One of the first things I heard when I joined AA was “we will love you until you can learn to love yourself” I didn’t understood what that meant at first, but after getting some sober time it made sense to me. I came into AA broken, a shell of a person. I was morally, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt (another saying we hear in AA). It took a while for me to start feeling likeable, and to start loving myself again. It took even longer for me to be able to offer that love to someone else as I didn’t feel worthy of love when I was newly sober. One of the greatest things about becoming sober has been the ability to love. To fully love, unconditionally and openly. Anytime someone new comes into an AA meeting I get a feeling of overwhelming love for them because I know the fear and hopelessness they feel. We have all felt it. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to befriend this person or even get to know them, what matters is that I have compassion for them and they are a walking mirror of courage. No matter if they are from a park bench or Park Avenue, I understand how they feel. To love someone unconditionally wasn’t something that happened to me overnight. It took time, it took patience and it took understanding. I’m grateful that I can love others in the rooms, as they all teach me something. Sometimes its love and tolerance, sometimes its gratitude – especially if that person keeps relapsing. The relapser teaches me willingness and to never give up. They remind me that I never want to feel the way they are feeling at that moment. It’s a little bit selfish for me to say that, but it’s the truth. Their relapse is keeping it green for me and its making me remember. They are keeping me sober and I’m grateful to them. I can even love that pain in the ass person that shares far longer than he should spewing complete crap and slogans out the ying yang – yup; I gotta love that guy too. Love and Tolerance is our code. Isn’t that what it’s all about? isn’t that what everyone wants in the end, to feel loved? I have learned since I came into AA, over a decade ago, that God puts certain people in my life as my teachers and my biggest examples of who I want to be, and who I don’t want to be.
Last year we moved to Florida, and for me it was my 4th move in sobriety. I’ve moved around a lot, but moving in sobriety is like starting over, it’s like being a newcomer again. This move to Florida was no different and I had to put myself out there and tell the Fellowship what was going on with me and open up again to someone. I was able to get a new sponsor pretty early on and she was exactly what I needed. God put her in my life for a reason and I felt like I knew her for years as I could tell her anything and everything and not feel judged. She got me.
A couple months after I started working with my sponsor, she told me that we needed to come to an Agape Retreat. I had no idea what she was talking about and she told me that it’s kind of a subset of AA and it’s held at O’Leno State Park (near Gainesville) and that we had to go. Since I’m not one to shy away from any weekend getaway, I was on board. I had been to a few AA retreats back in California, (where I got sober), and I was more than happy to check it out. I had never heard of Agape and had no idea what to expect. What I found when we arrived at our first Agape retreat in January were camp cabins with no heat and bunk beds. Mind you it’s Florida, but it was down to the mid 30s at night. Not exactly the Hilton, but it wasn’t about the accommodations as I soon learned, it was about Agape and the posse. We ended up staying in a cabin with heat and I was about to experience what true unconditional love was. Without sharing too much about the Agape experience, I will just sum it up in a few sentences so you can understand it further. It’s usually 50 people or so, all in recovery; or trying to be, as some may only have a few hours sober, or a few days clean. Most come within a 200 mile radius of Gainesville and some of the posse has been coming to Agape for 20 years, like my sponsor, and some are newbies, like myself. Unbeknownst to me, I quickly realized that everyone is there to get closer to God and to have an amazing spiritual experience with the group, as well as with themselves. The level of raw, honest and “from the gut I need to dump this shit” sharing that occurs at these meetings are intense and there is usually a box of Kleenex making the rounds. Most people in recovery aren’t in recovery for just alcohol; there is usually a drug of choice involved, as well as other outside issues that seep into our DNA. These may include early childhood traumas, eating disorders, abusive relationships, sexual abuse and PTSD issues. It’s not a whoopee party of joy, or ceramic ashtray making – what comes out of these Agape retreats is healing. Extensive healing where you shed a layer of your damaged self and feel a little bit better for it. No one in AA, or Agape, claim to be therapists of any type, but being with a crew of people that have experienced some of the same issues and all want to jump on the Ark to find a better way to live and feel OK seems to be more therapeutic than any medicine or treatment program that is out there. Of course, this is all in my opinion and from my own experience.
When you go online and look up the definition of Agape, this is one of the definitions you will find:
“Agape is love, which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this: “God is love.” God does not merely love; He is love itself. Everything God does flows from His love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is His nature to love us, and He must be true to His nature and character.”
Being unlovable and unlovely is what drove me to drink and drug. I never felt like I was enough. So when I go to Agape and hear the unlovable are lovable and that Agape love is forgiving and unconditional – why wouldn’t I want to be with a posse that embraces that. Mind you, I get a decent amount of that love and acceptance from AA, but it’s different at Agape. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been – but basically, whatever the question, love is the answer.
My husband and I just came back from our second Agape weekend and look forward to attending the next one. I’ve had people ask me, “What is Agape?” and like my sponsor told me, I just tell them, “It’s where the unlovable can feel loved and where the broken can be put back together, one piece at a time”.