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?