Then one day, while looking at a beautiful sunrise, she knew
In our family, you only prayed to God to get out of trouble. I grew up as a chronically sick kid. It was a tough childhood, as doctors weren’t sure I’d live past 10. I still remember receiving the Last Rites from a priest. My parents snuck my siblings into the room to say goodbye. In our family, God wasn’t to be trusted, since I was so sick and the pile of medical bills grew.
Our parents sent the seven of us to weekly Sunday school. Pop would grumble every Sunday, “Get in the car and go already,” adding in some curse words and some smacks. We were good students and received our engraved Bibles in fourth grade. I recall the teacher telling us that if we read “the good book” every night we’d live long lives. I took that message to heart until I got a beating for reading it past my bedtime. That’s when the Bible got quickly buried on the bottom shelf.
Our family only went together to church on Christmas and Easter, when we would be seen by the townspeople in our best clothes, giving generic smiles. We’d return home to our festive house and get drunk while thoroughly character assassinating the church snobs.
Eventually I taught Sunday school with my sister, until it was time to get a paying job at the mall. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the time I graduated high school. Though like a good drunk, I left home and went to college, where I drank more than I studied and failed out after four semesters.
Then, in quick succession I lost my fiancé, my ability to think rationally, my zest for playing field hockey, my friends, my sister’s trust and my parents’ admiration. I was certain that it was all their fault that my life sucked and that was why I needed to drink so much. I was mad at God for being adopted and for being so sick. I didn’t think I would survive living back at home after dropping out of college because I didn’t hide my chaos well from my dutiful mother.
After another of my awful jackpot weekends, Mom sat me down and preached. She saw her younger brother die from cirrhosis and she didn’t want me to die in the same way. She told me I could get sober and live a good life if I tried. Like any dutiful drunk, I defended my right to drink. The chip on my shoulder was bigger than a football player’s shoulder pads. I drank for another six dreadful months. I knew I couldn’t drink, but I justified it to myself since I had just turned 21, the legal drinking age in my state.
It wasn’t until I went to a frat party with my former college drinking friend that I finally realized I couldn’t drink anymore. I remember I was holding two big red plastic cups of beer while blue strobe lights flickered, and some inner voice said, “It’s the booze.” I put the beers down. And by the grace of God, I haven’t drunk alcohol since that night.
I didn’t know at the time that that was a God-experience. And neither did I know that I had been carried my whole life. But I didn’t want to surrender to “that AA,” as I didn’t want a boring life with “those people” even though I knew my drinking would kill me. Instead, I stayed dry and miserable. And I didn’t know why I was so selfish and mean as a sober person. I thought I’d be happy not drinking.
Then I caught a break. I went to my first AA meeting with my friend Cara, who I’d met when I was in college. She was sober. I thought if she could be sober in AA, then I could too. Cara drove me to the meeting. We walked in and I instantly loved three things about the place. People laughed with each other, they wore clean clothes and they had light in their eyes. I’ve loved AA since that day.
I stayed mad at God for another four months in early sobriety. It was hard. Fortunately, my newly found sober friends—Amy, Debbie, Julie, Kate, Lisa and Sally—latched onto me and picked me up to go to meetings. When they weren’t available, I used public transportation or walked. Every Tuesday, I went to a Women’s Step meeting with Kate. After the day’s Step was read, I would raise my hand and preach some Bible, chapter and verse, until I was asked to let someone else speak.
One day, Kate told me on the way home that I could borrow her God until I found my own Higher Power. I thought she was so weird. She told me that I could live a good life if I let God in. She told me to get on my knees and pray to her God. I got out of her car and gave the door an extra loud slam.
That night, my drunk and loving mother asked me what I learned that night at the meeting. She tried to be funny, but I was so offended by her question that I ran to my room. Besides, she smelled of wine. Instead of yelling at her, I hid in my bedroom and prayed on my knees to Kate’s God. Then I did my homework. The next morning, I prayed on my knees again to Kate’s God. By the next week’s Step meeting, I was still leery about God, but I kept quiet. I listened and watched what the other women did. They didn’t know what to do with me when I was silent.
For six months, I prayed twice a day on my knees. During that time, I became excited to pray and didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t know what God was anymore, but I did what Kate said.
Then one day I saw this beautiful sunrise. It was like God slapped me grateful, just like when he zapped me sober. In the glow of the pinks and purples in the sky, I became grateful for the fact that I wasn’t hungover and I knew where I was. I could remember words professors had said in class, and I hadn’t started the day by puking. I realized God was working in my life. I had a God! I was shocked. I actually became giddy and smiled the rest of the day.
The following Tuesday, Kate picked me up and as we got closer to the meeting I said, “Kate, you can have your God back. I found mine.” She smiled and laughed her hearty laugh and thanked me.
I’ve been sober now for 27 years. I have a good, sober life. Ever since that day I found my own Higher Power, I can be mad at God or happy or sad at God, and yet I know that he or she or it or they, depending on my point of view, watches over me. Some days, God is my late sister or the trees out in the backyard. God is in the halls of AA, for sure. Feel free to borrow my God if you haven’t found yours yet.
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