On Grace

I once wrote that one of the few things I know for certain is that grace is real. The story behind how I came to know that truth is not an easy one for me to tell but today is the appropriate day for me to share it.

I started abusing alcohol when I was 14 years old. I got drunk at a party and thought I was very cool and manly as a result. Of course I also had said something hurtful to another person and, as this was the night before a basketball game, incurred my coach’s wrath the next day because my game was off. In fact, he benched me. So at the very outset, my use of alcohol caused damage.

Drinking in my Irish Catholic culture was a sign of being a man. In fact, being invited to drink with the men was the closest things we had to a rite of passage in that culture.

Over time, my drinking became more regular to the point that, when I was in my 20s, I was a daily drinker, usually drinking at least a six-pack of beer. Like most alcoholics, I had “evidence” that I didn’t have a problem. For example, during Lent, I would give up beer. Of course, I’d switch to wine coolers but, hey, I still gave up beer, didn’t I?

I am what is known as a “high-bottom” alcoholic. This doesn’t mean that my backside is far off the ground. Rather, it means that I didn’t have the disasters that other alcoholics suffer. No DWIs. No lost job. No broken family. But inside I was slowly dying.

In the spring of 1983, for the first time I read Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer. As I reflected on my own woundedness, I kept coming back to one word — alcohol. But I kept running.

Finally, on June 1 1983 I went with my children to see Return of the Jedi. I had come to see that woundedness was a theme in this series and so was anxious to see how it would unfold. The theme of this third installation was indeed about woundedness. But it was also about redemption. As Luke Skywalkder reaches out to help save his father Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, I felt something shifting in my spirit.

I’d like to tell you that I quit drinking that day. But I didn’t. As usual, I loaded up that night.

On the morning of June 2, 1983, when I woke up, the words were strong in my heart: “It’s time.” I wish I could claim credit for that moment as a decision, a moment of clarity. But I can’t. It was given to me, the clearest moment of grace I’ve ever experienced.

Mind you, being who I am, it took me 10 more days before I asked for help and attended my first AA meeting. I had to become convinced that I couldn’t do it alone. I had to become broken. Ego really can be annoying.

Here I am 30 years later, still sober. That journey hasn’t been easy either. But God’s grace has continued to be there for me. When my friend Loyd G. burst into tears when I told him I was doing something about my drinking, God’s grace was there. When an old guy in recovery confronted my obsessive approach to the Moral Inventory by saying “Why don’t you just get the damned thing over with?” God’s grace was there. When my family lovingly accepted my amends, there too was God’s grace. When a physician, looking over my lab work, told me a year after I’d sobered up that, from the looks of my liver enzymes, it’s good that I quit, God was there.

My wife asked me tonight over dinner what I thought would have happened to me had I kept drinking. I told her I’d probably be dead. But I’m not. I’m here to enjoy growing old with my wife, watching my four children grow into wonderful adults, playing joyfully with my five grandchildren.

Is grace real? I’m literally living proof!

Reflection: 1. What have been some of the most significant moments on your own spiritual journey?




About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Grace

  1. Lynn U. says:

    So proud of your courage and strength in sharing the story. It was time for this, too. 💗

  2. richp45198 says:

    That was wonderful and beautiful! Love, P

  3. Jamie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I have always thought that there was some sort of higher power. I couldn’t define it, though I tried to in a intellectualistic way. I had some moments when I felt god’s grace in my life. Though, I didn’t know what it was. But I was really angry with god. For this whole set up. This whole life thing. It was awfully unfair and imperfect. For a long time, existential godlessness is what I believed in if you would have asked me. I certainly did not believe that god could be a someone, I just thought of a universal energy that we were part of that was nameless and directionless and didn’t really care about me.
    A few years ago, I was doing a yoga practice when I started having a panic attack in the midst of it. You know, you’re supposed to be very zen and centered and breathing deeply during yoga; but I was having disassociation and panic. This started about 6 months worth of constantly feeling ill at ease and jumping into panic very easily (which has been a recurring problem throughout my life). I constantly felt like I was going to die at any moment. I continued attempting yoga every now and then. One day, I was reading one of my yoga books and which said we must believe in god to help us with all the power we hone doing yoga and that we don’t really have free will, god is in control of everything (or something to that affect). All that is debatable, I know; and I was appalled. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Not only was this book suggesting I believe in god, but it was saying I don’t really have control of my life anyway. Thinking about how uncomfortable I had been with myself, I decided I would “try on” believing in god. I think it was the best thing I could have done. From there, I read “The Gifts of Imperfection,” by Brene Brown, then I read “Codependent No More.” Which lead me where I am today, ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and therapy. It was Gods grace that helped me let go and is still is teaching me to do so. I am not bigger than god and cannot bend the will of the universe with my tiny little ego. It was the only thing that could stop my panic attacks, or at least lessen there impact. I started saying prayers to ask for gods help when I felt them coming on. And I started visualizing that I was like a little baby cradled comfortably in gods hand. It’s worked for me. I need a higher power. I’m grateful I found god.

  4. Susan says:

    Once again I am going to be the Black Sheep of the Blog. I do have several profound experiences with Grace, though. I am a “low bottom” addict. I lost the job, suffered YEARS of unemployment, lost the family (or part of it), lost my health. The interesting thing is that the lower the bottom, the more obvious the Grace is. My life was saved by Grace in a literal and concrete way. So I am also living proof of the power of Grace. But instead of being grateful as you were, Dr. Patterson, I still continued to be angry for a long time after that. I betrayed the same God whose grace had saved me. And do you know what happened? More Grace came. More forgiveness came. Now here is where I am going to be the irritating voice of dissent and pessimism. You believe, Dr. Patterson, that we live in a world permeated by Grace. I believe we live in an evil world. However, given what Marsha Linehan calls Multiple Truths, we may both be correct.

  5. Many times in my life I have experienced grace. Perhaps the first time was when I was nine months old and the lid of a stove blew off in my parents house and sailed right over the basket in which I was sleeping without touching me. There were a couple of botched suicide attempts and numerous times when I experimented with psychedelics in the 60s and put myself in some pretty dangerous situations but managed to survive. We live in both an evil world and a world filled with beauty and grace. If we’re paying attention, we should be in awe most of the time, or as Mary Oliver says, “i want to be a bride married to amazement.” Gratitude is the key for me. It doesn’t spare me from confronting the evil in the world, but it allows me to navigate it.

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