Nine years into parish ministry I finally admitted that I was powerless over my drinking.
I'd drunk daily for years, but was firmly in denial except for 3:00 a.m. shamefests which were conveniently forgotten by the next morning.
About six years ago, the night before Shrove Tuesday, I was alone at home. My husband was away for a few days--always a time when wine and I could enjoy each other freely. Late at night, after a bottle or so I did what I'd often done before. I got in my car and drove the two miles into town for ice cream.
On the way back, something happened. No drama, no accident or flashing blue lights. But like the Prodigal Son "I came to myself." I suddenly perceived the condition I was in and the dark rural road I was driving down, and I realized with total clarity that I could kill someone on that brief ride home. It terrified me.
The next day I called a friend who was a staff member at a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center nearby and blurted out, "I think I'm in trouble." A few days later we started going through the Big Book together.
I'd call it an answer to prayer, except that try as I can, when I look back to my years of drinking, I cannot remember ever once turning to God for help.
Flash forward to the present day: I am retired from parish ministry. And--what feels like a miracle--I am serving as priest at that very same rehab center.
I meet with "guests" one on one in recovery-oriented spiritual direction, lead groups on prayer and the Steps, and each Monday night, I celebrate Eucharist. As part of every service I read and we all discuss a Gospel story.
Every week, Jesus' words and works, his healings and exorcisms shimmer into new life in the dim living room where we do the service.
Because each one of us in the room is addicted to alcohol or drugs we know we are no different from the folks who crowded around Jesus crying out to be healed. Each one of us knows what it's like to be in the grip of an implacable disease, a disease that feels and acts like we're possessed by a demon that controls our lives and seeks to destroy us. For us addicts and alcoholics, the Gospel reads very close to the bone. We're the lepers, the prostitutes, the demoniacs. We're the lost sheep, the lost coin Jesus never stops searching for and welcoming home.
A few weeks ago we read the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof to Jesus' feet. Afterward a young man, a chronic relapser, said, "I felt like the paralyzed man. I looked around to see who was lowering me down toward healing and it was my parents. They've never stopped believing that somewhere there's healing for me." An older woman said that she too identified with the person on the mat. At first she was furious at her family and friends for bringing her to rehab. But as she imagined lying at Jesus' feet she felt herself let go of her embarrassment and anger and feel gratitude for the people that got her here.
And me? Here's what came to my mind. When I was ordained, I thought I knew what God was calling me to--parish ministry. That was true for a while. Then God dug a hole in my expectations and lowered me gently to right where I belonged--surrounded by fellow addicts, in a place where Jesus loves and heals.