I hesitated to talk on fellowship tonight because the knee-jerk response drilled into me is “the fellowship doesn’t keep you sober,” and no, it doesn’t. God keeps me sober. But it just so happens the God of my understanding does a lot of work through fellowship. And I’m appreciating that in a lot of ways this year—because all over again, I’m seeing that what we have in the rooms of recovery is something most of the world only wishes they had.
That was just a starting point, of course. In the chapter called “The Family Afterward,” we’re told we can become “beacons” in our churches. That word really spoke to me because around the time I read that chapter, I was walking back into church for the first time in 15 years, about nine months sober. You see, when I was a kid, church made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. When my life fell apart, the Twelve Steps taught me I had something of value to offer. Now I get to bring that to church with me. And now I get to be a part of a mission far greater than anything I ever could've imagined. It comes full circle, and that's recovery—the story of restoration, and God's redemptive power.
There's a lot of crossover. I looked around the room tonight and saw people my husband and I go to church with on Sunday mornings. On Sunday mornings, I see people I know from the program of recovery. And I love that.
I’ve seen the hand of recovery in a big way at home, in the fellowship of my marriage. It adds a layer of trust to our partnership. I’ve brought my husband three different situations from our community this week alone, and I have full confidence that I'm entrusting these guys to someone who will show them a better way of life.
I can't even tell you what a privilege that is—that I get to walk beside this man and be of service to others, together. I gotta tell ya, for two people who were completely incapable of human relationships just a few years ago, that is a miracle. That is something to celebrate.
(My 10-year-old stepson got to present me with my seven-year medallion tonight. Let that sink in for a minute.)
But I've also been looking at a big gap between six months and seven years. I’ve been thinking about the alcoholics who weren't there tonight.
We were at my stepson’s basketball game this morning, and I sat two chairs down from the woman who was celebrating seven years of sobriety the night I got sober. Her name was not on that board tonight. She hasn’t been back to celebrate another birthday since. This woman saved my life seven years ago, and now I'm here and she's not. I didn’t know I was going to cry about that, but I did.
So what have I been given, that I have to give back?
I’ve had the same sponsor in recovery for six and a half years. She reminds me to share at birthday nights about what I have learned that would have been good for me to hear earlier in my sobriety. I happen to take that very seriously because I’ve heard things at birthday nights that have literally changed my life.
I don’t celebrate in January because of any New Year's resolutions. I celebrate in January because someone stood up at the podium one night in January and said things that made sense to me. Birthday nights matter to me because I closed my eyes in the middle of a birthday night celebration seven years ago and said, “Okay, God. Let's start over.”
This year, I’m still here because thanks to the group experience, I knew I could be coming up on the "seven-year itch," and I ought to watch out for that. People tend to get restless, irritable, and discontent around the seventh year of sobriety. It happens. And these are the kinds of things I wouldn't know anything about, if I was trying to do sobriety on my own. I wouldn’t know to trust that this, too, shall pass.
Something struck me the other day... how, y'know, most of the program literature on sobriety was written by folks with less than five years of sobriety. The big book doesn't talk about the seven-year itch. They hadn’t gotten that far yet.
But people in the rooms of recovery have talked about it. I've seen people struggle with it. I’ve been given the tools to work through this stuff. And it’s only because for some reason, by the grace of God, I paid attention to people who were talking about places I hadn't been yet.
Seven years might sound impossibly far off from where some people are sitting. I've been sitting there, too, and whattaya know? Things I heard seven years ago are relevant to my life now, today. That's why we share our experience, strength, and hope. That’s what keeps the fellowship going, and that’s how God works through the fellowship.
At first, we're celebrating one month, two months, three months, six months, nine months, a year—a whole year! who on earth stays sober that long?!—and it feels like everyone in the world is encouraging us and supporting us. Seven years in, well... now there are people in my life who are asking, "Why do you still do that?"
It’s a valid question to keep asking. That way, I can do the backtrack in my head, and remember sobriety was the fundamental building block leading to everything else in my life today—including my faith in the God who saved me.
It does feel different after a while. The public celebrations start to fade. The personal victories take on a lot more meaning.
And because it is God who is carrying me, I can be here for other people. Instead of resenting people and feeling sorry for myself, I get to be a part of a fellowship, where I have something of value to offer. That is the paradox. Somehow, God uses the mess of our lives to show us how to live.
I thank God for that. And I thank God for the people who are a part of it. Here's to many more.