A God of My Own Understanding

I recently started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working the Twelve Steps. What an experience it has been. I’ve learned so much about addiction in all its forms. I’ve gained friends of all ages and all walks of life, and most importantly, I’ve formed a strong connection with my Higher Power, who I call God.

Addiction is a funny thing. I’m not even twenty-one, so if I wanted to get drunk, I’d have to rely on older friends to supply me with alcohol. For a while, my friends were happy to get me drunk, but soon they noticed that my medicine doesn’t work very well with alcohol in my system. My best friend Colette said that the fact that my desire for alcohol seemed more like a need than a want was worrisome. When she and her boyfriend were drinking around me, all I could think about was how badly I wanted “just one sip,” which always turned into as much as I could possibly drink. Pretty soon, my friends didn’t bring alcohol around me, and Christin, the girl I was dating when I was drinking the most, often asked me to stop drinking, or at least slow down.

So, even though I haven’t been day-drinking for years and years like many of the old-timers at AA used to do before they got sober, I certainly have “the disease of more.” Besides, as they say in AA, “It’s not the drinkin’, it’s the thinkin’.” The way I think about alcohol (and sometimes other substances or activities) is certainly a problem.

But, there is a solution. AA provides, “A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope,” with each other to share a common solution to a common problem. You never know what you’re going to get at an AA meeting. AA is a spiritual (but not religious) program, so a lot of the meetings focus on God and other spiritual matters.

Yesterday, I had an absolutely horrible day. A very long time ago, I met an extremely drunk girl at a gay club. She told me that “lesbian drama is too real, baby girl,” and I’ve recently discovered that she is right, even if the drama is all in my head. (If you don’t know what lesbian drama is, watch a few episodes of The L Word, and you’ll get an idea.) I had been around people who were drinking a drink I used to love, and I was “romancing the drink,” thinking about how nice it would be to sit at the table with the rest of my friends and casually sip a mimosa. However, every time I think about how nice that would be, I have to remember that I never “casually sipped” my drinks. I slammed them down and got a refill as soon as possible. By the time my friends were buzzed and tipsy, I was falling-down-drunk.

So, instead of trying to rustle up some booze, I went to the AA clubhouse and sat through a meeting, surrounded by friends and strangers who, in some small way, understood what I was going through. I bring a journal with me that I write in during meetings. Sometimes, I write down good quotes from speakers and readings, but a lot of times, I write down my personal thoughts and feelings while I listen to what’s being said at the meetings.

My journal entry at quickly devolved into, “I hate myself, and I don’t want to be here anymore,” and by the end of the meeting, I was crying. I said the Lord’s Prayer, and then completely melted down when my friend “Mack” asked me if I was okay. Mack is a big, rough-and-tumble, Italian guy who’s probably been smoking since birth, and sounds like he’s made out of sandpaper. He said, “Aww, Katherine, baby, don’t cry,” and handed me off to a woman who talked me down and hugged me.

I stayed at the clubhouse after the meeting and talked to another friend. We just sat around complaining about how hard relationships are. When I got home, yet another friend from AA called me, and we talked for about half an hour about our concepts of God.

This friend, “Connor,” describes himself as a “recovering Catholic,” who has defected to Eastern religions, but is interested in Judaism. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who has a strong faith in God, whoever that God may be to them. One of the amazing things about AA is that unlike organized religion, there’s no right answer for who God is. I told Connor, “My God is not perfect. She makes mistakes just like me. She’s learning and growing all the time.” I’ve never articulated that idea before, and it felt good to say it out loud.

I actually got that idea from a footnote in my siddur. The siddurim my synagogue uses are full of rabbinic notes and ideas, as well as traditional prayers and modern interpretations of the ancient liturgy. During a service a few weeks ago, I saw a footnote that said something along the lines of, “Instead of a perfect God, what if there is a growing God, a growing universe, and we’re all learning together along the way?” This idea resonated with me. Believing that God is a work in progress just like myself helps me practice forgiveness. Instead of wondering why an all-powerful, perfect God would let something horrible and life-altering happen to me as a child, wondering what I did to deserve such a terrible punishment, and why God would abandon me like I thought She did, I can accept that God made a mistake in my life, that for a moment, I fell through the cracks. I was not abandoned. I was not being punished. I was never, not for a moment, unloved by God.

The first step of the Twelve Steps is, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable,” and Step Two is, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s easy to admit that your life is unmanageable. I was getting home past my curfew, trying to hide my intoxication from my parents, stealing alcohol from Christin, Colette, and her boyfriend, Trevor, and backing out of prior commitments because I was either too drunk or too hungover to function. It was obvious that I was a slave to my impulsiveness and penchant for bad decisions.

But giving up that control to a “Power greater than ourselves,” isn’t as easy. I want to have control of my life. I want to be responsible for my decisions. And in a lot of ways I am. It’s my decision to act in accordance with my understanding of God’s will. God and I are a team, working together to keep my life on track, to keep me sober and happy, and to do mitzvot.

I recently changed my major (again), and I’m now studying elementary education. As part of my class credit for my Introduction to Teaching class, I had to observe for fifteen hours in a classroom. I observed in a kindergarten classroom at my synagogue’s elementary school. It was such an amazing experience. I formed a relationship with every single child in the class, and I came to love every single one of them.

I also got a job teaching Religious School on Sundays at my synagogue. I have a class of five-and-six-year-olds, who are the strangest little humans I have ever encountered. I love them all dearly, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of Judaism with young people.

Being around those kids gives me motivation to stay sober, to make good choices, and to take care of myself. I want to be an example of what a good Jew, responsible person, and good role model is for my students. I don’t ever want those kids–especially the little girls–in my classes to grow up thinking it’s okay to do the things I have done. I pray that those little girls will walk in love, value and treasure themselves, and respect themselves and their bodies. I pray that those little boys will grow up to be gentle souls, who walk in kindness and understanding.

Now that I have a little bit of time in AA, I’ve gained a genuine understanding of who my Higher Power is to me, and how She acts in my life. Maybe God isn’t for everyone. But I believe that God made everyone in Her divine image, that She loves all of Her creations, and that my faith in Her is going to carry me down the road to happy destiny.

In Defense of Journaling

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I used this as a self-portrait for my photography class.

I can’t remember what inspired me to start journaling, but I’m grateful for whatever did. I’ve kept a journal for the past seven years, and I’ve filled twelve notebooks of varying size with writing and art. When I first started, a lot of what I wrote was boring and superficial. I detailed conversations I had with my friends and teachers, and the highs and lows of middle school drama. After about a year, I had established a rhythm and felt comfortable enough with my pen and paper to start writing about what I was feeling, not what I was doing.

As my anorexia and depression manifested, my journal became a barrage of negativity. I cataloged every disordered, self-loathing thought. My parents and therapist encouraged me to stop writing down these thoughts, but I wouldn’t. I have entire volumes of put-downs and self-hate.ashamed collage At the time, it was detrimental to my recovery to put so much time and energy into negativity, but I had nowhere else to let the anger and depression I was feeling run free. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t voice it or write it down. Eventually, I put those feelings into poems. I was proud of my writing, and showed them to my English teacher. If I had had a different English teacher, one who didn’t care about encouraging her students to do out-of-class writing, or didn’t have the time to read papers she wasn’t grading, I may not have been as prolific a poet as I was. But, I was lucky, and my teacher did care. She told me to keep writing, and she listened to what I couldn’t say out loud or in prose. She genuinely cared about me, and fueled my passion for writing. Objectively, the poems were terrible and I would never reread them, let alone submit them for publication, but they were a stepping stone for me as a writer and as a person.

As I ventured into recovery, I started using my journal as a tool. I made gratitude lists, a tremendously helpful tool for anyone dealing with depression. I used it to track my moods and behaviors. Eventually, I started writing about things besides my mental illnesses.

big gay collage edited
“Gay art, gay heart.”

Sometimes, there were things I couldn’t express in poetry or prose. I’ve never been too good at drawing, so I started making collages. Often, they were about things I was scared to talk about, but having a tangible result of that fear was relieving and empowering. Instead of hiding from my fears, I turned them into art.

Today, I carry my journal everywhere with me. Just knowing that it’s in my bag with the rest of my school supplies is comforting. My journal is my safe place where I am never judged, criticized, or ridiculed. No thought is too insignificant or embarrassing to write down. I will probably never share the majority of my hundreds of handwritten pages with anyone, but that’s not the point. I feel a huge sense of relief when I write a nagging thought down in my journal. Once it’s on the page, I’m one step closer to taming it. I have complete control in my journal. A notebook will never interrupt you. It will never try to one-up you and say it’s worse off than you are. It will never say you shouldn’t feel the way you do, and it will never offer unwelcome advice. lost0012

I’m proud of my twelve-year-old self for picking up that first notebook that became my journal. I may not always make the best decisions, but starting a journal is one thing I’ll never regret.