enjoyed the church services, the pastor, and the people there, yet I knew in my heart that I needed to keep searching. Just a few weeks before the holidays, I decided to visit a church I pass every day on the way to school. I felt drawn to visit. It turns out that the pastor grew up in the same church as my best friend. I immediately felt drawn to this church. I plan to make this my new church home.
That takes care of the physical and spiritual part of my life. The harder part of a move such as this is creating a new community. In Charleston, I had an extensive circle of people in my life from my years at Hotline as well as the theater community. It is time to create a new community here. Just as with the gym, I haven’t done as well as I had hoped in this area.
One last change for the new year involves this blog. I have been writing for OdysseyOnLine for the past year, neglecting this site. As of the first of the year, I am not longer a writer for the site. While this was a great opportunity and provided a larger number of readers, I don’t feel I was able to write in my “own voice” on the site. I am returning to my website and blog for my writing.
I hate change if truth be told. Ask any of my friends; they will confirm this. However, I must concede that change is inevitable. This year will undoubtedly bring many changes. I hope they are all positive, but that is a bit unrealistic. So, I will look at the year ahead and use the Serenity Pray daily:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Click here to read my post for OdysseyOnLine at Clemson
“I took a quick step back in order to take a second look. I was shocked to see a rat in the bushes. It was not a cute rat like the one I used for this article. That was simply a ploy to encourage you to click and read the article. No, it was a dead rat – yes, dead as a doornail rat.”
Click on the link to read. Transferring colleges in as I start my senior year is going to be filled with mixed emotions. I love College of Charleston and hope that I will love Clemson as much!
There are things I could never imagine happening to me. That is saying a lot considering I have a highly overactive imagination. I can imagine an asteroid crashing into earth close my home. My friends will tell you that they are not allowed to mention comets, or meteor showers, or a protentional eclipse. I can imagine a tsunami wiping out a beach as I sit in the sand. I can envision an earthquake while I am in a three story building. I am afraid that someone might break into the house when I am all alone and taking a shower (that might just be a throwback to Psycho). I can even imagine how our country might look like after the current elections. Yet, I could never have believed what would happen this week.
I arrived at my class at school, and we began a group team building exercise. The instructions were simple. Everyone was to stand in a large circle. The professor would read a statement, and everyone would quickly, without much thought or hesitation, step into the circle to the extent that they agreed with the statement. If you strongly agreed with the statement, you would walk into the center of the circle. If you slightly agreed, you would only take a small step or two in the circle. If you strongly disagreed, you would stand in place and so on.
The first statements were innocuous.
“I like chocolate.” Almost everyone was in the center of the circle.
“I like pizza.” People were a bit more spread out on this one.
“I am a dog person.” “I am a cat person.” There were some strong feelings on this one.
The statements then focused more on issues.
“I am a feminist.”
“I believe everyone has the same access to prosperity.”
“I believe everyone should have equal access to education.”
With each of these statements, everyone in the group shared the same opinion. We all appeared to be on the same page when it came to social issues and ideals.
After each statement, the professor would ask us to return to the circle if we had moved. After a few more statements, I heard this one.
“I believe in God.”
Without hesitation, I began my first step into the circle. As I moved, I suddenly became aware that no one else was moving. I hesitated for a split second. Do I keep going? Surely everyone is thinking about the question and will be stepping in. Maybe they are just waiting for the others. I took another step. The room was silent and still.
I kept taking steps towards the center of the circle. I could only see those in front of me or just to my side. Everyone was looking at me in the circle, but no one looked me in the eyes. I felt alone and exposed. I thought of the woman in the Bible who was caught in adultery. Everyone circled around her, pointed fingers, and said she should be stoned. Could this really be happening? I just wanted the professor to direct me back to my spot in the circle.
We quickly moved on to our next activity. I don’t remember much about what we did the rest of the class. I still felt as if I was standing alone in the middle of the circle. That feeling would stay with me for a while; in fact, I am still carrying a bit of it with me as I write.
I would not have been surprised if no moved into the circle had the statement been, “I am a Christian” or “I am religious” or “I go to church.” I know many people who want nothing to do with organized religion. I understand those who have questions about faith. I certainly have many questions about God, the church, the Bible, and theology. I am still shaken by the fact that no one moved into the circle. Even if someone had moved just a step or two into the circle, it would have been easier to understand. How could these people who share the same values about social issues and social justice not believe in God?
I have been thinking about this all week. As I began to process this, I looked at the world and the events of the past years. I remember bombings and killings in the name of God. I saw religious people who hated those who are different, people who say that God hates those who are aren’t like them, people who claim to follow God but turn their back on the poor, sick, and lonely. Politicians have been throwing around claims about God for months. Churches are splitting because they can’t agree to love one another any longer because of issues surrounding race, gender, who you can love or which bathroom people can use.
I must wonder if these bright, talented, young people I know, who want to change the world, look at all of this and decide that God can’t exist. In his book, “Blue Like Jazz”, Donald Miller writes about his experience at Reed College, a secular liberal arts college in Oregon. He and a few Christian friends discuss a way to talk to people on campus about their faith since students seemed hostile to their views. They come up with an idea to offer a confession to the other students. The confession below expresses what I have been thinking:
“So this group of us on campus wanted to confess to you,” Donald said.
“You are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh.
“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”
“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.
“There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” Donald started. “The thing is, we are followers of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God and all, and he represented certain ideas that we have sort of not done a good job at representing. He has asked us to represent him well, but it can be very hard. Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus didn’t mix spirituality with theology. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, too.”
There is a lot more! I want to confess and apologize for not always carrying the message of Christ in my life, but I am going to keep trying.
March 7 Just a day on the calendar, but one that always stands out.
“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott
As I looked at my phone to see calendar reminders for the day, I also saw the reminders for tomorrow. March 7 “meeting at 1pm and Elton John concert 8pm”. I have known the date was coming. I even thought I was prepared. When I bought the Elton John tickets I knew the concert was March 7. I was so excited to be taking my 14-year-old grandson to hear one of the legends of music. Jan loved music as much as I did. What a great way to feel close to her again.
I did so well last year; some tears, some remembering, some joy in celebrating her life. I was so proud of my new, ever so grown up, spiritual way of looking at death and loss. I was doing so well with everything in life that I no longer needed to see my therapist. We did good…
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My life has always involved changes. I am not really fond of changes; just ask anyone who knows me. 2015 has been full of changes, and I wasn’t happy about most of them. There was a lot of loss this year, too. However, this Christmas will be a very big change for me. Tonight, I will board a train and head west to San Antonio, Texas (after heading North, then West, and then South to get there) to spend the holiday with my brother and his family.
My brother and I were separated when we were very young. I did get to spend a couple of weeks with him every summer, but never Christmas. That might have been in part due to the fact that I lived in South Carolina, and he was in West Va. buried under snow. We haven’t been able to see each other very often as adults and have only been together during the Christmas season a few times. We have never actually shared Christmas Day since he was 2 years old.
This will be an exciting time. I will get to meet his grandchildren for the first time. We will be able to spend some good quality time together and that usually means trouble. His wife might have to send us to our rooms or give us time out. She will have to separate us when football is on because he is a DALLAS fan. OMG! We will get to do a little sightseeing, try to piece together memories and share some old pictures we have been able to gather over the years. All in all, I am so very excited and ready to begin this journey.
This will be a huge change for me. For the past 19 years, I have spent every Christmas day with my two children, their spouses, and my grandchildren. We usually begin the day in our pajamas and head to IHOP for breakfast. We then return home for gift giving and fun. The day usually ends with playing games and just relaxing. This year we got together a couple of weeks early to celebrate Christmas as a family. For the past 4 years, I have shared Christmas eve with my “other family.” The day often included shopping or last minute gift wrapping followed by Christmas Eve service at church and then supper. There would be amazing hot chocolate from a crock pot and just enjoying the time together. The kids would beg to open one gift from under the tree, and then we would exchange our Christmas gifts for each other.
Christmas at my house growing up wasn’t much of a celebration or fun. It was a day I usually wondered if my mother or father would call or come to see me. Usually my mother would call, but never my father. We had an ugly silver tree with a light that revolved around it. I have written some other posts about all of this. As an adult, Christmas was made very special because of my children. I loved watching their excitement over everything that happened during the holidays. There was then a period of time when they were older that things weren’t as good, but those times passed.
Christmas really is about a time of celebrating the birth of Christ and all that it represents. It is a time to share with family and friends no matter how close or far. I will truly miss the Christmas traditions of the past years, but I know this Christmas offers something special as I get to be a “kid” and reclaim some of the Christmas spirit with my little brother.
I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or anything else that you may celebrate during this holiday season.
At the end of this semester, I will be junior. I have done far more and far better than I ever imagined. I looked back at this blog post today. This sign still hangs on my door. Thanks, Mia.
Yes, I am attempting the Ultimate Blog challenge again. I am already a couple of days behind because of the nasty flu virus that inhabited my body on Christmas day. It took an arsenal of drugs to push it out of my body, but it left me with broncopneumonia. I have another batch of drugs to fight this battle.
Some may question my resolve in attempting the challenge when I will begin college classes tomorrow. I haven’t been in a college class in over 40 years. My friend Anna, who is a junior at the same school has been very supportive and encouraging. However, as she prepared to return to campus these past few days, her support has taken a different tone. “Your life as you know it is over” she told me last night. “Just wait and see,” she said with a perverted gleam in her eye.
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