Saturday, May 26, 2007

Jesus Loves Me

This is about Step Eleven.

I’ve read and prayed and done a lot to define a personal Higher Power that is positive and not punishing. Before, during and well into recovery, I have punished myself too often and too much. So I wanted to find, and define for myself, a Higher Power/God that really loved me.

Being raised in a church-going family and having some Christian education as well, the obvious choice would be Jesus as a loving God, right? I mean, I actually sang that little song for many years in Sunday School and I know all the verses to Jesus Love Me. But even with all that, it never really felt like Jesus loved ME. I mean, the actual, real me. I know he loves all people and I am one of them, but me? Really me, individually and idiosyncratically me? I couldn’t get that.

One night in a meeting I heard a woman talking about her relationship with Step Eleven and faith, and she said, “God digs me.” I was stunned. That was exactly what I wanted. I wanted it that personal, and that warm, and as un-theological as that: “God digs me.”

How to get there?

I began to read. I read Books on faith and recovery, lots of theology, and I read the Bible. The New Testament calls Jesus the Bridegroom. Having been married several times I get that totally. Richard Rohr says that we need an affectionate relationship with God. That begins to hint at having a personal relationship, but that still had a teeny twinge of the evangelical and born-again which I could not abide given the politics that seem to accompany that, as in:”Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior and those who perform abortions should die.” Uh, no. But I still liked the idea of an affectionate relationship with God. After all, we know he has a sense of humor and that’s a big part of affection. It certainly approaches a relationship in which one could say, “God digs me.”

But again, how to get there?

I continued to read, and to remember what I knew about Jesus. The dominate metaphor in the New Testament is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Again, that’s a very good image, and a great deal of caring is expressed in that metaphor: He feeds his sheep, he goes all night looking for the one that is lost, he corrals, he cares, he shepherds. I understood the metaphor but I grew up in a large city, the only sheep I saw were in petting zoos. What in my personal experience expressed that same kind of caring, devotion, affection and acceptance to the point of seeing all my flaws and still loving me with a sense of humor. What, or whom, delights in me like that?

I knew at once: A Boyfriend.
I have always had boyfriends and even now, married for many years, I refer to my husband as my boyfriend. I much prefer that idea of a partner. So with some hesitation, and some trepidation that this might be sacrilegious, I said this:

The Lord is my boyfriend; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He restores my soul.

And with that I was home. Jesus, my boyfriend; a date for life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's Not Just a Meeting

I am reading the New Testament. I had read—or been told—these stories for years, but now I want to know more. So I am also reading theology and criticism and history: Who was Jesus and who were these guys? The ones he hung around with and the ones who wrote about it later. Yeah, different guys. That’s the first eye opener --even after years of Protestant Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and years of church shopping in AA as part of working an 11th step. The Gospel writers are not the apostles. Maybe that’s a duh for you , but I swear no one told me that important fact in many years of my Methodist upbringing. So that’s part of the learning and the fun in this reading I’m doing.

This week I’m reading about Paul. Now Paul is a good story for recovering alcoholics. First he’s Saul, a Christian-murdering, self-righteous prick, and then Wham!, on the road to Damascus he is struck. He sees God and hears God, is temporarily blinded and he is then a changed man who goes on to the be the first major missionary. He gives up his good life: his status and safety and possessions. You can easily find recovery metaphors in Paul’s story of being struck, a spiritual awakening and surrendering and having a new life. We get that.

Now, a lot of that I knew. The “Used to be Saul, But now I’m Paul” story is interesting when you are a kid. But I didn’t know more about the man or what he thought about the things that happened to him. Now I’m reading Richard Rohr (a theologian and a priest who writes about addiction…check out his tapes called How To Breath Under Water which are about the gospels and addiction) and Rohr points out that God comes to Paul where he was and as he was. God saved a murdering prick like Saul, and God didn’t make Paul come to him. Translation (and this should sound familiar): we don’t have to get good enough for God, and he doesn’t need us to come to him. That’s the grace part: he takes us where and as we are. We don’t merit it or earn it, just receive it. Amazing grace, huh?

But then also this: Paul’s deal was then to organize and yes, proselytize. He’s a community organizer, he’s speaking and preaching and traveling to build the church and—Rohr points out: this church is the body. Christianity IS community. We “practice” our faith with others not alone, hence community. That’s when I began to hear the bells: Community equals fellowship. It’s a “we” program. I don’t get sober, we do. I need you in all your screwed up-ness and you need me and mine (you can read previous entries if you need evidence of the valuable brokenness I bring to the shared table)

I still haven’t found the church I feel natural in, but I am in churches all the time, especially in church basements and Sunday school rooms. We AA’s are in and out of churches all the time. What we are is a fellowship. We are the body of AA.

Here’s another thought I found provocative this week. At my Tuesday meeting a woman said: “AA is a fellowship, not just a meeting, so do you know the person next to you?” You can imagine how everyone looked at the people near them and when we said the closing prayer there were a lot of hands extended and many introductions taking place.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Under Every Skirt's A Slip

Oh, Humility! The things that come back to haunt us in recovery. Here is one that gets every woman in recovery at some point, but this week still surprises me. I had a big crush on a man and enjoyed a couple weeks of fantasized romance and yes, lusty, sexy feelings.

This week as the crush and feelings of infatuation have slowly faded I can put some of this in a context of before and after recovery and particularly what belongs to “out of the woods” and later stage recovery.

It began like this: a friend, colleague and I had lunch. It was a spring day and I felt good and the conversation became flirtatious. Maybe I was needy that day? Maybe my heart was open? Maybe it was a spring awakening with some dormant physiological need to mate being rejuvenated? Whatever the trigger I went home infatuated and began imagining myself as the beloved. Now, to be honest look at those words, my fantasy was about me being the one desired, Ok, but never the less it was full endorphin loading. I am married so one of the pluses was a good jolt to our married love life. No apologies there. But soon it moved on to distracting day dreams, fantasies and a need for more. Ah, there’s the addicts mantra: More.

Here’s the good. In addition to all those “I feel pretty” days that followed I had a genuine boost to my libido and a realization that what I had assumed was hormonally dead was simply not. I’m over 50 so waning sexuality has been, I thought, a combo of being married long and physiology. I had lamented with friends my age that I feared becoming one of those women who write to Dear Abby to say how they wish their husbands would give up sex and just cuddle. I feared I was reluctantly becoming one of them. But no, this crush and libidinal boost showed me that my body works just fine and in fact—maybe the books are right—works even better in mid-life. Assisted by this infatuation, a healthy imagination and some triple-A batteries I was having more orgasms per day than I thought imaginable.

No, the object of the crush was not a participant. In fact he was unaware of the influence he was having. But thanks are still in order. I really am grateful for this sexy energy and to see that I could kinesthetically recall that girl I once was.

But then this: The recovering woman—kicks in. Is this wrong? Dangerous? Not sober? To know the level of my fear it helps to know that before recovery I had had some pretty bad relationships in which I was the other woman. In one case I was married, in another I was not. Short version: many people got hurt very badly including me. (Years of therapy to be able to include that “including me” part).

So here I am, a happily married, recovering woman having a crush and wild fantasies about a married man. Oh, oh. A slippery slope? Perhaps. And fear rushes in: Am I in denial that my marriage is good? Am I on a slippery slope of an affair, of a drink, of making a fool of myself, of getting hurt, of hurting another person? It didn’t feel hypothetical at all.

But here is where the recovery kicks in. Today I have habits and one of the habits I have is that as soon as I begin to feel myself having a secret my recovering instinct screams: Tell Someone. It’s truly a habit now.

So with this big infatuation I told on myself to recovering friends. The first question they ask: “Have you acted on this?” No…but they are good, they ask, “Do you feel like you could?”, and the answer is yes. So now we know the danger. Next is to tell my therapist. Yes, we look at where this is coming from. I know the list of suspects and Dad heads the list. He died when I was 18, the quintessential “unavailable man”. I still want him to look at me as only a father could and to say ‘You are so special”. That is a line reserved and appropriate for Dads and Daughters, but if you’ve been there you’ll recognize that line is also the mantra of the married man: “You are so special”, “No one but you”… and “You are the only one who…”

So I keep talking to recovering women and writing in my journal and praying. My prayers begin with: remove this obsession and keep me safe from myself, but then—and I think this is the later recovery part; the prayers become gratitude and thanks. Thanks that I have these sweet and tender feelings, thanks that my body is not dead, thanks that I do have libido (I do, I do) and thanks that I can have a crush and this person can even suspect it but I do not have to feel ashamed of this or of me. That’s the longer recovery bonus prize: I can have this, own this, tell on myself, process it—Not act on any of it—that’s key—and I can be smart but not ashamed.

Here is what else has occurred to me this week as the crush ebbs: I can see the Promises in this. First: I prayed for help and to be safe and God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Mr. Crush is not responding. The temptation is all in my head. Second: I intuitively knew how to handle: I told on myself, sought guidance from recovering women and my therapist. Third: We will not regret the past: I felt the old memories and the shame of past infatuations and affairs before recovery, I remembered the pain I caused others. I sincerely regretted the damage I did to other people and my younger self but I don’t hide that part of me. But I also—here’s the intuitively part again—do not raise my hand and blab to the world all of this. Four: Self pity will disappear. Not once did I allow myself to imagine that I was a victim of unrequited love or to frame this as me being wrong to have these tender feelings. And oh yeah: We will gain interest in our fellows? That speaks for itself I think.

The other thing that I saw through all of this is that recovery really is a habit and my habits kicked in: prayer, surrender, talking to recovering friends, writing about it, getting outside help, using steps 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7—asking God to heal me and to remove what only he can. Only God can heal the hole in my heart that I may be able to describe psychologically but that I cannot fill myself.