I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.
--from an ancient homily given in the 2nd Century on Holy Saturday
On May the 3rd, in the year 1992, I was held prisoner in hell. On May the 4th, in the year 1992, I was released from prison. I have not returned to my cell since that day, though I am acutely aware that my cell sits there waiting for me.
I have come close. I have walked up to the entrance. I have peered inside. I have sometimes pretended in my head that living in that cell was not so bad. I have even pretended, at times, that it was not a cell at all but a lavish bedroom in a beautiful spa with a great view from a large window.
To my great relief, my Guardian Angel has always put an arm around my shoulder and gently turned me back from that cell. The voices of other prisoners released from a similar prison have resounded in my head and I have heard them say, "Call me. I will help you".
None of this is because I am wonderful. It is not because I am Saint Leslie of Modesto. It is not by choice that I entered that cell when I took my first drink at 17 and it was not my choice to leave that cell. My entry was the result of being physically allergic to a substance the majority of the world drinks with impunity. My imprisonment was the result of a spiritual and mental illness that allowed my physical allergy to take over my life. As one celebrated person who is like me put it, "when I drink, my shoulders come off my ears".
People who take issue with the idea of Alcoholism being a disease usually do so because they have no idea what the disease actually is - and because they are tired of people claiming alcoholism and using it as an excuse for bad behavior. Most people think a hard drinker - someone who got drunk a lot and even had some bad stuff happen as a result of drinking a lot - is an alcoholic. They are not. They are never going to be able to understand someone like me and they will go out of their way to try and convince me that I am wrong about myself. They will use the phrase "choice" a lot - usually in terms of themselves - and declare that it is a 'choice' and so not a disease.
I have even heard otherwise intelligent people declare that alcoholism is not a disease because 'you do it to yourself'.
I understand their frustration. They are ignorant and sometimes they are pretty ugly towards people like me as a result of their ignorance. However, I do choose to believe their ugliness and arrogance is simply because they cannot conceive of a life of bondage to alcohol. They cannot understand the person - like me - who resolves again and again to not drink alcohol only to find themselves drunk by noon. They cannot conceive of a situation where we are not using our disease as an excuse but as an explanation, not asking for special treatment when we commit a crime but for an understanding that we really did not plan to kill that family of five, or punch our husband in the face, or run down the street naked screaming that someone is after us when we were all alone in our own house.
When they are hostile and angry (which they often are - especially on social media) I suspect it is because they have been damaged by someone like me. A father or a mother or a sister or a lover or a brother has let them down. They have been given the message that somehow they are to blame - that the person 'chose' alcohol over them and so that means they are unlovable or unworthy at the most and at the least there is something lacking about them that would make the 'choice' to drink more attractive to the person they love. I get it. Their feelings are hurt. Daddy chose Jack Daniels instead of the Father/Daughter Dance. Sorry, gang, but that stuff stings and it takes a lot more than "Alcoholism is a disease, it is not your fault" to get over that kind of hurt.
I also suspect the super hostile are often on the front lines of the war - they are the police officers, the fire fighters, the EMTs and the nurses dealing with someone like me over and over again. They are tired of the crying children, the anxious parents, the smelly, violent patient they have to put in four point restraints. They are exhausted by us...and so they hate us...because they clean us up and we look them STRAIGHT in the eye and we say, "Yes, Sir/Ma'am. I will not do that again".
When I read the ancient Homily, written during a time when there was no Bible as we know it today, I see the miracle of my own redemption. I had nothing to do with my release. For whatever reason, I responded to the command to arise from sleep and walk out of that cell. I did not choose to do it, that much I know, but why that day? Why that morning? What was different about May 4th (besides the fact that it is Star Wars day and I am a HUGE fan)?
I believe with my whole heart and soul that what happened for me was the prayers of a loving mother allowed for the fires of the Sacramental graces I had received - at Baptism, at Confirmation and through the reception of Jesus Christ Himself in The Eucharist - to suddenly flame up. Because of that, I HEARD the voice. I responded to the command. I left the cell and I was not even aware of it.
That morning, when I came to, I did not plan on staying sober. I remember that much. All I wanted to do that day was find that old guy in that meeting who had been mean to me and prove to him that I could sit there opposite him, that he could not kick me out. I had no intention of staying sober. My intention was to show him he could not get rid of me.
Whatever the reason, I am very aware of the miracle that is my life. I sit here this morning, feeling so sad for the men and women who hate people like me. I get it, and I will not change their minds, but I hold them in prayer. If they feel that kind of hatred towards someone with a disease, can you imagine what kind of heartbreak they have seen?
This week, this Holy Week, I know something strange is happening. This week I get to participate in an ancient and wonderful ritual. I get to watch people come into full initiation with the Church founded by God. I get to stand with others and worship God in the manner He deemed necessary.
And I get to do it sober.