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I arrived at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center in Detroit, Michigan on a warm, sunny weekend in the late spring of 1991. My sponsor hinted strongly that I should attend the weekend gathering. Now that I was no longer suggestion-proof, I was discovering what he meant by going to any lengths. His timing was perfect, as usual. It felt like everything was caving in on me again. I needed some help.
I sobered up and was divorced almost simultaneously early in 1987, one of the most difficult periods of my life. Now, four years later, disappointment and sadness had revisited me. I wondered if I could go on. Strangely enough, I always wound up in the right place to get the message. It never failed—whenever I assembled a glob of painful past events to stare at, my sponsor would inquire, “All of this happened today?” As far as I was concerned, that was not a compassionate question.
Why did I always have to be so damned dramatic?
Despite my shortcomings, I thought my life should have come together much sooner than this. I’d come a long way, yet I still wasn’t getting the results I hoped for. Certainly, I was grateful to be alive and sober. Even so, I was already thirty-six—time was passing me by. If you asked me, patience was overrated. So much for A Day At A Time.
I wondered if I’d get the second chance at life so many others experienced. I wasn’t so sure. Hope was like a flimsy reed, and I wondered, “Should I reach for it again?” I was tired of being disappointed. Nevertheless, I knew if I was going to continue this way of life, I had to take care of my spirit. No one else could do it for me. The retreat, with its intangible ambiance and nearly one hundred men joined together in fellowship, was the perfect place for me.
For months, I was hoping to stumble upon the magic words that would inspire me to become more of the person I wanted to be. Perhaps then, my life would come together—I still felt like I had too many missing puzzle pieces. Then, during one of the afternoon sessions at the retreat that weekend, a particular talk revealed and underlined what I’d been missing all along. It was an ‘aha’ moment that I would need to digest.
A lengthy break followed the meeting, allowing ample time for discussion or contemplation. I thought a walk and a bit of fresh air would do me some good. Several lush, wooded acres with winding, paved paths stretched behind the retreat house. Once outside, I noticed the grounds were centerpieced by a grassy knoll, landscaped elegantly with rocks, shrubs and a full kaleidoscope of flowers. Rising from its crest was a statue of Christ. I approached and chose a spot on the turf about twenty feet away, a site perfect for reflection. I sat small and silent, yet churning inside.
Lost and anxious, I wanted to pray that ultimate prayer but didn’t know what to say or how to begin. I was unable to arrange into words what I felt in my heart. I let go and rested quietly, absorbing the gentle moments of great peace that surrounded me. Within minutes, without warning, it emerged—not the prayer of a spiritual giant, but rather, a frail litany voiced, freed like a flash flood. I uttered, almost gasped, “God…I’m lonely, I’m tired, I’m confused; I’m afraid…” Nearly choked with tears, no word followed. My mind, always loud but suddenly quiet, had stopped for once.
Instantly, a calming, soundless voice within my head added, “And foolish too…”
Where did that come from? I was astonished. “Foolish?” I sat there in awe. The message was clear; it was directly to me, but not from me. Finally I understood. My inner turmoil was unnecessary—I wasn’t trusting God, nor was I turning my life over. I only thought I was. I was running my life just like before, relying on my brains and my map. Now I knew what self-will was. The answer to all of my troubles was delivered in one miraculous memo– three simple words that were the whisper of grace.
Stunned, I tried to grasp the present, unexplainable wonder, but couldn’t. Moments later, I rose and brushed off the seat of my pants. With a slight chuckle, I grinned and said softly, “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.” I slowly left that sacred place, pausing to look back more than once. My heavy heart was lifted, saturated with new hope.
Naturally, I haven’t kept it to myself; I share the encounter when I think it can make a difference. It’s one more story of how we are not alone.
There are many who might claim I was emotionally ripe for such an event to occur, wishing to explain it away. Nevertheless, I can’t remember ever using the word ‘foolish’ in my life—lots of other words, but not that one. It certainly wasn’t an answer I could give myself, nor was it one I was searching for. After that moving experience, I reached again for that flimsy reed, knowing that my life would get better. As time passed, I recalled that moment at the foot of the hill through the good and the bad times. Guided by the Unseen Hand, this alcoholic can live in the ‘Great Right Now’.
Even though I have long-term sobriety, I have to hang on to my miracles—I don’t get one every day. They are the tangible grace sent by my Higher Power that girder what I have come to believe in. Holding on to them is holding the hand of God.
Mark has written articles for recovery magazines since 2016—his works can be found in Step 12 Magazine, Recovery illustrated and others, as well as some recovery websites. His poetry has also appeared on websites and in print. He and his wife, Danette, live in a small town near Ann Arbor, and a daughter attending college. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.