The first memorable spiritual breakthrough I had in recovery came around my 3rd week in sobriety. I was standing in a half-way house basement, just barely comfortable holding hands with strangers, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and when we came to the line, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” something clicked. Actually, I lost it and couldn’t stop crying for at least 15 minutes while I’m sure everyone was wondering why the crazy girl with blue hair was being so emotional.Being raised Catholic, I’d probably said the prayer a thousand times, at least, but I suppose it was something I did because of parental decree, like eating carrots (which I despised) or brushing my teeth or visiting my great-grandmother in the nursing home, which always smelled like something in between stale mashed potatoes and pee-soaked diapers. The more I’m sober, though, the more the Lord’s Prayer resonates with me, a supremely ironic fact since I came into recovery an atheist and still don’t believe in what I call “god with a capital ‘G’.” The paradox of finding redemption through offering forgiveness was a new concept, but – as it turns out – it’s one that remains front and center in my recovery.

In recovery literature, somewhere between pages 60 and 64 of the main text, it’s noted (about God) that “He is the Father, and we are His children.” Again, I’d read this line dozens (if not hundreds) of times before someone pointed out to me in a meeting that it refers to (among other things) the concepts of forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, and acceptance.

Forget whether I believe in “god with a capital ‘G'” – let’s just call “Him” a concept representing an unconditional love that is always present in the life force of the universe (more or less an approximation of what I think my Higher Power is) – and where does that get us? It takes us (or, rather, ME) to a place where I am forced to ask myself how God (that unconditional love/life force concept) treats me when I ask for help (with love, kindness, tolerance, and acceptance) and, therefore, how *I* (ALSO part of that life force) should treat others.

Maybe this is all bullshit – for all I know, it is, and I’m blowing smoke up my own ass – but I honestly don’t think so. Because no one has ever lied to me about how this program works and the impact it can (and does, every day) have on my life. No one has ever made false promises about what will happen if I follow the suggestions given to me. And certainly no one has ever lied to me about what will happen if I decide to go back out into the wild and take my chances. I’ve seen what happens first-hand; first with J., and now with JS.

Which brings me to the reason for all of this talk about redemption and tolerance and love and acceptance. It’s difficult for me to grasp every one of those concepts, because in addition to making me crave alcohol my disease encourages me to make a mess out of everything, to frantically ditch those who cause me pain, to say “fuck it!” on a regular basis, and to generally refuse to give an inch until the other person gives me a mile. And you know how all of that worked for me? It got me drunk, caused me pain, alienated almost everyone in my life, and left me spiritually bankrupt. And today, above all, I want to have spiritual depth where I once was shallow. Which means I not only have the capacity to forgive, but that I see forgiveness is necessary for moving forward (in any direction).

This is all (maybe) a long way of explaining that JS and I had extensive conversations today about his relapse and what it means for our relationship. And at the end of the day, I’ve decided to offer him the same sort of understanding and tolerance that the universe gives me – with some conditions. I won’t accept anything less than complete honesty. I’m going to Al-Anon meetings to learn how to approach this situation with love and hope instead of anger and fear. And if he does this again? Well, there are no 3rd chances.

My friend Ann asked me in a text message earlier this week, “did you love him or did you love his sobriety?” And it was a good question, one I’d never thought to ask myself – but I did, and the answer is that I loved – still love – JS, independent of his disease. We are all powerless over things in our lives, and sometimes they get the better or worse of us, and this relationship was too much of everything I’d been looking for to say that because JS made a mistake – albeit an extended mistake that involved no small degree of deceit – it’s over with no hope for redemption.

(I’m going to insert here that I don’t know whether people unfamiliar with addiction and/or alcoholism will understand any of this – and if they don’t, I just have to be okay with that. I’m perfectly aware that a certain percentage of people think that a no-tolerance approach is best; it’s just not for me, right now.)

It’s going to be a long road back to where we were, and I’m sure I’ll need a lot of hope and faith and patience to get there. But I also know that – as the Dutch botanist Paul Boese said – “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” All I have is today, and the hope for more days ahead, and I want every single experience in my future to be larger and more fulfilled than it would be today. If I need to offer my forgiveness to get there? So be it. Let someone else keep score and make a running tally of mistakes and flaws and hurtful behavior; today, it’s not going to be me. Namaste.


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