A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Sober Living Place

So, a follow up on my quick little post about how burned out I was on the whole reaching for sobriety thing after watching my Niece travel through various incarnations of it for the last three years. Some of the early attempts were more about pretending to get sober, than actually getting sober, Some attempts were more serious, but they  fell apart as soon as she left the program. Gather There were the awful and self-destructive periods where she insisted that she didn’t need a program at all, and the life-threatening collapses that followed them. The kind of events that made it utterly clear to those of us around her that without the serious application of a program the only destination possible for her was prison or the morgue. And the unavoidable, defeated truth that unless she made the choice, the only thing we could do was watch it happen…and protect her children.

So last week, when another call to action came, a request to bring our daughter to attend her graduation from the Wellness part of her current program, my utter burn out was working against me even while I said yes. To say I was resistant wouldn’t be understating it, but the reasonable part of me hasn’t left the field yet, and I knew in my heart that going was the responsible thing to do.  I knew that it had the chance to pay out much greater dividends in the general happiness in the long run. Not that it would…only that it had the chance. So, the decision was made and I shouldered my “for the best of the children” kit and showed up ready to do a job.

Ten minutes in, I can’t tell you how fast that “job” mentality fell away. Was blown away, by the gritty efforts and real life joy in the search for salvation, the revelation of the honest, human stories that lie beneath the disease of addiction. I was quickly reminded of the truth that stood outside of my own petty irritations and selfish desire to avoid my own discomfort.  Here, in this place, the search for human dignity was being sought by people who were willing to save the lives of those who we prefer to turn away from. People who have sometimes earned that response, having, in their illness, burned the bridges between themselves and every person who had showed up to offer a hand. The sad truth is that sometimes that hand comes best from strangers.

There was the preacher who brought all the “Oh Be Joyful” power and musicality of black religious tradition to the opening prayer so strong and glowing in love that you never wanted to be out of his presence. Over 20 years sober, he was once so in the grips of his addiction in his former life as a bus driver, that he once drove his bus, passengers and all straight to the crack house to score. 20 years later, he’s saving lives, grateful for the chance to have his own redeemed.

There is the insanely talented musician, who by all rights should have been making a living in demand for studio sessions, but who found his life derailed by drugs instead. There was the gentleman who was wearing the coolest shoes in the world, who had a double doctorate and was working on a third, who, flanked by his utterly stunning daughters, was working not to let all that become meaningless in the face of his addictions. There was the 23 year old young man who already had 5 DUI’s to his name and now had to confront the truth, that his issues were no longer the issues of a 23 year old.

The stories were myriad, and while you knew that not all of them would make it, some of them would prove worth the effort. Some, like the man who stood in front of his peers, all of whom suffer from this disease that levels the playing field in the cruelest of ways, and confessed his trembling gratitude for the chance to get his life back, to repair his relationship with his daughter, to earn back a beloved dog.

And there was my niece’s sponsor, a high school principal with 16 years sober. All of them gave me lessons in the power of lives saved, lived that remained grounded in the grace of reaching back to try and pull those behind them forward. Lives that continued to be redeemed by the work of saving those they could. Holding a lantern to light the way on the path for others, and in so doing, helped themselves to see the way a little clearer .

So, while I had walked in there, lost in my own irritations and discomforts, it wasn’t long before I began to realize how much I was closing my eyes to. I don’t know if my Niece will be saved, and hope in these situations is a very fragile thing. Like the sufferers of the disease, you have to take that one day at a time. It can be hard to try and have it again…because I don’t want to give much more life over to disappointment. But it pays, I found, to remember everything I know about a favorite author of mine, Anne Lamott. She is on the top 10 list of authors who have changed my life with their words.

Her journey from drug addict and alcoholic to single mother and born-again Christian, first chronicled in her amazing book “Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son’s First Year” contained the same kind of grace and struggles that I saw in that room that night. I didn’t expect to ever be in a place where one of the most transformative books I had ever read would so literally come to life. And humble me.  Being able to connect to it in a broader, more personal way was just what I’d needed to bring a little grace into my own heart. And so,  I hope, for all the people who allowed me inside their journey as they fought for their lives…I hope…