Written by Natalie Young, Director of Communications, with additional contributions from staff of The Magdalen House
I’m running errands at Target and pass by the seasonal aisle. It’s littered with spooky ghosts and zombies and suddenly the idea of “haunting” feels kind of hilarious to me. Can you imagine going to your grave with that level of commitment to unresolved issues? As I turn down the next aisle, I imagine leaning over to a life-sized ghost that’s hovering nearby and whispering, “You really should’ve done that 5th step, girl.”
Having pity for a ghost is truly remarkable for the kid who had to leave a sleepover in third grade when someone’s older sibling started playing Poltergeist. But my ability to laugh at what used to scare me surprises me less and less these days. These “lightbulb” moments of recognition, of remembering, not just of who we are, but what we are, are all too familiar to anyone who’s experienced a psychic change, or a spiritual awakening.
So, in this season of death and rebirth, let’s take the opportunity to talk about this pivotal element of recovery. While spiritual awakenings look different on each individual level, it remains a universal and necessary transformation.
I want to share with you some spiritual awakenings from our staff, but first I want to begin with a compelling tale I recently had the pleasure of hearing from a friend who grew up in the Baha’I faith. It is from a text known as The Seven Valleys.
It begins, “There was once a lover who had sighed for long years in separation from his beloved.” He is cut off from his source of happiness and in a state of complete hopelessness – certainly relatable. He complains that life without his love was a “mockery” and he suffered from “a condition of which doctors had no cure.”
Years pass and at some point, he reaches his threshold for suffering and leaves his house in utter despair ready to end it all, but suddenly encounters a nightwatchman who starts chasing him. As our hero is running to escape the guard, he comes to a high wall, which he manages to climb, but upon reaching the top he faces a harrowing decision: Jump back down to meet the watchman waiting below or throw himself over, not knowing what lies on the other side.
Because this is the best kind of story, our hero chooses to leap into the unknown with reckless abandon – and what is waiting before him? His long-lost love, of course, who just so happens to be there looking for a lost ring.
Good, right? But what does that have to do with a spiritual awakening? Here’s the best part: instead of the story ending simply with the reunion of the lovers, we see our hero fall to his knees and cry: “O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman!”
Gratitude pours out of him from the other side, and he can finally see that the terrifying watchman was the gift that led him to reunite with his love. The tale concludes with, “Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start.”
Since I’ve started at Maggie’s, I’ve heard countless times some iteration of “Thank God for this disease – now I get to help others,” or “Recovering from this disease means I get to experience a vastly improved quality of life -and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
More often than not, we cannot see the end in the beginning. We must imagine it. And when we cannot imagine it, we enlist the help of others. This is why we share our experience. We tell our own stories, until others can know it for themselves.
Below are some direct experiences from our staff from their own spiritual awakenings. Wishing you a Happy Halloween and may we all thank the watchmen in our lives today. Where would we be without them?
I had a very poignant awakening after meeting with Lisa to understand my father’s alcoholism after a lifetime of categorizing his disease as a lack of morality. It was a pivotal moment in both my understanding of his mental illness and allergy and how that affected his ability to interact with me in a normal family setting. After I had spent almost an hour explaining to Lisa how hurt I was by his actions (specifically, in this case, when he left my high school graduation without speaking to me), I’ll never forget the moment when she looked at me and said, “Have you ever considered that he knew he couldn’t stop drinking and the only way he knew to protect you was to disappear into the background”? That moment changed my entire life and gave me an entirely new perspective on alcoholics, and in particular, my dad. I realized that he wasn’t a bad a person, that he didn’t want to hurt me, but instead, in the only way he knew how, loved me enough to try and separate my sister and I from the pain and suffering his alcoholism created. It was a truly an awakening of perspective, one that transformed my resentment and anger into understanding.
Before I had a spiritual awakening, I was living for myself. If anything in my life inconvenienced or distressed me, I only thought about how it affected me — not others — and acted out in a way that made me feel better without any considering how my actions might hurt those around me. I was only concerned with what I could get out of life for myself, and when I couldn’t get what I wanted or things didn’t go my way, I’d feel like the world was ending and I’d have a meltdown. After having a spiritual awakening, it has become easier to approach even difficult situations with more peace. I have the tools I need to ensure that I don’t have a meltdown when things don’t go my way, and if I do negatively react to a situation, I am able to take steps in order to make it right instead of letting my guilt pull me down. It’s almost like I grew a conscience as a result of my spiritual awakening. I’m now able to ask myself “what are my motives? Will this help or hurt others? Do I need to make an amends to this person?” instead of stewing in regret and negativity.
It really helped me when I read and received what was written in The Spiritual Experience (pg 567 in the Appendix) in the Big Book and it explained a spiritual awakening is a gradual change. Others notice the change before we do. I was thinking if I did not have a burning bush experience, I did not have a spiritual experience. Learning that Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness are essential tools of recovery, and they are indispensable saved my life. Adopting this attitude in every area of my life the best I can and knowing it is progress and not perfection helped me to become more God conscious. Since alcohol was no longer the solution, I had to connect to a power greater than myself.
In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the definition a spiritual awakening is a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.” For myself, my outlook on life changed. Suddenly my humility rose, and my ego declined. People were placed in my life that showed me a greater way of living. In my opinion, they were divinely placed. At the time, I found myself feeling like an alien. The material side of things were gone, and I was living in a world seeking spirituality and truth. I felt an unconditional and overwhelming love. If for a time I felt judgmental of others, I was able to look inward and find compassion and understanding for them. My thoughts were on a higher plane and for the first time, I felt like my life truly had no limits. Spiritual Awakening? Spiritual Experience? Enlightenment? Psychic Change? Rebirth? Nobody can tell another exactly what each means, for each person’s experience is their own. However, for me, fully embracing experiences, and having a newfound sense of personal freedom means a new definition of life.
I’ve had, and continue to have many awakening moments since I started this journey. One of my first and most profound was sitting across from my sponsor, doing my 5th step, and she laid out some hard truths about the way I had been showing up in the world. I had this moment where I suddenly realized that I wasn’t a victim anymore! I knew the truth about myself and I now had a choice, to continue to show up in a way that caused harm OR to make an effort to do and to be something different. But my most favorite is always seeing the light come on in others. It’s incredibly hard to deny the Power when you can literally see it happening to someone in front of your very own eyes!
My awakening was gradual over a short interval. I had to set aside everything that I believed or thought I knew. Further, I had to admit to myself I knew absolutely nothing. My best ideas and designs ended catastrophically with a consequential ripple effect. No human resource was of use to me. I truly believe I would be dead without God and a spiritual toolkit. I love the quote from Big Book on page 27 “To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacement and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.