Editor’s Note: Second-year missioner Megan Hamilton writes from the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany convent in Kingston, Jamaica. One of her current ministries–with elderly sisters–becomes a springboard for looking back at a life-changing process of embracing humility.
Drunks, Dentures & Humility
My recent thoughts on humility started with Sister Goretti’s dentures, which didn’t return from the hospital when my tiny friend with dementia did. Chewing was NOT going well. I made her protein’ed up smoothies. She loved ‘em, so even with new dentures they kept coming. Then Sister Greta got an infection in her cheek. So five mornings a week, I vault three stories of stairs, delivering two smoothies, and two fruit salads to the Infirmary. I used to stand on stage, hostess to hundreds….thousands even! Now I make smoothies for two. I ask my friend Stephanie “How do I put THAT on my resume?” With wry satisfaction she says “There’re fancy words for everything.”
My old thoughts on humility started when I was–as they say in my Alcoholics Anonymous program– “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Daily pot smoking smeared into drinking nights. Bright rushes of mad fun were interspersed with dark violence, shame. The fun got scarce, and the darkness ground into gray tedium. The sky of my shrinking world dropped to my scalp. Quitting on my own? Not. AA wrapped its kind, homegrown arms around me in a small room, full of diverse humanity, in an old office building in downtown Baltimore and 28 years later I have never looked back.
AA is built on humility. When I came in, I had none. Take my word for it: early recovery is REALLY hard. I was massively insecure, and hugely arrogant. I thought I was smarter than those in the rooms, but worth way, way less. I was facing my emotions head on without my drinking and drugging coping mechanisms, and wanted like crazy to use. My biochemistry was in cataclysm. I was a sobbing, self-centered, melodramatic mess. I must have been beyond annoying. But the people in that room loved me til I could love myself.
It seemed odd at first to find so much joy there. AA is rooted in our primal love of stories. Of sitting around the fire, or a linoleum table, listening to a brave soul share their raw truth with a roomful of people, many total strangers. The stories are inevitably tragic. But now that we are on the other side, they can also be hilarious. There were seriously funny, seriously happy people there. Instinctive as a moth I stayed close to the laughter. Luckily my desperation made me ready to take suggestions. Working my steps with a sponsor and reading the literature were suggested…so I did.
“Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all AA’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.” —AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 70.
I admitted I was powerless over my addiction (Step One), came to believe a Higher Power could restore my sanity (Two), and turned my life over to that Power (Three) and on it went thru Twelve. Working the Steps and finding my faith transformed me. I am for sure not a saint, but I am way closer to being a daughter of God. Embracing humility gave me new super powers! My self-esteem, which was trashed when I came in, has steadily, surely, found real purchase. I love Megan now. I work on my emotional sobriety, doing a good job most days of staying on an even keel. With my ego, fear, occasional snippy meanness, and emotional nuttzyness managed, I am a productive, calm, happy human. None of it would have happened without admitting that, as one of my homegroup members used to say, “I’m just another Bozo on the bus.”
It’s a BIG bus! I’m part of a warm, sprawling, rambunctious community. I can walk thru doors of hundreds of church basements, and scruffy “clubhouses” (dedicated AA venues), go to innumerable Zoom rooms around the globe, and be welcomed as a sister by strangers of all colors, and backgrounds. When you are facing a disease that wants to kill you, those who help row the life-raft are very dear. Yup. I do still go to meetings! I have a sponsor. In Kingston I’ve founded my third women’s meeting, have two homegroups, host two meetings a week, and have four sponsees. Helping them means, at the risk of my life, I won’t forget what it was like when I first came in.
I believe AA is a divine miracle. The founders, a New York entrepreneur, and an Akron proctologist, were two white, Christian guys in 1930’s America. That the program does NOT say we have to accept Jesus Christ as our savior to get sober, nor meet special requirements to join, is so far out of (what were then) cultural norms as to (indeed!) qualify as a miracle. Doctor Bob and Bill W. understood two critical things: that the power of one alcoholic/addict helping another is immense, and that drunks hate rules. So the only requirement for membership is “…a desire to stop drinking.” The spiritual door of AA opened wide, suggesting that we find a Higher Power that we define. In Baltimore they’d say “Find a Higher Power. It can be anything as long you’re not it. “ AA does skew Christian, yet I have AA friends who are agnostics, atheists, Jews, Muslims, who turn to Nature for their strength. Many newbies use the Good Orderly Direction of their homegroup.
I came in with vague Christian beliefs, but ultimately needed religion. After a car ran a red light seriously clobbering me and my bicycle, I followed Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, and my Grandmother back to the faith of my childhood, landing happily in the progressive parish of St. Vincent De Paul in Baltimore, not much more than a block away from where I was hit. To my surprise, my AA program, even my history as a wild-child, party-girl, segued with my reinvigorated Catholicism. Jesus forgives sinners who repent, and I have. Catholics believe in miracles, and as a recovering alcoholic, I’ve experienced one.
In his book God’s Fool, Julien Green describes Saint Francis wearing his exhaustively patched, brown habit. When people ask the Saint why, he says that the patches on the outside reveal to all how he feels on the inside. Like so much of St. Francis’ stuff I am not sure I get it, but in my recalcitrant heart I feel the edge of truth.
When the finish chips on my fancy glasses, I complain to the fancy eyeglass store, and get new ones. So now I have a perfect pair of fancy glasses, and a chipped pair. I use the chipped pair in the Convent, when I watch one of my favorite things: Sister Goretti squaring her bitty frame up to the table, eyes wide, big old sterling soup spoon in hand, tucking into that bowl of fruit smoothie with gusto.
Reflection question: How has embracing humility helped you grow, either recently or in the past? What can you learn about humility from those around you?