Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Mary Karr on prayer and working sober

To add to the review of Mary Karr’s Lit that ran a couple of days ago… came across some interesting comments she made in The Paris Review’s Winter 2009 issue. The Paris Review, a top literary journal out of New York, is famous for its highbrow author-interviews. And they’ve just recently started talking to nonfiction authors—not just poets and novelists. And Nonfiction Author Number Three was Mary Karr, who talked about her Writing Process. Which involves, and she admitted this outright, prayer.

Paris Review: Do you have any writing rituals, things you have to do in order to write?

Karr: I pray. I ask God what to write. I know that sounds insane, but I do. I say: What do you want me to say? I have a sense that God wanted these books written. That doesn’t mean they’re meant to be bestsellers. Nor am I hearing voices. But a lot of times I’ll get stuck and I’ll just say, Help me. A nonbeliever might think of it as talking to my superego, or some better self. But I do have a sense of being guided.

PR: What does it sound like when you get stuck?

K: Fuck. Shit. Don’t. Fuck. You dumb bitch—who ever told you that you could write? That’s what it sounds like.

Yesss-ma’aaam. That’s what it sounds like when I get stuck. And that’s what I need to do to get unstuck: Ask for direction. But how cool is it to see a hot-shit Author and Professor tell a big-time literary magazine like The Paris Review that she gets on her knees every day, multiple times a day, and asks “God” for help with her writing.

The other day I was stuck with those acid voices in my head, calling me Dumb Bitch, Fucking Dumb Bitch, and I was trying to pray the Third Step Prayer. And because I was raised a good-girl Catholic, I can pray out the wazoo, man. As my friend Jacques, who has 22 years sober and was raised Altar-Boy Catholic, says: “I can pray you under the table.” I can pray in my sleep. But I can’t mean any of it. Praying is like washing the dishes, like cleaning toilets, like driving: you get through it; you zone out while you’re doing it.

Another friend with 20 years said, “You can’t take away your own fear. God does that.” She said, “When I pray, I just put it all out there.”

So I put it all out there. I lay in bed crying the next morning and told God, I’m done with fear. Fucking done with fear. I Do Not Do Fear Anymore. If you want me to do your work, you Gotta Take Away The Fear. Also, you gotta tell me what the work is. I mean, “please.” And “thank you.”

And you know what? It works… if I bother to say the prayer.

How do you ask God for help?


  1. Mary Carr is just brilliant. I saw her interviewed recently and she’s so funny and cool and sober.

    I was raised Catholic –did the whole nine yards including Stations of the Cross — and am still haunted somewhat by THAT G-d. I readily converted to Judaism when I married my husband because the Jewish notion of G-d is more compassionate and loving and if I were to believe in G-d, it was going to be a nice one.

    My prayers now are more like conversations with a Power Greater Than Myself. I ask for guidance and direction and the willingness to DO the next right thing — which usually entails walking through the fear. Fear has kept me stuck in my life and I’m just tired of letting it stop me from being the best channah I can be.

    Love your blog, G. Don’t have much time these days to read, but you’re bookmarked so I can get back here when things settle down.

  2. I’m reading “Lit” right now. Mary Karr is a brilliant author – and, her memoir is especially relevant right now. I have a lot of trouble praying to and acknowledging a traditional “god”. And so does my recovering heroin addict daughter. However, I’ve witnessed a total transformation in her since she has been in treatment and has embraced the 12 step recovery program. And so, I’m willing to give it a try myself. Yes, I hope that there is some kind of higher power to help me through life and share the burden of my fears, sorrows, anxieties, etc. But I bristle at the ‘Our Father’ prayer at most Al-Anon meetings. Who says that the ‘higher power’ is a Christian god? And the ‘Our Father” prayer is definitely a Christian prayer. Yet – because of my daughter’s willingness to attribute her sobriety to a ‘god thing’, I’m also willing to give ‘it’ a try – and pray to ‘god’, and thank her, and express my gratitude, and ask for guidance.

  3. This post was a good reference to read tonight. I woke up for years to horrible self talk,
    First thing in the morning it was like a bad alarm clock
    It is important to know I am not alone.
    These days I hear “you fucked up” less, learning to love myself and having compassion where I am in life is freeing me. Meditation has also assisted me in going into the dark cave and watching without attaching.
    Thanks for your shares

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