I’m telling my “story” tonight at a women’s meeting. My friend asked me to do it last weekend and I immediately said, “Sure.” I have no idea what my “story” is but I’m sure I can think of something!
It seems I have lots of little stories – like chapters, maybe. I can break my life down by ages, places I’ve lived, academic/career stages, relationships with men, being a mother. One thing is for certain, God has always been there. From my earliest memories I’ve always had a sense of the divine. I knew He was there. I loved Him, and He loved me.
Sometimes that was the whole extent of it. I knew He was there. I loved Him. He loved me. Like the sense of touch or smell. One of the ways I experience my world is through the lens of my “sense of God.” I don’t call it a “sixth-sense” because that phrase makes me think of a fortune teller. I don’t really call it anything. I experience it and know it’s there. It’s always been there.
Our senses Mr Webster tells us are, “the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body.”
So, maybe perceiving the spiritual, the divine – which certainly can be a “stimuli originating from outside and inside my body – has been a big, consistent, unquestioned, ever-present thing for me. Just like touch or sight or smell..
As I’ve been journaling about what to say in my “story,” (I have no idea why I keep putting that in quotations?) I wrote a lot about knowing God, never leaving Him or abandoning my faith and spirituality. Many in AA have do experience leaving their faiths behind. Some joyfully find it again once sober, having that “spiritual experience” the AA Big Book tells us about.
When I got to the part in my story where I stopped going to meetings and participating in AA, I thought about my reasons why. I was sober almost two years, when I decided I wouldn’t go anymore. It had been building in me over a few months but I kept trying to overcome this because I’d heard the stories of alcoholics who had been sober for years stopped going to meetings and eventually relapsed. But, nonetheless I stopped going to meetings completely.
I had absolutely no intention to relapse. I loved sobriety. However, 18 months later I did. One glass of wine in a romantic bed and breakfast overlooking a lake in North Georgia in October…. leaves changing, time away from the children with my husband, feeling good and serene. Then, “Man that glass of wine looks good. I’ll have just one,” I told myself. Within three weeks, I was having the whole bottle of wine.
This first long-term AA experience did not include fellowship, which I understood to be a very important component of recovery. Fellowship with other alcoholics. I heard other women experiencing this “fellowship,” and they all seemed to LOVE EACH OTHER. I really liked all of them and was happy for them they found new friends in AA. I was happy “ for them” they had lots of new friends. But I didn’t need any more friends.
What was going through my mind at the time? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a confluence of factors: my temperament, my life experiences, my lack of trust of others, my introvertness. All I knew is AA was helping me and I loved it; but I already had many friends and five sisters who are my best friends. I went to a meeting each day but left immediately after in a hurry afraid someone might ask me to have lunch or something.
So, why did I leave AA back then and go it alone? Well, I had been sober almost two years, had no desire to drink and everything was fine. We started to have financial problems at home, so dealing with all that took me away from things, as did getting a new job which seemed to take up all my free time. Since I had no fellowship with other alcoholics, there was no one to stop me from rationalizing and justifying my decision to myself and those around me.
But what is the REAL reason I left? It was a self-righteous internal defense of my Catholic faith.
I started hearing – day after day, meeting after meeting a lot of “Catholic-bashing.” Maybe it was always there and I never paid any attention to it; but back then it seemed so prevalent in my AA meetings. Sober, I was drawn to learn more about my Catholic faith and why we do and believe the things we do. It became a very real part of me, of who I am; so when my AA “friends” in meetings spoke negatively about it, I took that as a personal affront. Like talking bad about my family. You just don’t do that around me!
Maybe I was looking for a reason to leave? So, that became my reason and I sat waiting for it in each meeting. Things people say in meetings (still):
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had a twisted understanding of God.
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so my concept of God was a “punishing” God. If I did something wrong, I was told I was going to hell.
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so all I had to do was confess my sins to a priest, say one Hail Mary and go right back out there and do it again without guilt.
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I have so much shame and guilt to overcome.
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had no personal relationship with God. We went to Mass every Sunday and that was it. I never knew God until AA.
- I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans); but it wasn’t for me. Now I’m spiritual but not religious.
All these statements may be true for the individual expressing them in a meeting; but at that time in my life I took each of these very, very personally. Too personally, actually. That was my problem. Resentment built, which I’m told in meetings is the #1 offender and leads us back to drinking as our solution. And I just didn’t like anybody there anymore. Catholic bashing was not discouraged. It seemed to be a group-think mentality to me. Of course everybody hates the Catholic Church!
While sensitivities were increasing and evolving with all other religions, it seems it was/is still quite politically correct to bash our Faith. So, whatever. Today, none of this bothers me (unless I’m PMS’ing) – it seems easy for me to separate my experience from anyone else’s. I simply see it as that person has their own journey and they have the right to be wrong. lol. This is where she is in her life; and God is leading her down her path to Him.
But I do make it clear to my “friends” that I am Catholic and I love it. So, I think that causes them to think twice before expressing negative opinions about it. At the very least, they know they’re not going to get a wink, wink, nod, groan from me.
I think the theme in meetings, “I’m spiritual but not religious” is what irked me the most back then. It usually was expressed in a way that religion is “bad.” And spiritual is “good.” Some didn’t mean this in any spiteful way about religion – just expressing their understanding of things. And that’s cool.
But some did. In tone and undertone and the rest of their sentences in their shares, they meant it as as they’re right, enlightened, smarter, too smart to be brainwashed and tricked by man-made rules in religion.
So, that was my big thing. And I left AA just like that, relapsing about 18 months later. Over the next seven years, I went back out there and earned my “alcoholism” degree. If AA required us to bring a resume to our first meeting to prove that we belong there, I’d be immediately hired.
So many consequences: 2 more DUIs, 2 rehabs, bankruptcy, divorce. And even though the divorce saved my life and enabled me to finally get sober for good, I definitely realize our drinking was the main factor of our downfall if only making it impossible to have a true relationship. My confessor once told me, “An alcoholic married to their drinking buddy is a death sentence.” That was almost true for me.
So back to that whole “spiritual but not religious” thing… not wanting to make the same mistake again and stop going to meetings over something like this… I explored this topic. I believe spiritual and religious go together, can’t be separated – I’m not one or the other. I’m both. It’s a very modern day thing to separate the two. Today, (maybe the last 50 years?) the term “spirituality” has come to mean a person who doesn’t go to church or adhere to organized faith practices, but lives according to an individualized moral code. And, today “religious” has come to mean being overly concerned with rules and regulations, narrow-minded, judgmental. One sounds “good.” The other sounds “bad.”
I’m reading lots of interesting things about this — it turns out what I have always intuitively known (spiritual and religious go together) — has a big tradition in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Faith is the totality of our belief system, the common gathering point, the religion, agreement on a set of principals and truths we all share as humans. God wants us to connect with each other in communion.
Yet, Catholic SPIRITUALITY is the way we live out that Faith personally, at home, in our families and in our individual lives. It’s how I best experience God in my life. It’s how I live this big Catholic faith, PERSONALLY. Everybody is different. My way to God is definitely Catholic; but it’s a different path than another Catholic might have.
Understanding we are One Body with many parts; and based on our individual temperaments and life experiences each of us is drawn to one or more of these ways of spirituality over another. Modern (ie. arrogant) thought tells me since I am an “individual,” unique as a snowflake, I will find “my own way” of spirituality. This all sounds good unless and until our “way of spirituality” leads us to following Oprah. LOL. Modern day spiritual gurus don’t have the fullness of the Catholic faith as their foundation. They have themselves as their foundation. They may have good intentions but inevitably lead us down the wrong road.
The truth is I am just not that unique. My “personal” way of spirituality has been practiced for many hundreds of years, and so has yours. It’s actually not anything unique to me and me alone. Like-minded Catholics for 2,000 years have explored these various spiritualities, lived them, written about them, studied them, expanded them… My way is already out there somewhere. No need to reinvent the wheel!
Here are some forms of Catholic spirituality. Pick one!
Ignition (Jesuit) spirituality
Opus Dei spirituality
Missionaries of Charity spirituality
…and more and more paths of spirituality —- all different personal paths to the same end: union with God and salvation of our souls with the Catholic Church at their foundations. I lean most toward the Dominican way of spirituality, with a mix of Franciscan and Augustinian.
Ok, I am writing WAY too much. I should edit but I don’t have time. Oh well. I’ll write another post some day soon describing these different spirituality paths. Sorry for any typos. Bye.