Searching for spirituality in early sobriety can seem daunting, but will liberate you in ways that may surprise you.

When I was 13, I was kicked out of school for drinking and stealing. I grew up in a small town, and my shame was soon widely known. An aunt warned me, “If you’re not careful, you’ll end up the black sheep of the family.”

I wasn’t careful. I became the black sheep, the designated patient, the one everyone worried about. Some people keep their addictions well hidden; mine were out in the open. It was impossible to hide the arrests, the hospitalizations, the disgrace.

It wasn’t just my family who called me the “black sheep.” I believed wholeheartedly that I was. I believed that there was nothing I couldn’t ruin, no one I couldn’t disappoint. I had tried religion, but figured that having God in my life gave me one more person to let down.

Early in sobriety, at coffee with other alcoholics, I broke a glass of diet soda, splashing my friends and sending shards everywhere. “I’m such a screw-up,” I said, after apologizing. “Can’t do anything right.”

A friend challenged me. “You can’t stay sober and hate yourself, man. In the end, you’re perfect and you’re innocent.” The others at the table nodded.

The words haunted me that night. I hadn’t thought of myself as good or innocent since I was a boy. Maybe not even then. For the first time in sobriety, I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I got on my knees for the first time in years. My first prayer was a strange one: “I don’t know if you’re real or not, or even what you are. But I’m hoping that you love me. I’m hoping I’m good in your eyes.”

I couldn’t do the third step—turn my will and my life over to a God as I understood God—without believing that God saw me as more than a black sheep. As long as I believed I was intrinsically bad, I couldn’t ever be anything more than an addict. The shift that needed to happen was to see, as I heard in program, that I was a “sick person trying to get well” and not a “bad person trying to get good.”

We are not the sum of our mistakes. We are not bad, and perhaps never were. And if you’re struggling with what to pray for, maybe start by asking to see yourself as the innocent you are.