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Overcoming Shadows

Interview with Grace Reed

headshot of Grace Growing Medicine Eagle Reed
Grace Growing Medicine Eagle Reed, artist, poet, healer, addiction counselor, mediator, KBOO broadcaster and author of Negotiating Shadows.

Grace’s story is very raw and very real. She doesn’t pull punches. And yet, she has a heart as big as a house. If the rest of us could manifest even a fraction of her spirit, this would be a very different world indeed. The day I interviewed her, she was celebrating 36 years of sobriety. That accomplishment alone speaks volumes. Grace is an Oxford-published author, a poet, an artist, a traditional healer, an addiction counselor, a radio broadcaster and a conflict resolution mediator. Here is her story…


I was born into United States poverty, to two parents who were coming out of the Depression and were also born into poverty. My dad made it to the eighth grade. My mother was a licensed practical nurse, so she was well-educated as a woman. My dad was a brilliant. He was off-the-chart intelligent. For a six pack of beer, he would go and wire a house. He would fix people’s automobiles. He was an alcoholic. And people took horrible advantage of this man. When you’re in poverty, you’re in poverty. It’s a sickness in this country. In those days, right after the Depression, you could see why people were in poverty. But as the country started to heal, why do we still have poverty? So that’s why my work is about working with the great unwashed, the homeless, the addicts, the alcoholics. I know these people very well, because I was one of them. I was homeless. I was poverty-stricken.

In the 1930’s and 40’s when a woman married a man, she had to quit her job. So my mother gave up nursing to be with my alcoholic, charming, wonderful father. But he could never make a living. My parents, in the end, couldn’t support us.

Eventually, I was thrust into the foster care system in the United States in the early 40’s and 50’s. This was not a good thing. I was abused, mentally and physically. Not sexually, but physically. I was pushed down a flight of stairs when I was a little kid. It almost broke my back, which is why I’m handicapped today.

So I did not have a good start in life. As a result, I also turned to drugs and alcohol. I hated God. I hated people. I hated everything and everybody. I was a rage-aholic.

It’s a very insidious thing, alcoholism. I call it a phenomenon. I don’t even call it a disease anymore. It’s a phenomenon. Because there’s two parts to it: First there’s the allergy to the substance, in this case alcohol. If you were allergic to strawberries and you picked a strawberry and put it in your mouth and broke out in hives, you’d think you wouldn’t want to eat another strawberry again, right? Not so with alcoholics. That is the mystery to many people who don’t have any idea what the heck this is about. The second part to being addicted, especially to alcohol and drugs, is the obsession of the mind. There’s an obsessive mindset that psychiatrists can’t cure. Because it’s actually brain damage. The brain is damaged horribly as the addiction takes over.

Alcohol and drugs keep you in a zone, a spiritual zone. And that’s the cunning, baffling and powerful part of this thing. It makes you think you’re okay and then all of a sudden it just drops you like a rock. And when I dropped, I dropped to the deep end of the dark pool.

There I was sitting at my table in Van Nuys, CA. My husband was on a job—he was a flyboy for Federal Aviation. My daughter was on a high school field trip. I was alone. I got one of my husband’s guns, loaded the clip and put the gun on the table. I got a bottle of Wild Turkey and a shot glass. I made a contract with myself that I was going to drink that bottle of Wild Turkey and then end it all. Just as dawn broke, I finished the bottle, picked up the gun and slapped the clip up into the gun. I put the gun to my right temple and… pulled the trigger. It was just 1-2-3. There was no thought. There was no “Oh my God, what am I going to do? Oh should I call somebody?” Nothing. I was just… there: “To hell with this life. To hell with this world. To hell with the suffering. To hell with God. To hell with everything.” You can’t get to a darker spot than that. And that’s why I can work with alcoholics and addicts—because I know that dark spot. I survived it. I came back from that.

So what happened? I was just too drunk and too stoned to load the gun correctly. But the miracle happened after I passed out and came to…

My neighbor knew I was an alcoholic. She’d somehow got an Alcoholics Anonymous hotline number into the hands of my daughter, who put it near the phone in the kitchen. In big orange letters, it said: “If you’re suicidal and in trouble, call the AA hotline in Van Nuys, CA.”

When I came out of that blackout, I saw the gun and I knew what had happened. All I had to do was take the gun, load it correctly, blow my head off and that would have been that. But a turn of my head saved my life. As I turned, I saw that big orange thing by the phone. Curious, I went over and called the hotline. I still didn’t care. I was still gonna kill myself. But I went and I called the AA hotline and said, “Well, if you can get yourselves over here in 10 minutes, you may save my life. But I think I’m just gonna blow my head off.” Within five minutes, they had two women on my doorstep.

These women came to my door and distracted me. Then, and only then, did I realize, “Ooh…” They took me to my first AA meeting. Of course I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything. Except GOD in big gold letters. I thought, “Damn, this is a religion!” I hated God and religion. I thought I was screwed and the only way out was to go home and finish the job. But these two women stayed with me for the night and took me to another meeting the next morning. It did not take long to see that this AA was not a religion. It was a sanctuary for drunks like me. I was assigned a sponsor, Buddha Patty, and went on to start my AA journey of sobriety.

The first step of AA is to admit you are powerless. You’re insane. And you need a power greater than yourself. So it’s all about crawling out of self and getting into service to others. But it’s a long drawn out process and you have to do it with other people when you are truly an addict. You’ve got to have other people around you on a constant basis. To help you with the obsession of the mind.

After I’d been sober for two years, I learned about the Baha’i Faith. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I already had a Higher Power I could do business with—the Great Mystery Power. As a Native American… I’m not Native… I’m a native, so are you, but I have Native background and I was also adopted into a tribe or two, so I follow a Native path. For me, the Great Mystery Power is what I connect with on a daily basis.

So I when I heard about Baha’i, I thought, “Good for you! I’m so glad that works for you.” There’s Quakers and there’s Unitarians, there’s Jewish people and Muslim people and now Baha’i. And I dismissed it.

But then I had a vision. I had a waking vision, which is in my book, Negotiating Shadows. This white-robed Being, with no face, came and hovered over me. Natives have these experiences all the time. I still have these kinds of experiences. It doesn’t scare us. Because we’re, in fact, told to expect them.

So I saw this white-robed Being. Then his long, bony finger touched my heart and I realized, “I have to pay attention to this.” But I didn’t know who it was. So I called my friend, Renee Passarol. Renee is Cherokee (actually she’s TsaLaGi’—we don’t call ourselves Cherokee) and often shared Baha’i prayers in the sweat lodge (a Native spiritual tradition). I called her and said, “I think a Sufi master touched me. What do you think?” And I described this Being in his robes and white turban. She started laughing and said, “Come on over.” So I went up to her house and she showed me a picture of ‘Abdu’l-Baha (son of Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha’i Faith) and I said, “Oh! That’s him!” And she said, “I think you need to be a Baha’i.” So that’s when I became a Baha’i. I call ‘Abdul-Baha “Grandfather.” And I ask Grandfather for everything. I don’t get everything. But I ask.

What I found in AA, was a spiritual awakening as a result of those 12 steps. What I found as a Baha’i, was the same spiritual experience on a higher level: getting in touch with the fact that I’m a spiritual being already. That’s my purpose. That’s my birthright. I’m a spiritual being who has taken on human form.

What is Prosperity?

On paper, I look pathetic. I’m a handicapped old lady in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis. I have about $850 a month coming in, if I’m lucky. Corporate America keeps raising the rent on my apartment. If they raise the rent high enough, I have no place else to go. So I could end up on the street.

But… I’m a world-published author. I’m a poet. My spirit books are about stress management and lifting your spirits. I’m a… I don’t even know who I am on many levels, but I’m a pretty happening old broad. All I really want to get across is that you don’t need a lot of money to be prosperous. In fact, I’ve seen people with a lot of money tricked into thinking they are prosperous.

Prosperity has nothing to do with money, because it comes and it goes. When I married Rick, the big old shit-kicking cowboy who lost his life to Budweiser, he was a flyboy for Federal Aviation and we made a lot of money. I was a model and I made a tremendous amount of money. But all that money didn’t do anything to save our lives. We were just in that vortex of “money’s gonna fix it.” In fact, when I had a lot of money, there was no incentive to get up and go out and help anybody. Who needs God when you have a Mercedes?

So I had a tremendous amount of money at one time and then, of course, I lost it all. Later, I had money again. I lost it all then too.

Money is an energy. It’s a tool through which you can make other people’s lives more wonderful. I do a lot of stuff to make sure that there’s some kind of restorative justice for all these people who are being marginalized and oppressed.  I am one of those people being oppressed. I’m an elder being oppressed, as we speak, by corporate America. However, it’s not something that I attach my mind to. It is what it is.

So how come I’m living downtown in back of the Art Museum in a fabulous apartment with corporate America trying to make me homeless? How come that’s working? Because every day, I go to the Source of true prosperity—the Great Mystery Power. I lean in on spirit. That’s all I do. I just lean in on spirit.

There are a set of promises in AA and it says “You will be happy, joyous and free. You will not regret the past. You will not wish to shut the door on it. You will not be afraid of economic insecurity. You will know a new freedom and a new happiness.” All of that, every bit of it, is coming true and has come true for years and years and years—36 years now.

Now the batteries are dying on my scooter—that’s $200 a crack. Where am I going to come up with that money? Well I’ve put it on my credit cards. But it’s amazing. When I have a need. A real need. Not my wants, but my needs. Always, always, always it never fails—the money comes from out of the sky.

I was at a meeting a couple years ago and the batteries on my scooter were dying then too. This beautiful man, Bill S., came up to me at Christmas time and gave me a card. And he said, “Now don’t throw that in a pile. That’s a very special card.” So I opened it up and there was $400 cash to buy new batteries. That’s how it works. Bill gets it. Bill and his wife get it. They have money and they’re constantly making sure they give it, they put it out there. And, as a result, they get it back.

Most Valuable Lesson

If I was given a spiritual awakening as a result of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and then having been turned into being a Baha’i with all these uplifting teachings… If I’m a spiritually awake being, then I have a responsibility to go out and touch those folks—and that would be all my neighbors here, I start with my neighbors—and be kind and be loving and be of service.

So I’m just grateful… I remain grateful and I remain awake. It’s a big responsibility. You have to do it on a daily basis. We’re told to pray on a daily basis, because renewing that contract with the Great Unknown is important.

But it’s not easy. Because selfishness robs prosperity. Selfishness. And by the way, it’s okay. Because we’re hardwired for darkness and for light. Think about it. All my darkness was also willed by God. What darkness does for me and did for me, particularly when I was really dark, was it motivates me to go to the light. Because there’s no place else to go. You get bored with the darkness, so you gotta go to the light, right? We’re hardwired to be dark and we’re hardwired to be light. That’s our dual nature: our lower nature and our higher nature. And I choose on a daily basis where I want to play. It’s my responsibility to have dignity and respect for myself and my fellow suffering travelers and to take my big, bad self out into the world and do something.

“You think of yourselves as humans, searching for a spiritual awakening. When in fact, you are spiritual beings attempting to cope with a human awakening. Seeing yourselves from that perspective of the spirit within, will help you remember why you came here and what you came here to do.” ~ The Group

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