After I first became sober I thought that I’m better now. I can handle it. I had been in AA for years and attended hundreds, maybe thousands, of meetings. I had volunteered, read the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and worked through the Twelve Steps with a sponsor.
I had learned to forgive and be forgiven. I valued and loved my wife, kids, and my entire family. I had a good job and made good money. I was busy, really busy. My wife is a professional, and she was busy too. Our kids were in school and they had baseball, softball, soccer practice, school events, doctors’ appointments, and so on. Sure it was hard. And sometimes we dropped a ball or two, but it was manageable.
God performed many miracles in my life. His grace had changed me. But then I got too busy. I started to attend Mass only rarely and became “spiritual, not religious.” I was still attending meetings daily but some people there really annoyed me. I know, I know. If I have a problem, I have a problem…
Walking Away from Meetings and the Church
Still, one day I thought, “Do I really want to go to the meeting and hear that person talk about their cat again? I’ll just get a hamburger instead.”
That decision began a five-year dry period. I attended only three to six meetings a year. No more church, sponsor, or steps. I can still hear that guy at a meeting say: “If you’re too busy to go to your AA meeting, you’re too busy.”
I should have tattooed that on the back of my hand.
During this time I was laid off, used up all the money from my retirement account, owed the IRS more money than I could ever pay, and went bankrupt. My wife changed careers so we could get by and I broke her heart while I curled up on the couch for years. Our kids started calling me “Mom.” I gained weight. I was ashamed of and hated myself, wishing I could die.
I didn’t drink but I wrapped myself in a blanket of self-loathing, watching the defects of my character increase, flourish, and run riot.
When I first got sober I desperately whispered the one prayer all alcoholics know, that short, powerful prayer etched in the soul of the broken and hopeless: “God, please help me.” Well, God did help me.
Turning Back to God and Receiving His Grace
An old-timer once told me God doesn’t move, we move. And that’s exactly what I had done—I moved. I disconnected from God and church and created a world of misery for myself and my family. I finally came to the point where I again had to pray, “God, please help me,” even though I didn’t deserve it or even trust that God would. I was afraid and ashamed.
I eventually found a job, making a third of what I previously made. I was embarrassed at first, but I couldn’t disappoint my wife anymore by not working. My father died, whom I adored. I became heartsick, but I also became, slowly, more willing again. I began attending a different AA group, got a sponsor, worked the Steps. I still couldn’t let go of some of my character defects, though, and the journey was slow. I grew tired of going to confession, saying the same things over again like a broken record.
A couple of years ago, while attending an AA retreat at a Jesuit retreat house, I went to confession to recite the same sins. I explained to the priest that I don’t attend Mass because I’m clearly defective in so many ways. The priest responded, “That’s right. This is exactly what Satan wants you to do: give up. You’re not good enough, you shouldn’t go to Mass or confession. You’re wasting your time, and the priest is bored of hearing the same thing.”
God, Not Us, Is the Only One Who Can Handle Our Lives
What I heard was, “You can’t handle this. God handles it. Keep going to confession, especially if you don’t feel like it. Keep going. God handles it. Keep going to Mass. Don’t believe Satan, believe our loving and merciful God who adores you. You are forgiven.”
This was an epiphany for me. The truth is I can’t handle it, but God can and does.
Since then, my sins and character defects have been, and continue to be, removed. It’s laughable, really. I’ve read in the Big Book a million times that lack of power is our dilemma. It took me a long time to really understand that I simply don’t have the power. Now that I know and believe God is the power, I’ve lost 100 pounds, begun a new career, paid back the IRS, and paid off our home. This is God at work, not me.
I’ve also learned that being sober is not enough. Yes, I need AA and its guidance and direction. AA isn’t about drinking, though, not really. It provides instruction on how to live. Being spiritual is not enough, either. I need my church and all it offers.
For me, following the directions of the Catholic Church is not about being good or bad or following rules. It’s about being one of God’s children. I need my Father and I rely on His grace. The church is about freedom, most especially from myself. I don’t have to pretend anymore. I can be willing, vulnerable, and courageous. In doing so, I’m free to love others and to accept the greatest love of all.
Now that I don’t handle my life anymore, I’m not all that busy.
Tom has been sober since May 20, 2002. He attends 12-step meetings regularly, has a sponsor, and sponsors other men. He loves the Catholic Church and regularly attends Mass. He has been given the priceless gift of God’s grace, and he knows it.