How Anne Lamott Got Sober

Question: How did you get\r\nsober?

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Anne Lamott: How\r\ndid I get sober?  Well, I had—when\r\nmy dad died when I was 25, my younger brother had been 20, my brother \r\nSteve,\r\nand he worked in landscape architect, he was a laborer, and one of his \r\nbest\r\nfriends had a father who was sober, named Jack.  When\r\n our dad died, Steven moved in with this guy Jack and\r\nthere were all these sober people around his house all the time talking \r\nabout\r\nhow much they loved being sober and prayer and meditation and helping \r\nothers,\r\nand they always had these horrible cakes from Safeway that I happen to \r\nreally\r\nprefer to good bakery, because I mostly just like the icing, and they \r\nalways had\r\nthis swill, this terrible coffee. \r\nAnd I was always drinking too much of this swill late at night, \r\nwhereas\r\nif I drink coffee at night, I would sleep again several days later.  But, I got to be friends with this\r\ncharacter named Jack and he’d been a total lush like I am, and he said, \r\nyou\r\nknow, “We’re not drinking, one day at a time, and everything that we’d \r\never\r\ndreamt has happened for us.”  And I\r\nsaid, “Well, I’m very religious, very spiritual without your little \r\nSafeway\r\ncakes and swill." But like most drunks that had gotten sober, I got to \r\nthe point\r\nwhere I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.  You know?  So, I was getting to a\r\n point where I was living in a way\r\nthat involved waking up sick and with a lot of shame and just kind of \r\nanimal\r\nconfusion.  And one day I called\r\nJack and said, “What do I do?”  And\r\nhe said, “Why don’t I come over and we’ll talk.”  So,\r\n that’s how I got sober and that’s how I stayed sober as\r\npeople said, “Why don’t I come over and we’ll talk, and drink our bad \r\ncoffee\r\nlike communion together.Our bad\r\ncoffee and our Safeway cakes.

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Question: What is the\r\nspiritual path you’ve taken since sobering up?

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Anne Lamott:\r\nWell, I became a Christian before I got sober. So I was a drunk, bulimic\r\nChristian. I wondered into the biracial church across the highway from \r\nwhere I\r\nlived when I was still drinking very heavily and using.  And\r\n the only reason I went in to this\r\nchurch, which happened to be Presbyterian, was because it was across the\r\n street\r\nfrom a flea market and I was there a lot of Sunday mornings when I was \r\nso hung\r\nover.  And when I’m hung over, I’m\r\ndrawn to greasy food and lots of it. \r\nAnd then I would hear this gospel singing or the songs of the \r\nCivil\r\nRights Movement.  When I grew up,\r\nmy parents were old lefties, I grew up on the Weavers and Pete Seeger \r\nand Joan\r\nBaez, and they would be singing a lot of the Civil Rights anthems, and \r\nso I’d\r\nwander in because I’d run out of good ideas, and no one at my church \r\nhassled\r\nme.  There were about 40 people and\r\nstill are only about 40 people. \r\nBut they didn’t try to get me to sign on the dotted line, or tell\r\n them\r\nwho shot the Holy Ghost, they just let me sit there and—they just let me\r\n sit\r\nthere.  And the air was\r\nnutritious.  Because there were\r\npeople who had put their money where their mouths were and they’d done \r\nthe work\r\nof social justice and they were true believers.

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And I lived in the Bay Area, and still do, in the \r\nyears of\r\nAllen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and Gary Snyder, and Lawrence \r\nFerlinghetti at\r\nthis founding City Lights.  My\r\nfather loved the Beats and worked on a magazine that was very \r\navant-garde in\r\nthe Bay Area with Evan Connell and a couple of people that were just \r\nliterary\r\ngiants.  It was called Contact magazine, so I’d \r\nalways—and\r\nAllen Watts was around on his progressive Bay Area radio stations like \r\nKPFA. And so I grew up with the consciousness that Christianity was for \r\npeople who\r\nwere really stupid, but that there was something magical in the \r\nreligions of\r\nthe East and that Buddhism was okay, and Hindu was okay because—Hinduism\r\n was\r\nokay because Ginsberg was so wildly passionately, sensuously East in his\r\nunderstanding of things, and so joyously so.  And \r\nso I’ve always understood that meditation had to be part of—or\r\nwas part of the natural path and so I’ve always sort of dabbled in it.  And the main expression of my spirituality has been \r\nthis little church that I go to, and my sobriety.  The\r\n path of recovery and—I’m a terrible\r\nChristian and meditating is very hard for me, and I do it. \r\n I do it badly, like I do a lot of\r\nthings.  I believe in doing things\r\nbadly.  I believe in listening to\r\nthe—what calls you from your heart and your spirit and if you do it \r\nbadly, like\r\nlearning to dance, you do it badly or you’re going to kick yourself when\r\n you\r\ngrow old and you meant to do it.

Recorded April 6, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen
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A story of meditation, black coffee, and Safeway cakes.

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