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.”
I wrote an article about the conversations that have been happening after #MeToo starting appearing on social media.
I admit it – I get a bit nervous about any cosmic event. Read the post in the link above.
Read this post here.
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!