I know today is Holy Cross. It is celebrated by the oldest traditions within Christianity. I want to celebrate something else. This is my 666th day of recovery. I have been sober almost 22 months. I am amazed by the changes in my life. In the spirit of the day, I can say, even though getting sober was my cross to bear, I had a lot of help carrying it.
I face new situations in my life that change my patterns of living. My new job at Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church is one of these. The old stress of being a pastor has returned. I did not expect anything different.
I am newly married. A second marriage brings challenges that are difficult to predict. But my new spouse Kathryn is worth it. I know the resources to which I can turn for help. My AA friends say that I am an “institutional man” again. I will unpack that once I figure out what they mean.
Now there is a crisis. It just presented itself out of the blue. Like most crises, the end result is yet unknown. I am beginning utilizing those resources I mentioned above. But there is a ghost that presents an alternative.
The Escape Hatch
I used to say, “Stop the world! I want to get off!” When life got difficult and I could not make it any better, I found an escape hatch. I took up drinking 10 or 12 years ago. I could shut down then. All I had to do was get used to the burning sensation as the liquid went down my throat. It wasn’t easy. But I soldiered on. My drinking got heavier and I enjoyed it.
Doing my job was a snap. I drank and read. I drank and wrote. It was a cinch. I only stopped when the words on the page or screen blurred. Many of my church members were okay with my merely calling them on the phone instead of visiting in person. I was good at it. When I did it.
A decade went by before real problems surfaced. The problems affected me physically, socially, domestically, and professionally. Just about everything that made life worthwhile was shattered because my spiritual strength was diluted by other kinds of spirits.
New Coping And New Challenges In Recovery
Friends tell me how proud they are of me. They admire my hard work. Some say they are “inspired” by it. One recovery counselor told me I have an large capacity for self-sabotage. My reply was, “Duh, I thought we already knew I could do that.” Telling my counselor that I already knew what she was telling me only proved the point that I would intentionally screw up without actually dealing with the issue. I was saying, “Get off this point and tell me what to do.” I reserved the right to ignore what I was being told.
A clergy friend said, “you’ll make it because you are authentic.” I am not sure I was. But I knew I could be. So, I chose honesty as the virtue I would pursue. Openness had to go with that too. It was honesty that allowed me to enter an AA meeting and admit to my new friends that I had been drinking (and attending meetings) for the previous month. Without honesty and open authenticity, I would be dead now.
New challenges presenting themselves to me requires another bit of honesty from me. Here it is. I have been doing things this way for 22 months. On the other hand, I used the escape hatch for 12 years. I am much more practiced doing the latter. That thought frightens me. My AA group assures me they will be right there goading me to keep coping the new way.
The New Ingredient In My Recovery
My congregation does not do anything like the “high church” liturgy. I decided go back to using the Daily Office from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. My spiritual life is tied to my work in congregational ministry, recovery work, and social activism. I easily equate thinking and praying with doing. The formalized prayers of the Anglican traditions will help me be more contemplative. And I hope balanced enough to remain strong in my efforts.
I still need my friends, my congregation, my pastoral leaders, and my new friends in recovery. My friends that fall into the category of “not spiritual” help me spiritually even if they don’t recognize it.
I take courage and meditate on the words of the dying Anglican priest, John Wesley, whose last words were “best of all, God is with us.” I try to remember it.