I don’t know how to talk about God. Mainly because there seems like two options: either crazy town, evangelical nutjob or equally as whacked out new age mumbo-jumbo. I want to talk about God though. Not because I want to convert anyone or because I want to prove to the world how remarkable my faith is. It’s just a really interesting relationship. I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk and write about God for about a week. I even pondered it on Twitter. Because if you’re gonna delve into life’s complex topics it’s best to do it on the same platform where stars from Jersey Shore share what they had for lunch. In 140 characters or less, naturally. As usual, my “unique problem” with God isn’t so unique and there’s even a study to prove it.
Last week this headline caught my eye- “Critical Thinkers Less Likely to Believe in God.” Being critcial and sarcastic myself, I couldn’t help snarking, “Nooooo! Reallly?!?” New research shows that, yes, smart-ass, people who like us who love knowing all the facts aren’t too big on drinking the God Kool-Aid. “Most of the people who have ever lived believe in a religion of some kind,” says Will Gervais, the author of the paper and a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia in an interview with US News and World Report. “But there are nearly half a billion nonbelievers. We’re trying to understand what leads some people to believe and other people to disbelieve.” The study put participants through a series of exercises, like surveys and critical thinking drills. Through the scientific yammering all they came up with was, in essence, people who need to believe in God do and people who don’t need to, well, don’t. Here’s where my God stuff comes in and where I tie back into what I opened with (I know. It’s about fucking time.) Maybe I’m still a little like those smarty pant non-believers. Maybe I still have moments where I think I’m too cool for school when it comes to God. And I definitely don’t think religion is the thing for me. I’m not a joiner, says the active 12-step member. Me and God we’ve got our own thing going own. I don’t feel the need to hang out with God and a bunch of people in hats on a Sunday to prove I have faith.
So why the hell, if I’m a little like those survey people, do I want to talk about God so darn bad? Because I need to. Believing in something else saved my life. Asking a power bigger than me to take my problems continues to save my life. I’ve been so supremely fucked so many times that nothing could get me out of it but somehow I’m still here. And it wasn’t because of any of my big ideas. Regular readers of this blog know that most of my big ideas are pretty cray-cray. The fact is that I’ve dodged too many bullets to not believe in God. Or at the very least “The Universe”. I guess the main reason I wanted to talk about God is this- maybe I’ll never know what to say or how to define my relationship or receive any “Mega Believer” plaque in the mail. But all I can tell you is in this era of “we hate everything” and “we’re suspicious of everyone” perhaps it’s really badass to believe in God. Or something. And maybe it’s punk rock to have faith and it takes balls to pray. It’s chickenshit to hate everything and trash talk everyone. You have to have real guts to just believe that everything is going to be okay. And truly believe it. Yeah I guess I just wanted to say if you are one of those believing types, I think it’s okay. More than okay. I think it’s amazing. And don’t worry, I won’t make you talk about God. You don’t have to. I totally get it.
For the longest time, I thought I wasn’t getting better faster enough. I felt perpetually afraid that someone was going to walk by my desk and tell me that I was doing sobriety all wrong and that I would have to start over. Even as I chugged towards my first 365 days doubled over in pain and still majorly fucking up in most areas of my life something whispered, “You’re alright. You are getting better.”
Part of my problem has always been that nothing has ever worked fast enough for me– orgasms, drugs, liquor, chocolate, school- all took too much time to make me feel better. I wanted results, dammit! I didn’t have time to wait for things or to work towards things. All of that sounded pedestrian and decidedly unsparkly. I blame Bewitched for ruining me on instant gratification. Samantha could wriggle her nose and get herself out of trouble or make things better. Looked like a great solution to me. Only thing is I’m totally not a witch and I never could master that nose thing. Still, that never stopped me from giving up the dream that I could snap or wish or sit on a couch and will things to go my way. So when I finally figured out that drinking everyday for the better part of a decade wasn’t exactly a great way to live, I thought sobriety would be the quick fix I needed too. Alas, it wasn’t. My first year of sobriety was filled with pockets of time where I felt like Julie Andrews spinning on a mountaintop, my heart filled with song! I felt so great and the world needed to know about it. In between those pockets, however, were giant isolated valleys in which I spent most of my time feeling like some mythical beast had ripped my soul and spirit out of my body and I was left to patch myself together with scotch tape. I didn’t know how to live without being loaded. I didn’t know how to deal with problems. or how to talk about what I was going through. Or how to do anyfuckingthing but cry, smoke and eat cookies. After four months of staying sober and still feeling like my life was shittier than ever before, I cried to a friend in sobriety, “Why is this taking so long?!? Why does my life still suck even though I’m not drinking?” To which she replied, “That’s why we call it ‘slow-briety'” And I thought, “I didn’t know we called it that. Had I known perhaps I would have reconsidered.” I finally made it to that first year and guess what? Then my life really got crappy! I was sofa surfing and not in my own apartment. My health was a disaster and staying in school had gotten really difficult. But by staying sober and hanging in there I was unknowingly allowing things to get better. I believed down in my heart that things would change and they did. This is not because I am amazing. It is because I am crazy and I had no other choice than to believe that the Universe/God/Higher Power/Whatever was going to pull me out of the muck I was in. It needed to work and it did.
I feel like I need to tell myself this story today because I’m often ungrateful or negative or still doubting that my life is better and that I’m better. I’m far from perfect and my journey of recovery today is a different one. I need things at 3 years sober I didn’t need at 3 days. It’s evolving. I’m evolving. It’s not over and I don’t have it in the bag or have mastered the secrets of living sober. But today, the day after St. Patrick’s Day as I write with no hangover or shame, I can honestly and proudly say, “Sean Paul Mahoney, you have come a long way, baby!”
I’m currently researching and getting ready to write this play about fear, disappointment and karaoke and the other night it struck me how enjoyable the whole process is. I’ve been a giddy little kid watching karaoke videos, taking notes about characters, singing to myself as I write. In fact, for a brief minute I found myself thinking that I enjoyed my new creative life way more than I ever liked drinking.
This, of course, is insane. Like something more than I liked drinking? I loved drinking. Or did I? Okay maybe I loved it for a while but then it didn’t love me back. Regardless, I truly believe that my life today is more exciting and enjoyable than it was when I was a blacking out five nights a week. Go figure. More remarkable still, is the fact that writing and being creative is far more thrilling and satisfying than anything drinking could ever provide. I was talking to a fellow creative person in sobriety the other day and we we’re lamenting about how we weren’t those types of drunks who were more productive when they were loaded. From what I’ve learned over the years, me and my friend are in the minority. I’ve heard dozens of artists, actors and writers say they were afraid to get sober because they thought their work would suffer. I admit I’m kind of jealous when I hear tales of creative folks who create masterpieces while intoxicated. I could never write drunk. It seemed too dangerous. Like I couldn’t control what was going to happen and besides if I was writing I couldn’t exactly keep drinking now could I? So now writing, a gift I’ve cherished my whole life and one that has set me free since childhood, yields the same power as a really good cocktail. I’m free. I’m elated. I take chances. I face scary things. I speak my mind. All while writing. And all while sober.
It’s crazy that something so good for me can make me feel so good. Part of the high it provides, I believe, comes from finally doing what I’ve always dreamed. I’ve always written and always told stories. So to live my real authentic life doing what I love is totally exhilarating. The best part is I don’t wake up after an evening of writing wanting to bash my head in or wondering what I said to whom. With this current cocktail I’m sipping from, I just get the joy of doing what I love and living a life I’m proud of. And to that I say, ” Make mine a double!”
It’s all a little overwhelming right now. My play is about to open. I recently married the man of my dreams. My health is pretty darn good and everyone in my life is incredibly happy for me. Things are beyond fine and that just isn’t okay.
Yet it’s those two words above, “thank you” that thwart my self-sabotaging tendencies. On the days where I remember to be thankful and write a gratitude list, I just feel better. I have beloved recovery friends who moan and roll their eyes whenever gratitude comes up in a meeting. “Since when was being grateful one of the steps?” they snort. And I get it. I know how cloying it can be when someone spews endlessly about how grateful they are that they’re sober, that they found a parking space, that somebody brought cookies to the meeting, that the Earth is round. But it’s true- drunks and addicts have a lot to be thankful for. And that’s why it’s annoying. In fact most of the things that piss me off are usually true. If I have to think about how good my life is and then give thanks for not being dead or a drunk or in a relationship where I communicate by throwing household items, than I don’t get to wallow. Living in gratitude means I can’t attend my own pity party. And that’s too bad. I throw a great pity party. Fantastic caterers, fabulous music, and one guest who hates his perfectly awesome life.
The practice is also very useful during times like now when I could easily slip into a “Gee, aren’t I terrific?!” type of self reliance which always spells disaster. I need to be reminded that something bigger than me is at work and responsible for all the amazing gifts I’m lucky enough to receive. As much as I play the entitled jerk, it isn’t lost on me how blessed I am.
Therefore, it occurs to me that you should be thanked too. I’ve been doing this blog for a month and some 30 odd readers (and to follow me you must be odd) have made me laugh, encouraged my writing, told me I wasn’t alone and yes even inspired me. So thank you. I’m truly grateful we found each other.
As I vaguely mentioned in the last post, football doesn’t interest me. Like at all. The horror. In a big football town like Denver, that’s like saying “I don’t like breathing.” Seriously, having been gone from here for the last fifteen years and living in a town without pity or an NFL Team, I had forgotten how bat-spit crazy football fans are. Bronco fans in particular are an enthusiastic breed of their own. Once upon a time, this kind sport worshipping drove me nuts. But for some reason, it doesn’t anymore. And neither does thanking God after a touchdown.
Before I got sober, what people believed in and worshipped really got under my skin. I would often grumble about how those with religious beliefs were sheep and that how could people believe in God when so many had died in his name? Oh and I loved to play the “most religions discriminate against gays” card. But regardless of whether or not any of this is true, the fact of the matter was that the bigot in this picture was me. I outwardly mocked and looked down upon people with spiritual lives and frequently I hid behind the guise of “it’s because I grew up Catholic.” I was too cool for God and really that was too bad. Deep down inside, underneath that thick and shiny cynical veneer lived a person who needed something to believe in. My alcoholism and drug use took me to a deep, shameful place that lead me to believe that nothing larger was at work in my life. That only small, crumpled up, self-destructive me could get myself out of the messes I was in. Naturally, it seemed hopeless.
I never had the lightening bolt God moment nor did I convert to a religion when I got sober. I just did what the Big Book suggested and slowly my own spiritual life developed. The fact that I never died under the influence or that my family didn’t abandon me during my time of need were evidence that something was at work. As I went to meetings in Santa Monica, I felt warm ocean breezes and knew those were things I couldn’t manufacture so that must be a higher power at work too. After a while, those breezes showed up when I really needed them. When it was too hot or when I was crying at a bus stop or when all I wanted to do is get wasted or just feeling alone. Sounds goofy right? But my relationship with a higher power is my own, silly, serious or otherwise.
And Tebow’s is his. Now I’m not sure God cares too much about football or if rappers thank him at the Grammy’s but in the end it’s none of my business. During the first two years of my sobriety, I studied a lot of meditation and learned to cultivate my own version of prayer and talking to a higher power. So what if someone else just happens to do that on national television or if they choose to worship aliens or have 12 wives? These things no longer concern me. In fact, they never did. And that such a spiritual change could occur in a hater, judgmental cynic like myself could get to a place of respect and understanding for the beliefs of others is truly proof of some kind of miracle for sure.