20 years without a drink. It’s personal.

Yesterday marked 20 years of being clean and sober. It also marked 20 years without passing out drunk, getting in fights, and perhaps most importantly, waking up in my own vomit. Yes – as my friend Maggie reminded me yesterday -for an alcoholic, 20 years is a long time to go without puking through your nose.

Today I am grateful for all those drunks who sit in church basements talking about God and booze. Lutherans aren’t really known for using “personal relationship with God” language, and I cringe at Evangelical-Speak – like calling Jesus your “Personal Lord and Savior” – it can so often feel like Western Individualism run amuck in religion. As though in your contact list Jesus is listed between your Personal Chef and your Personal Trainer. A friend of mine describes this idea of Jesus as “your bearded girlfriend who wants to be your life coach”. All this is to say that using “personal” to describe how I relate to God can feel problematic to me, mainly because it borders a bit closely on religious narcissism. And I, perhaps unfairly, associate this language of personal Lord and Savior with emotionalism and a smug affect of sanctity and I’m suspicious of the whole thing and would prefer to just talk about theology.

But the fact of the matter is this: as much as I love theology, most everything I’ve learned about God and how God works in the world and in my life I didn’t learn in seminary. I learned it from sober drunks. Most of them don’t go to church but I’ve never met a group of people who talk more about God. Not ideas about God. And not feelings about God, but God as a real and solid part of life, not in lofty terms, but in a “if I don’t turn my life and my will over to the care of God, I’m screwed” type of way. It’s amazing what kind of faith comes out of desperation. These folks aren’t choosing God as some kind of self-improvement guru. They know that God can do for them what they cannot do for themselves and it’s rely on God or drink.

I love The Church that meets in the sanctuary on Sunday and preaches the Gospel and gathers around the Eucharist. But I also love the church that meets in the basement on Saturday and talks of God and booze and gathers around the coffee pot. I need both.


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  • Thanks for sharing this Nadia. You’re right, we need both: “I love The Church that meets in the sanctuary on Sunday and preaches the Gospel and gathers around the Eucharist. But I also love the church that meets in the basement on Saturday and talks of God and booze and gathers around the coffee pot. “

  • Congratulations, Nadia!

    It seems to me that are the closest to God are always the ragamuffins and scoundrels.

  • steve

    you are an amazing lady
    well done
    stay strong

  • Jon Spangler

    Thanks for a great message. I learned the same kind of lesson from offering weekly Bible studies “for” the San Mateo County Jail inmates over 10 years. Travis Mamone is dead-on right about “ragamuffins and scoundrels” (above).

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from your spiritual “cousins” at St. Gregory’s in SF! 🙂

  • Rick Strandlf

    Im glad G-d brought you into my life.

  • nekkidbaptist

    I love the basement liturgy. Happy birthday, friend.

  • val shealer

    Keep going back.

  • Will

    This is a great post. Congratulations on being sober for so long. I am not an alcoholic but my dad was so I have a real personal (no pun intended) connection to this issue. He unfortunately never cleaned up and died at a young age. I’m glad there are basement church groups that work for some people, and lives can be positively changed. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Nadia:

    Thanks for this. You are saying here some of the same things I have been trying to say in my (relatively new) blog, “the Gospel of Bill W.” It is at 12stepspirituality.wordpress.com . Take a look at it sometime. Meanwhile, I am going to repost your blog of today.

    Congratulations on 20 years. And on your good work in your blog and church.


  • D.E. Bishop

    This is so true: “It’s amazing what kind of faith comes out of desperation.” I talk to my parishioners about that frequently. In fact, for them and for myself, it is something that helps endure very painful times.

    My experience has been that it is when we are in the midst of suffering that we are most teachable. It makes sense. When everything is hunky-dory we feel very much in control and capable. Then hell strikes and we become desperate enough to actually listen hard, if not desperately, and we learn something.

    When my dear friend was hiking with his daughters several years ago, and fell off a cliff, I endured by looking hard for whatever it was that was available to me to learn. I don’t believe that Dan’s dying was for the purpose of teaching me something, but I do believe in that tragedy I was more open to learning because I so badly needed there to be something positive.

    Do you all know what I mean? I don’t have answers for the questions about God and suffering, but I have found a way to experience suffering that works for me. At least, so far.

  • Susannah

    I don’t sit in churches either above or below ground. I enjoy the challenge of working through my issues on my own, though I’m glad to know they’re there if I need them. I stopped drinking almost 6 months ago, and every day continues to be a challenge. Every morning I’m proud of myself, and every evening I think it’s been long enough. Just today I was thinking it’s a special occasion one sip will be alright…

    But I wont.

  • gypsyvalet

    Congrats on the 20 years Nadia, I know how difficult a journey that is. And yet I wonder about the whole “religious narcissism” in relation to a personal relationship with the Lord. If you didn’t have that personal relationship, could you have made the 20?

    There is no doubt in my mind that on my own, I would have never have been able to stay clean. Only in that relationship with the Lord do I have the strength needed to survive these past 24 years. In one of the parishes I serve, most of those who attend worship are drunks, university presidents, addicts, ministers, ex-offenders, politicians . Basically, the dregs of humankind, broken people, just like you and I.

  • John

    How about faith is always personal but never private?


  • Thank you for sharing! Your story means a lot and your guidance has meant a lot! It is all more real to me than I can put into words here, so I will begin and end with thank you!

  • Nadia, congratulations on making it for 20 years of soberity. Our church hosts two different weekly AA meetings and I have had several amazing conversations over the years with various attenders. While not always open to returning to the institution church they are very open to having God become real in their lives and what Christ has done for us all. Many don’t realize the real ministry that happens each week at these meetings and how appreciate they are of having a congregation open to hosting their meetings. In our area several churches have asked AA meetings to find other meeting facilities. It is a shame that the people of God often don’t realize that these are the places where peoples’ lives are being changed. Thanks for your witness. Enjoyed meeting you at Bishop’s convocation here in New England.

  • Mary Kaye

    I’m grateful to count you among my colleagues – both in preaching & in living – and I am grateful to the God who holds us all.

  • Here’s to teh next 20 years! I know I was a drunkard but used to say I could stop because I did each year during Lent; then someone told me that Sundays and other Holy days weren’t part of Lent so I didn’t really ever give up. I am now on medication which means I shouldn’t drink so I don’t but I can’t ever say I’m not an alcoholic so I have to assume I am. At Christmas and on family birthdays I allow my self a half glass of wine but I know that is all I can have. I’d rather live in a house with no alcohol but other members of the family want to drink and why should I stop them. What I do know is that if I hadn’t had a breakdown a couple of years ago I’d now be drinking myself to death.

    Have you ever read The Exuberantb Church by Barbara Glasson? She talks about God’s voice being heard on the prophetic edges of the church which reminded me of your comments about alcoholics and God. In her case she talks about the gay community and how the churches need to go through a process of coming out if they are to be relevant to the world that now surrounds us. I think you are both describing the same process of getting the church to look out and not in for the answers and direction.

  • Ben

    Waking up is one of my favorite sober activities (10 yrs. for me). Nadia, you keep keeping’ on. Trudge the road to happy destiny!
    I believe that the Big Book is one of the healthiest spiritual writings with language that resonates beautifully in the soul.
    I love the fellowship required both in the meeting rooms and in the narthex, the humility of preparing bread or setting up chairs, the openness to share our concerns with others and God.
    Thank you for prompting me to give thanks again.

  • Nadia,
    Congratulations on 20 years sober. I have a very dear friend who has been greatly helped by the ragamuffins in the “church downstairs”. As a result, she can preach about grace like a seminary trained pastor.

    I just discovered your blog. It if full of the wisdom of a pastor who has been to hell and back and is now hellbent on grace.. I am now a fan.

  • Craig F.

    Thanks so much for this post. I “found” it while browsing the net. This month I celebrate 3 years and 6 months clean. I am a Lutheran Christian and also very active in Narcotics Anonymous (thus my last name, “F” :-)).

    NA has a hard time in my city finding locations in which to meet. I’m guessing that is due to the stigma of being an “addict”, recovering or otherwise. What I am very proud of is that here, it is the Lutherans that open wide their doors to our Fellowship. Yep, who knew the same church that baptised me into new life as an infant would again be an important part of my finding a new life as an adult?

    Today, I can be who I am in the Lutheran church and know that my church fully supports me…I am a Christian, out gay man who is a recovering addict. I am also a sinner who is incredibly thankful for the message of God’s unconditional love and grace I was taught growing up. Each meeting we read: “Just for today, I will have faith in someone who believes in me.” I know who believes in me…NA, my church and my Higher Power. For that I have much gratitude.

    Again, thanks and congratulations on your success.

  • D


  • Tomorrow is my 20th anniversary. We share similar feelings.
    I would learn so much from that solitary figure in the halls.
    That look of compassion in their eyes as they would just exude peace and put me at ease. Congratulations. God is within us all, no matter what definition you use.