When I Drank, I Knelt on the Bathroom Floor to Throw Up. When I Got Sober, I Did it to Pray

Source: Time

Leslie Jamison is the author, most recently, of The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath.

The second time I got sober, I started praying with a sense of purpose. It was impossible to picture the clear outline of any god, but praying regularly was a way to separate my second sobriety from my first one. Back then I’d only prayed haphazardly — when I wanted something, basically. This time around, I understood arranging my body into a certain position twice a day as a way to articulate commitment rather than a bodily lie, a false pretense. I prayed in the bathroom — by the toilet, under the dirty skylight over our shower — where my boyfriend, Dave, wouldn’t see me. He wasn’t judgmental; I was just embarrassed. It was easier to be alone with my fumbling faith, and it felt good to kneel on the bathroom floor for different reasons than I’d knelt on them before: not throwing up or getting ready to throw up, but closing my eyes and asking to be useful. I’d been told to pray for people I resented, so I prayed for Dave and for every girl he’d ever flirted with, for every man I’d ever hated for not wanting me. I even liked the physical residue of these morning prayers, the tangled red pattern on my knees from the bath mat we didn’t clean enough.

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When I was younger, I’d gone — reluctantly — to a regal Episcopal church in Inglewood. My mother had started going to church after she and my father divorced, and she’d asked me to come with her. The church was stunning, with massive copper lanterns hanging from the wooden beams, and jeweled light stilled by the stained glass windows on Sunday mornings: angels with red-tipped fiery wings. The golden altar held a pale statue of Jesus with a sculpted triangular beard and ruthlessly serene eyes, his finger raised as if he were just about to say something. But what? Going to church meant sensing something just out of reach — a sense of connection to this pale man, or the sermon, or the songs — the ecstatic faith that seemed to swell inside everyone else. I wasn’t sure I believed in God, so wouldn’t it be lying if I prayed to him? The premise of the miracle at the heart of everything, that impossible resurrection, made me feel miserly with disbelief, like my heart was a locked storefront shuttered against sublimity. I was shy and uncomfortable in my own body, kneecaps bruised by wooden kneelers, afraid of the vulnerabilities of belief — afraid to find anything too beautiful, or fall for it.

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