Sobriety Broke Me to Pour Me Out

Grateful for this one, by Erin Jean Warde. Months ago, I decided to quit drinking. […]

Grateful for this one, by Erin Jean Warde.

Months ago, I decided to quit drinking. I have chronic migraines and sometimes face depression. I wondered if maybe something that gives me headaches wasn’t the best for chronic headaches. I wondered if maybe a depressant wasn’t the best beverage for depression.

I don’t have a particularly exciting story to share with you; I only have the truth of my life and where God called me within it. And yet the decision to set aside something that isn’t serving us, if made, is rarely ever easy, and I don’t want to simplify a complex inner journey. I especially don’t want to downplay the fact that I chose to stop drinking alcohol, a substance that people understand to be vital to a social life, great with dinner, and that I understand to be nothing less than the presence of Christ. Yes, it is a hard decision for an extrovert to say no to the substance we love to share at parties, a hard decision for a person who loves to cook as much as she loves to eat, a hard decision for a priest who stands behind an altar twice a week to hold up a glass of wine.

But maybe this decision is simpler than we imagine: I wanted my life to be different. I wanted to dream about my life again, after years of finding my soul vacant of wonder. I made a list of dreams for myself and — in the sort of way that God speaks to me — I began to feel like this list was possible, through the love and mercy of God, just on the other side of sobriety. Even at the idea, I felt the first inklings of hope. I knew God was inviting me into the kind of life I wouldn’t want to escape from.* Today, the lofty promises of Jesus sit steady in my skin as my sober hope does not disappoint.

In the gospel of John, Jesus visits Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the man he had raised from the dead. Mary unexpectedly anoints Jesus’s feet with a pound of nard, a costly perfume, wiping his feet with her own hair. Judas protests, crying that she’s wasteful, that there are better uses for such an expense. Jesus defends her: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” She’s seen Lazarus die and live, so she knows a little something about how the presence of Jesus meddles with the breath that sifts through our lungs. It seems she knows any day could be the day we die, any day could be the day we live, every day is a day worth anointing.

I got sober, because I wanted my life to be not in a bottle but in a jar — a jar of nard. Something poured out to prepare myself and the world for the kind of death we believe will give us true life. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is anointed with nard and the jar is broken. I love it, because it isn’t meant to be put back together. It’s meant to be given away entirely. The precious gift cannot be salvaged or hoarded. I wanted my life to be in a jar. Broken to be poured. Not meant to be neatly put back together, because the notion that we are neatly anything is a lie.

I didn’t want to live in something that pained me, but instead to live and die inside a cracked jar holding the abundant truth that God shows up in pain to give us the nard to withstand it. God’s strength is strength given to us to face the reality of being alive, but it’s a strength that looks less like a flexed muscle and more like a woman, leaning over ankles, wiping feet with hair.

As people, I think we feel like jars of nard, but we pray we won’t break. We hope we might not have to be poured out. We plea that we might be spared, tucked away safe for the time when we “should” be used. But when we think this way, we live as Judas! And we betray not others, but ourselves, because we neglect to see that this moment is the life God has given us, and in this life it is in our best interest to stop avoiding the breaking. We must accept the breaking and the dying, because no one gets out of here alive or with a body that hasn’t failed us.

I’m only 32 and I’ve already watched many of my beloved friends suffer, most of them suffering silently for far too long. I trust that many of us are still suffering silently, not knowing if there is another way to live, and nothing compounds suffering like making sure we never speak of it. Compassion demands we destigmatize the reality and inevitabilities of being alive. The voice of stigma is nothing less than the voice of evil we renounce in baptism. If you stigmatize recovery of any kind, from any thing, you say with startling clarity to a hurting world: I liked you better when you didn’t like yourself.

Because, you see, when Lazarus walks out of his tomb, Jesus does not pity him. No, he says: Unbind him. Let him go. He is free. Rush to him to remove the bands of cloth that hid him in death, because he is dead no more. We know we want to be like him, because we no longer want to be hidden in death. We yearn to feel, in our bodies, the fullness of resurrection. Yet, we will help him before we help ourselves, out of fear. Of course, it’s not resurrection that scares us; it’s the disrobing. We don’t want to have to remove our bands of cloth, because then we will be seen for who we are, and we wonder if we could survive it. But only in that tender place of naked truth will we see ourselves as God sees us: broken, loved, anointed, and resurrected.

No, the calling of a human life is not to pray we won’t break. It is to break and then to notice the cracks. The broken body of Jesus calls us to break and die and then show a hurting world that we live. This is how we show that we believe in resurrection.

I imagine, because you are breathing, there’s something in your heart that, if it broke, it threatens to break you. There’s something in your life that, if it broke, you fear you wouldn’t be able to put it or yourself back together again. Something has lied to you, told you that without it you’ll lose your community, your love, your vocation, the facets of life that are joyful enough to make being alive worth it. It twists at your heart. It drags you into the Pit. There is a crack in your life that is the result of a collision between your fragile soul and the hard surface of life.

But the tender voice of Jesus says only this: Beloved, you don’t have to live in secret, because before God we have no secrets. You don’t have to suffer alone, because you suffer just like the person beside you. You don’t have to be hidden in death, because you can live your life as a jar of nard — broken, not stored up inside the chasms of your heart, but poured out, given, anointed.

The breath in my lungs only called me to break. I broke and I noticed the cracks. The purpose of my life is to break and die and then show a hurting world that I live. This is how I believe in resurrection.

*This has been a life-changing concept for me and I was introduced to this language for it by Holly Whitaker, founder of Tempest, a modern, accessible, and empowering path to recovery that has become my sober community. You can learn more about Tempest and Holly’s work here.