The magnificent reality of the program is contained in the twelfth step: the promise of a spiritual awakening, something I never expected when simply trying to stay sober one day at a time. But there it was — the guaranteed result of working these steps. When it first came upon me (because that seems to be what happens, you do some foot work and change happens), others pointed it out before I saw it in myself: the desire to drink gone, a changed, relaxed countenance, a positive spin on life, a feeling of safety in my own skin, compassion for others, the ability to look you in the eye, and even to grin. I’d been awakened to the presence of a loving God.
Most moms I know are at some stage of awake — half awake, half asleep, on caffeine, ready for a nap, or dreaming of one. We’re awake at all hours of the night because we have to be. Turned nocturnal by the needs of others, we are half awake by day and, at times, painfully awake to the spirit of children in our lives, our hungry, joyful, hurting, scared, happy sons and daughters. We rock and nurse and do the Mommy dance to assure them they are loved, their needs met. And this changes us. Not just our love, or their love, but our response to it. Motherhood as a path to spirituality? Sure, why not, if getting awakened to the spiritual world means facing obstacles (aka opportunities for growth), meeting God, going to the mountaintop, a descent and ascent.
There are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as there are people. The distinction in my case is it comes “as a result of these steps,” and again, as a result of mothering. I don’t know how you can be a mother and not feel spiritually awake. I can’t take credit for the creation, for the mother love that descends upon me, for the growing boy in front of me. The answer is right in front of my face all the time. He makes me mushy; he makes me imagine how God feels about us. I want to shout from the rooftops, and the prevalence of motherhood writing attests to this widespread feeling: “I’m in love with my son. Let me tell you about it. I’m undone.” It’s called narcissistic by some, but there’s another motive — to spread the love, to share experience, strength, and hope, to connect with like minds.
To gain the confidence of a still-suffering drunk, we share our drinking stories. I am uniquely qualified to carry the message of how I recovered, just as I am of how I mother. I’ve tried to help some women in the program and it guaranteed my own sobriety, nothing else. Some are still sober and happy; others I’ve never seen again, or at intervals of relapse. One girl still haunts me — my age, she came in pregnant, then left soon after. This was probably 1987. Years later, she looked corpse-like and skeletal, her daughter now eight, living with a sister. As I talked to her at a meeting one night, it was obvious she still either didn’t want sobriety or was too far gone to get it. She told me about drinking, falling, walking around with a broken leg and not knowing it for a week because she was so loaded, about promises unkept, the jobs lost, and the daughter taken away. I’m sure this woman is dead by now, but alive in my memory as a warning of how sick we can become. Now what strikes me when I think of her is another child left without a mother, and how her daughter called booze “poison water.” I think without some degree of spiritual recovery, I can be that sick again, or a desperately lonely, frightened mother. Just one mother talking to another, sharing what I was like, what happened, and what I’m like now. It’s the power of honest self-revelation and the desire to pass on what’s been so freely given to me, to connect with another human being, to be awake for all the lessons.
To practice these principles of love, honesty, tolerance, faith, hope, acceptance, and courage means that I will always need to listen to and share with other mothers. Learning how to apply the steps to all my life is a lifetime proposition, one I’m happy to continue. I didn’t know how desperately I’d need them once I had a child, how crazy I could become as a sober mom dealing with boredom, frustration, fear, anger, and exhaustion. Thank goodness I’m not the woman I used to be when my arms were empty. My hands are full, and I’m thankful, entrusted with a wide-eyed soul who keeps me spiritually awake if I but pay attention — especially to the report cards, trucks, jellyfish, treasure box, and sticky fingers. How awake I feel today. And it’s not just the coffee.