Dear Mr. Preacher Man

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

Dear Mr. Preacher Man:

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

I get where you’re coming from, Mr. Preacher Man. You find power in the name of Jesus. Power to condemn. Power to save. That power feeds your (self) righteousness. I see that. I understand it. Because I’ve felt it. I’ve used Jesus as a weapon, a line in the sand to prove how much better I am. I’ve used Jesus to prove my worth… after all, in the math of salvation saved is always greater than (never equal to) unsaved.

But, Mr. Preacher Man, none of that math added up to love. Not one lick of it. Because the hard truth is that we all stumble and fall. We all need connection. We need unconditional love. We humans have never been good at unconditional love. But God is. God’s got that good, radical love that welcomes everyone. God’s love is where it’s at.

But you aren’t preaching that love, Mr. Preacher Man. I have met your Jesus—and I found him wanting. Your Jesus wants to save me from a punishing God, a God who does not find me worthy. That version of myself—and God—wounded me, isolated me, broke me.

But I have good news, Mr. Preacher Man. God is nothing like that at all. God is this revolutionary, limitless love… God is bliss and peace and breath-taking goodwill for EVERYONE. God left a piece of the divine in me—and in you, Mr. Preacher Man. Don’t believe what they’ve told you… you don’t need redemption. You are already redeemed. You are worthy. You are loved.

So, Mr. Preacher Man, I don’t need you to introduce me to Jesus Christ. I got that saving grace, friend. It was mine all along. Jesus & I, we’re in the business of love. Join us over here. Everybody’s in. (No yelling required. )

Love,

Me

 

 

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

The Same Story

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there. 

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there.

I mean, I wasn’t sitting in AA meetings for research. I had some serious work to do. But what made me want to do the work was hearing about the journey, soaking in the personal revelations of people who’d figured out how to do sober. Because I totally had not.

But, the longer I sat there, the more I realized that every person siting in the room had the same story. Or at least the same story arc. The details varied, of course. But, each story had the same components: 1) what it used to be like, 2) what happened, and 3) what it is like now.

But even though the stories followed the same pattern—fall, journey, redemption–each one was relevant, personal. These stories were about death… and rebirth. How could I not be completely blown away?

The storytellers that wowed me the most were the ones that could take AA adages (Live Life on Life’s Terms, for instance. Which I always hated.) and weave a story around them, so that they weren’t cliches anymore. They became completely new insights that opened life-changing possibilities.

That’s the power of the story: connection.

And it doesn’t take high drama to make people connect. Some folks definitely had fantastic tales of weekends, weeks, months gone horribly wrong where they managed to balance themselves precariously between certain death and super-evil villains looking  to do them incredible harm. But I was just as apt to be moved to tears by a young dad weaving a story about his kid, and then tying it back to his own lessons in sobriety.

Because, let’s face it, most of us are on the same journey. As humans, we all want to belong, to be valued, to feel whole. The work we do to get there can look different. But the core nugget remains: to love anyone else, we have to make peace with and love ourselves.

I’m still sober. And part of that is due to the people who so willingly shared their stories, who made the program come to life for me. They bore witness to the miracle at work in their own lives, and they made me want it too. These folks taught me to be grateful, to connect with other people, and to be of service. That’s a pretty solid formula for a kick-ass life.

Everything I have today I owe to my sobriety. That is the honest to God truth. It surprises folks sometimes that I never shy away from telling my story. But I know the truth: for someone else my story could mean the difference between life and death. How could I do  anything but tell it over & over again?

Unicorns & Sunday Mornings (Magical!)

I wish I could cause some sort of break in the time space continuum on Sunday mornings. Because I love my church–it’s one of my favorite places in the world, the place where I know I belong–but I HATE getting to church on Sunday mornings. Mainly, because my family sucks at it.

Take, for instance, Easter morning. I got up bright and early (6:30 a.m. to be exact). I made coffee, wrote for an hour (April 1 is the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. Hooray!), and watched Jane sort through her Easter goodies (and eat “just two” Sour Patch Bunnies… Easter is a time for grace–and sugar before breakfast, after all). Suddenly, it’s 9 a.m. and we need to be at church by 9:40.

Not a problem. For most people. But Jane wanted to wear a sleeveless, white eyelet dress on Easter Sunday. It was 47 degrees outside. Cue the variety of leggings and jackets to be paraded through to keep her from freezing. I also, foolishly, tried to be sensible and suggest that she wear a dress with some sleeves. You’ve thought I cancelled Easter, for God’s sake.

I finally got her to agree on leggings and a jacket that she liked–and that didn’t look too crazy–and I headed off to get dressed. I’d just finished toweling off and was standing in my robe in the bathroom when Simon stuck his head in and asked if it might be possible to leave a little earlier.

I’m sorry. WHAT?

Look, I am good at a lot of things. But I am not good at spontaneity. Or rushing. So, no. We cannot leave early, SIR.

I got dressed in record time, while slurping down my second–or third?–cup of coffee. I didn’t panic when my dress felt ever so slightly too tight. I just shimmied again. Things fell into place. More or less. I even managed matching jewelry and make-up. All in 25 minutes. The resurrection wasn’t the only miracle this Easter Sunday.

But for all the hassle that is getting to church on Sunday mornings–well, it’s worth it the minute I walk in the door.

We are a church full of unicorns. We’ve got a smattering of everybody: black, white, gay, straight, trans, cis, old, young, rich, poor. We’ve got reformed fundamentalists. We’ve got seekers. When they say “Everybody’s Welcome Here!” it’s the honest to God truth.

I left the church when I was 19. I was gay. It was 1994. And I was completely unaware that any church that affirmed gay folks existed at all. Mainline Christians were constantly spewing that “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” bullshit, and I was having none of it. I didn’t go back until I was 28. Even then, acceptance was conditional at best. It was a thin love (And I should’ve known “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”)
I should’ve rejected it completely. But I wanted Jesus. And I thought I needed the church to get to him.

I spent years in the Methodist church (which still can’t agree on whether or not they find gay people acceptable). I learned to accept the church’s tolerance of me. I thought it was all I was worth. And my family and I moved to Atlanta. And we found this magical, unicorn church. This place where we are celebrated fully. A place my soul is renewed every single Sunday. A place where I belong.

I am a writer. I have words for almost everything. But I really don’t have words to express what this place means to me. I can tell you, though, it’s worth every damn bit of the hassle it takes to get there every Sunday morning.

A Bit About Gratitude (& Buddha & Jesus)

Laughing Buddha

Gratitude comes easier to me now that I am sober. I just didn’t get it before–I didn’t get how much I had, how little of it I’d truly “earned.” I came from a scarcity perspective. There was never enough of anything: money, time, love, contentment. Wherever there was a gap, wherever I found my life lacking, I filled that gap with alcohol. But when the drunk wore off, that nagging lack was always there. Because the lack had nothing to do with my external circumstances, and everything to do with ME.

As part of my Lenten spiritual practice*, I started reading Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. I caught a glimpse of it on my best friend’s bookshelf over Christmas break, and I remembered how much that book meant to me when I first read it. It was the first book I read in its entireity as I emerged from the darkest place my drinking took me. The fact that I could focus long enough to read the book and absorb it now seems like a small miracle. But it was just the balm I needed. It gave me renewed hope that I could find my way and find light and meaning in the world again.

Cracking it open this time gave me so much perspective on where I was all those years ago and on who I am now. This passage, in particular, jumped out at me:

” Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness, and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you–at least not for very long. It’s like drining salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it’s a drink that can’t possibly alleviate your thirst.”

I remember sitting outside my apartment, on the rare nights when I would try not to drink, and feeling like something was scratching away at me from the inside. I wanted so desperately to escape my own desperation and despair. I wanted to escape myself. But when I encountered that passage all those years ago, I felt my heart lift because someone understood exactly how I felt. And if someone else understood, then I wasn’t beyond hope, and I wasn’t alone.

When I opened Awakening the Buddha Within on a whim on Ash Wednesday, I had no idea that reading this book would engender so much gratitude. Because I don’t feel a constant yearning anymore. I am not lost. And I no longer dwell under a constant cloud of sadness. And I am so grateful.

I’d be lying if I said the journey to getting sober (and staying that way) was an easy one. Excavating demons in order to slay them comes with its own peril and pain. And once I took away the artificial contentment that alcohol offered, I had to work toward achieving some lasting peace. But I was wise enough to find what really worked for me–not what I thought looked right or what I thought other people wanted. Getting sober brought me back to Jesus, introduced me to Buddha, helped me find my rhythm in running, and helped me rediscover yoga (which was the practice that initially reached me in the darkest night of my soul). My life is rich and full. I am surrounded by a close group of people I love, who understand and accept me. And, even more importantly, I love and accept myself (at least most of the time).

I am grateful for this journey. I’m grateful for the gifts in my life that I did not earn and cannot say I truly deserve. I’m grateful for grace & love, which have brought me peace I couldn’t have dreamed of before. I am simply grateful for this life.

* One of the reasons I warmed so quickly to Awakening the Buddha Within is that Lama Surya Das immediately sets about demonstrating that buddhist principles can mesh quite easily with Christianity (and many other spiritual traditions). Me & Jesus are like peanut butter & jelly. I was pretty happy to know I could keep Jesus in my heart & still incorporate buddhist principles in my life.

Photo Credit: flickr/nightrose

A Control Freak Gets Sober: A Short Case Study

I walked in, freshly pressed in a white shirt, crisp jeans and my beloved cowboy boots. My hair, pulled up in a clip, projected a no-nonsense image. Or, at least, I hoped it did. I wanted to be at the top of my game for this meeting. I pulled back one of the folding chairs, smiled at the people already seated at the table. And then it began: “Good evening. This is the regular meeting of Sobrenity. I am _______, and I am an alcoholic.”

This is how a control freak like me manages the unknown of attending her first AA meeting, at which they will most likely strongly suggest that she admit she is wildly out of control.

My futile attempts to control the AA meeting “situation” began earlier that day: I ran out to the bookstore to procure my copy of Alcoholics Anonymous (aka The Big Book) before the meeting. I wanted (no, needed) to be prepared for this next phase of my journey. I believe I even read the first chapter or so. Like I was going to a book club meeting. “Control what you can” was my motto. Obviously, that was going well.

Turns out, I didn’t need the book at the meeting. It was an open-discussion meeting, which meant anyone could attend, alcoholic or not. Cool. Then I could fly under the radar. They did a moment of silence for the sick & suffering alcoholic (that’s me!), followed by the Serenity Prayer. Which I had heard a million times before but couldn’t remember for the life of me. They were all chanting as if they were part of some secret society. Wait.. yeah. They kind of were.

Next came something about experience, strength and hope. It’s all a blur. And I didn’t have any experience, strength or hope for MYSELF at the moment, much less some to share. Then they got to the line that told me I was okay there, at least for the time being: The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Check! This is where I belonged.

Someone read, “How It Works,” which, cleverly, describes how the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works. Three tidbits from “How It Works” stuck with me:

1) Rarely have we seen a person fail who has throughly followed our path.
I am not really into failure even now, and certainly was against failure as an active alcoholic who had something to prove. So, good… no failing here.

2) We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. You’d think for a control freak that admitting that she was powerless over alcohol would be wrenching. But I already knew I was powerless (I often have to come to things on my own. Thank GOD, I had come to this realization before someone mentioned it to me, and I had to spend the next several months of my life trying to prove them wrong). I’d done the whole deal where I said I’d only have 2 beers, then I’d wake up in my bed with no recollection of having gotten there. And, if my life was unmanageable, then it wasn’t really my fault, right? How could I be faulted for something that, by its very nature, I couldn’t manage? Time to invite a Higher Power to clean up my mess (btw: this is NOT how things work. Everyone is required to clean up his or her own mess. Think of the HP as a power source; you still have to vacuum)

3) We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. As for not being a saint, I am a good little Christian girl who happens to be a lesbian. In the church I grew up in, that not only knocked me out of the saint category, it landed me right in the going-straight-to-hell-in-a-handbasket category. So growing along spiritual lines without much outside help was something I did for years (albeit clumsily and sometimes drunkenly). Now I had a church that I totally dug (who of course knew nothing about my problematic drinking–or that I had once served communion drunk), and I had these AA folks to instruct me on spiritual growth. I’d probably BE a saint in a few months with all this help (I totally did NOT get humility yet, obviously).

With the finer points of “How It Works” swirling about in my brain, I sat patiently as people shared their experience, strength and hope. But, honestly, I couldn’t connect their stories to my life. I spent so much time hiding what was really going on with me that I couldn’t open myself up enough to see the similarities. I wondered when I would feel connected. I wanted to be the valedictorian of AA and to do that I needed to be accepted by the group, connected, respected (spoiler: I never felt connected to AA. Perhaps because this was my approach. Holy ego.)

At the end of the meeting, I felt deflated. I didn’t feel changed. I wanted to be able to sit down with someone and talk it out. Not talk about the program or how I was going to work through the steps. I wanted to talk my addiction through until I was better. Right then.

Instead, I went home and took out my Big Book. I tried to start reading the text, but I got bored, overwhelmed, twitchy. So I flipped back to the stories in the back of the book and started reading. They broke past all my defenses, and I saw myself in each of them. I also saw hope. I read until I couldn’t focus anymore. And the next day I read more. It seems so natural now that those stories saved my life. Stories have power. And those stories carried me through my first days, pointing out my character defects (ahem… control freak) in a way that didn’t make me bristle and run for the hills. I share my story because I owe my sobriety to people who were willing to share theirs.

Finding Balance

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

As I watch my daughter standing in line, waiting her turn, I realize that I spend a lot of time hoping that she isn’t like me.

Maybe I should amend that to read: I spend a lot of time hoping my daughter isn’t like original me.

When people find out I am in recovery, they often start poking around in my childhood trying to figure out what drove me to look for my solutions at the bottom of a Miller Lite can. Truth is, there isn’t a lot to find. What they really want to know is what my parents DID to make me this way. While their investigations used to be a sort of morbid curiosity about my sordid descent, now there is a desperation to the questioning… because now most of my friends have kids. They want to know how to spare their kids from the complete demoralization of addiction… and who can blame them? Addiction destroys. And they want their kids to live fully. I get it.

But here’s the rub: my parents didn’t DO anything to send me running to hide in the buzzy bliss of a drink. They loved me, provided for me, encouraged me, and cared for me. They were not abusive, neglectful or cruel. But I did somehow manage to grow up devoid of any coping mechanisms. I never really grew out of the egocentric stage—not in that I thought that everything should be mine, but I believed the world was always thinking about me, always laughing at me, always rejecting me on some level. I was constantly on stage, naked and ashamed, a dream I could never quite shake. These thoughts consumed me to the point that I could not find room for compassion, empathy, and big, radical love for the world. Instead, my love was always a tight, clenching love that craved constant approval, approbation, attention. This constant striving and reaching created original me: an overly sensitive kid, prone to anxiety and hopelessness. It created the perfect internal environment to brew an alcoholic.

So, yeah, I kinda don’t want my kid to be like that. Before she arrived in this world, I had these intense hopes that she’d be born with an adventurous spirit, kind but not too sensitive, with a deep desire to simply be her own person. In short, I wanted her to be exactly the kid I was not. But, either way, I knew my partner and I held a secret parenting weapon: we could teach our daughter to practice the principles of AA without ever having to learn them in a meeting. This is a perk no one tells you about when you walk into the rooms; but it has incredible value in the topsy-turvy world of parenting.

We talk to our daughter often about trying her best. In the preschool world of always wanting to run the fastest, to be first in line, to win the game, we try to remind her that her best is all she can give. That she isn’t defined by her successes or failures. That kindness and bravery count more than a perfect soccer kick. Just trying is sometimes the biggest win.

She climbs up on the beam. She teeters a bit. I can see her arms shake as she holds them out from her sides to balance. Then she takes one step. And another. And unlike last session, she doesn’t freeze and wait for an adult to help her. She talks halting steps … all the way across the beam.

She breaks into a huge grin, waving like a maniac at me. Her mother. Who did nothing more than encourage her to let go of her fear and to really live.

And she owned that beam.