Cultivating a Sober Spirituality
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"I got sober and instead of a grand prize, all I got was the full unmitigated force of shame." Learn how one spiritual director and recovery coach used the power of prayer to counter shame in recovery.
In early sobriety, I was sitting at my desk in my office when I was hit with the memory of something I had done when I was drunk. I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to face these memories, especially without being numb to them. I had given up the quickest way to avoid an emotion (pouring a glass of wine), which meant I had to sit in the memories and feel whatever feelings they evoked, which was (and still is) usually shame. And, y’all, it sucks. I remember thinking: I got sober and instead of a grand prize all I got was the full unmitigated force of shame.
Still, I learned, it felt better to feel feelings than to shove them down. The whole time I was trying to quit, quitting, drinking again, trying again, then finally quitting for good, I started gathering one-line prayers I could call on to shift my inner narrative. The idea was that if I started giving my brain some other messages, not just messages of self-hatred, I could start the lifelong process of changing my self-talk.
Here’s the deal: it was ridiculous until it worked. It worked that day at my desk, and to this day, when shame tries to hang out and show me a memory of me doing something dumb when I was drunk. With my hand on my heart, I prayed then and I pray now: “I cannot go back, but I can move forward differently.”
Only in the years that have passed have I seen how this simple prayer holds within it the shape of confession. If our spiritual community has promoted destructive understandings of alcohol, heaping shame on ourselves won’t change the behavior; if anything, doling out shame will promise that the behaviors stay, because shame immobilizes us.
We can confess our past, and instead of sitting in the shame of it, we can receive absolution and hear comforting words: we can release the heavy burdens of how we have participated in this challenge and be refreshed by God through absolution. We can trust in this forgiveness and how it will lead our community into everlasting life through amendment of heart.
Changing our communities is shared work; none of us bears the burden alone, which is a comfort. In my book, Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol, I share ways that we can all renounce shame, find forgiveness, practice self-compassion, and journey towards a sober spirituality. Forgiveness is, at its core, a shift in identity, the invitation to somehow exist as we are and become a new creation at the same time. We can receive these comforting words as a reminder: when God looks at us to see who we are, God does not see our offenses; God looks into our souls and calls us beloved.
To learn more about Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol by Erin Jean Warde, click here.
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