Mary Karr, the poet, memoirist, and Roman Catholic convert, answers the question:
When I got sober, in 1989—twenty years ago now. Only with prayer could I stop drinking for more than a day or two. Once I made three months clean, but it was a white-knuckled horror show. Call it self-hypnosis, prayer, whatever. To skeptics I say, Just try it. Pray every day for thirty days. See if your life gets better. If it doesn’t, tell me I’m an asshole. People tend to judge a faith’s value based on its dogma, which ignores religion in practice. It’s like believing if you watch enough porn or read enough gynecology books, you’ll know about pussy. For me, being a Catholic is a set of activities. Certain dogma seems nuts to me too. I’m not the Pope’s favorite Catholic.
How she prays:
In times of pressure or anxiety—like when Mother was dying—I’ll do a daily rosary for everybody. Or I’ll light candles and climb in the bathtub, try to put my mind where my body is—the best prayers are completely silent. Otherwise, I do a lot of begging. I just beg, beg, beg, beg like a dog, for myself and those I love. And I do the cursory, “If it’s your will . . .” but God knows that I want everything when I want it. He knows I’m selfish and want a zillion bucks and big tits and to be five-ten. So I’m not fooling him with that “If it’s your will” shit. The real prayer happens when I’m really desperate, like when I was going through a period of illness last year. Amazing what power there is in surrender to suffering. Most of my life I dodged it, or tried to drink it away—“it” being any reality that discomfited me.
(Photo by Myshelle Robinson)