Love your neighbour as yourself. But the key there is love yourself first. And that’s a daily challenge.

I’m not the centre of the universe. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and listened to what people had to say to me and I was relieved of my addiction. I was very fortunate. As the first 3 steps tell you: I didn’t do it. Something else relieved me of my addiction.

There are 12 steps and you learn what they mean and take actions such as writing, talking and being with other people. And then the final step is that you have to give it away. So whether it’s sobriety or faith, you can’t have it unless you’re giving it away. And that means giving it away in a community: whether that’s the AA, a faith community or a secular community. I need and I believe that we need to be in community. I’m currently involved with 3 different faith communities.

The 11th step is “through prayer and meditation”: that’s how I learn what my higher power wants me to do, and how I ask for the strength to carry that out. And that’s a daily exercise. To listen to whatever it is that’s speaking to you through meditation and then have the power to do what it takes: whether to speak up against an injustice, or to intervene where someone’s being hurt. And knowing that the idea comes not from your ego but from the faith that it’s part of something much larger than one person.

In my first year of sobriety I was told that I had to change everything in my life. So I did. I sold everything I had in Vancouver, I quit my job and I moved to Costa Rica to run a fishing boat. It was a tremendous leap. But the man that I went with, who had been sober and was a very talented fisherman, he crashed the day we bought the boat. Alcohol and drugs are so prevalent.

It took me a year to get rid of him. I needed a lot of support from the community. The first thing I did – I was in this very small fishing community, where there were a lot of Canadians – so I thought “there’s gotta be someone who’s in recovery here”. Well there was: there was one person. I talked to her and she sent me to an AA meeting at the capital, San Jose. So I got there and I just wept. And I told my story, and they just said “oh yeah, we’ve heard that story” [laughing]. So then they said “you go back home. There’s an American woman who’s just moved to your community, she’s got 2-years sobriety – go find her”

I was totally on the edge. There was nothing I could do. My money was all tied up in the boat. So I went back home, I went to the local corner store and there was a tall blonde woman standing there and I said “are you a friend of Bill’s?” (That’s our lingo for AA) And she said “yes” and she just threw her arms round me. It still makes me weep [crying].

So we decided to start our own meeting. Slowly I built up a reputation that I was a sober reliable person. And people in the community started to ask me for help. When you’re new in a community, the first people who approach you are the crazies. You have to take a deep breath and let them pass by. Because the ones who aren’t crazy are sitting back and watching. They watch and watch and then when they see you’re reliable, only then they come forward. I’ve seen that time and again.

When I came back from Costa Rica, I met another woman through AA, a Christian woman. With her I went off to other parts of Canada to assist indigenous people in fighting for justice. We got such wonderful training there, including ant-racism training. And when we came back, my friend said “you can’t do all that and not have a community: you need to share what you’ve learnt; you’re not doing this alone. Just go across the street: there’s a church across the road from you, they have a social justice group.” So I was going to the group rather than to church. And slowly you meet people who feel similar to you.

It’s not easy being a Christian. You’re encouraged to give everything away. That’s hard. I struggled most of my life to become middle class. I was born into a working-class family. My mother struggled with mental health issues and my father was a compulsive gambler. So I wanted to have possessions, I wanted to have a job, I wanted to have status. You’re also told: love your neighbour as yourself. But the key there is love yourself first. And that’s a daily challenge.

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