Count to Twelve

Seeds of Graceby By Molly MonahanRiverhead Books. 192p. $23.95.

This is the story of a free-fall from remorse, shame and self-loathing to peace, gratitude and humility and of the parachute that made a safe landing possible.

The author is a wise and articulate recovering alcoholic nun who acknowledges that Alcoholic Anonymous saved her at a point in her life when she was barely able to concentrate, demanded excessive control in relationships and was spiritually bankrupt. For reasons consistent with the traditions of A.A., she chooses to remain an anonymous alcoholic and writes under a pseudonym. Were it not for that decision, she would most certainly be a guest on Nightline, Oprah and 20-20, doing for alcoholics and their families what another nun, Helen Prejean, C.S.J., is doing for victims’ rights and the abolition of capital punishment in the United States. But it could well be, and one would hope, that she will do that through this book, even without television exposure.

At least three things separate this slim volume from the stacks of 12-step books available. First, there is the pedigree of the author: a woman who has been a nun for over 40 years (with an advanced degree in theology), a former college teacher and staff member of an inter-religious magazine. Second is her ability to connect the 12 steps and 12 traditionsthe twelve by twelvewith classical terminology of the spiritual journey that begins with an unvarnished self-assessment and moves on to a discovery (or in Monahan’s case, a rediscovery) of God and the truth that we need others to find our way home. Third is the ruthless honesty without sentimentalism that makes this book a riveting contemporary conversion story with an appeal for a general audience. It would be difficult for any reader not to find seeds of grace in these pages.

For Monahan, one seed was the offer of a first parachute, after 28 days in rehab, to attend 99 A.A. meetings in 99 days. It was a preposterous suggestion, but in hindsight, having experienced its value, Monahan admits she would have gone to 180 meetings in 90 days, if that’s what it took. Her sponsor (another seed of grace) was a woman available 24/7, who listened patiently to Monahan’s stinking thinking,i.e., complaints and feelings of anger, frustration and failure. Later on, Monahan was sought out by other women to be their sponsor. She accepted the invitations as a privilege.

Monahan limits anecdotal stories to a precious and powerful few. At the end of the book, she tells of a Saturday open meeting at which she was invited to speak. A few members in their 30’s came with spouses and babies, leading Monahan to reflect on what the lives of these children would be like with the erratic behavior, the emotional turmoil, the fights and the terror of parents still drinking. Instead, she recognized the grace that the children were cared for by parents in recovery with all the resources and support of A.A. at their disposal.

When I finished this book, I did so with a sense of gratitude for the resiliency, courage and graced witness of Molly Monahan.

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