I recently read somewhere that recovery is one of the greatest examples of grace. I have found that to be so true. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I even knew, much less understood or felt, what grace was before I made my first attempts at recovery.
When I started trying to get sober by going to meetings, I thought that I would find out the trick to sobriety. Maybe I would have to be initiated, learn a secret handshake, be sworn to secrecy, but then, I would be let in on the closely guarded secret that would save me from the bottle. And then, just by having that knowledge, I wouldn’t have to drink anymore. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. I was told that I needed to act. I had to go to meetings, find a sponsor, work (work!?!) the steps, be of service….oh and, just change everything in my life as it was. I was overwhelmed. So, in my typical rebellious form, besides going to meetings, I didn’t do any of it. It’s no wonder that I continued to drink and ended up in treatment. That’s where I first started to feel little bits of grace.
I went to a Christian rehab, even though I didn’t identify as a Christian (they were the first one to return my call and they accepted my insurance). I considered myself agnostic, because I never really heard any argument, for or against God, that resonated with me. I think though, down deep, I knew that I was missing some integral “thing” and that I was trying to fill up that empty space with booze. I certainly didn’t think that I would find whatever that “thing” was in rehab, but I was desperate. My first days there were really difficult, because I was so fearful of everything and everyone. I questioned whether or not I belonged there, maybe I had overreacted. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough on my own. Was I really like these other people that here? I couldn’t be, I didn’t shoot drugs into my veins, or crush them up and snort them. I wasn’t unemployed and homeless. Yes, I had a DUI, but who didn’t? That was simply bad luck. As all of these thoughts were churning around in my head, something amazing happened. These people that I was having trouble identifying with, that I was feeling apart from, embraced me and included me. They met me where I was, and didn’t run away screaming. They listened to what I had to say, even when it didn’t make sense. They encouraged me to open up, and didn’t blink when I told some of my shameful secrets. They shared their stories with me, openly and honestly. I didn’t know it then, but what they were doing was showing me grace.
Looking back, I’m able to see that it wasn’t just my fellow addicts that were demonstrating grace, I was receiving God’s grace as well. How else could I explain that I was there, safe, sober and trying to get better? How was it that I wasn’t in jail or dead? How was it that I finally felt a little bit of hope? These were all things that I couldn’t have done for myself. I couldn’t have done them if there was some form of expectation for me to repay those favors. Those things were free gifts given to me by God. I knew then, and I know now, that I didn’t deserve them. It was grace.
It has been over two years since then, and I wish I could say that my first trip to treatment did the trick, but it didn’t. I returned at the end of last year for another 30 days after relapsing. Once again, when I showed up, I was shown grace. The staff was all the same, and they met me with love and compassion. They told me that they don’t shoot their wounded, that I am not a bad person trying to be good, but instead a sick person trying to get well. They accepted me. This time I knew it was grace, I knew what it felt like. When I returned to my home group after rehab, I was met in the same manner. No one thought ill of me, no one expressed disappointment or anger. I was encouraged to keep coming back. And that’s what I’ve done.
While the examples of grace I’ve written about above are nothing short of miraculous, the most profound and meaningful experience I have had with grace has come to me in my marriage (which, incidentally, is another gift of the program, as I met my husband in the rooms). Never did I imagine that there could be such love and grace as I have found with Austin. It’s why we work. He gives me the grace to be myself, with all of my defects and neuroses. He loves unconditionally, even when I don’t feel lovable. When he had to drive me to treatment, he never once complained or acted disappointed. Even in my misery, I never doubted that I had love and acceptance from him. I also feel like I give him the same, at least he says so. Each of us, by understanding God’s grace, can learn to give one another what He first gave us. . That’s grace.