The Glories of Recovery
Alcoholism may be one of humanity’s oldest addictions.
Wine and other intoxicating beverages—along with their potential to cause problems—have been with us since the development of agriculture.
In the Book of Genesis, Noah—a good farmer—planted a vineyard. And, after harvesting grapes, he promptly “drank some of the wine, became drunk, and lay naked inside his tent” (Genesis 9:21). There is no scriptural record of Noah’s wine drinking becoming problematic. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that alcohol’s use has been accompanied by its abuse from the beginning of human civilization.
The Glorification of Alcohol and the Tragedy of Addiction
Alcohol abuse has been glorified in popular culture for a long time. Heavy drinking has been depicted as a sign of manhood, especially if you can “hold it.” Books, movies, and TV shows have always been flooded with tough-guy characters who drink a lot. And broken-down women who can or can’t hold their liquor. Drunkards are also common comedic characters. Skits by Red Skelton and Foster Brooks come to mind, as do the Arthur films.
Yet for millions, drinking is no laughing matter. For such people, boozing is tragic. Lives are lost, home life is ripped apart, jobs and careers vanish. The variety of horrors resulting from uncontrolled drinking is longer than all the fancy lists you can find of cocktails, wines, and beers.
Alcoholism can strike anyone. It ignores age, race, sex, gender, nationality, religion, or any other label we can place on people. Origins and causes remain speculative. Compelling evidence supports either “nature” or “nurture,” meaning genetic and hereditary sources or familial upbringing could be the origin, or some combination. My Liguorian article isn’t concerned with why addiction happens. But because I am sure you, our reader, either is an addict or knows someone who is, this article hopes to address the question, “Now what?” I think I can help.
The Essential Role of our Faith in Recovery
We are Catholics, and as such we follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We know he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thus I can assure you there is a Way, using his Truth, to recover the Life he holds out for us.
According to the old Baltimore Catechism, we are put on this earth to love and serve God in this life so we can be happy with him forever in the next. God is our first beginning and our last end. Life is what happens in between. And because of Original Sin, we suffer from concupiscence, which disturbs that life. Our tendency toward sin has many degrees, from venial sins—which damage our relationship with God and others—to mortal sins—which cause severe harm, including destroying a life of grace in the soul.
Somewhere in the mix of any life, addiction can fall. For an addict, at some point the normal use of a drink or a drug becomes abusive—crossing a line that’s different for every soul—and becoming a disease. Addiction is when the need for the substance becomes compulsive and causes spiritual, mental, and physical harm to the user.
Catholic spiritual writers for centuries have referred to addiction as an “inordinate attraction.” In a world that’s wounded by sin and fear, in which people are marginalized by impersonal and uncaring governments and businesses, where multitudes of messages bombard people through media venues that cause some to doubt themselves and make them feel less than others, it is no surprise that folks seek an escape. Drinking enables people to build a fantasy: a unique perception about themselves that is vastly superior to a reality in which they lack the control they desire.
Which brings us here.
The Sin and False Reality of Addiction
The title of this article is a purposeful homage to the classic text on the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary. While by no means equating this work with that of the saint, it is intended to convey what our ultimate goal should be: arriving at our true home, heaven, and basking in the glory of God and in being glorified ourselves.
We are made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore our souls reflect his image. Tragically, this image is distorted and clouded daily by sin, sometimes to the point of completely obscuring it. Addictions in and of themselves are sinful in that individual wills are corrupted, with the consequences that things are done that ought not to occur.
Through addiction, people enter a false reality, their self-esteem and ego soar on wings like eagles, hurts are avenged, losses and missed opportunities are reimagined into victories, grievances are settled and—in short—they feel “healed.” Of course, the “healing” is as fake as the reality. The “healing” feeling will persist as long as the addict can function in his or her addiction. But at some point, the feeling will come crashing down, and life will become a wreck that the addict created and which desperately needs salvaging.
Recovery: The Path to a Fulfilling Life
Works of mercy, typically called “recovery,” are in place to assist people in addressing their addiction. Recovery helps people overcome addiction, rebuild lives, repair relationships with people and particularly with God so that when life comes to its end and we meet Jesus—our Just and Merciful Judge—we can hear his anticipated words, “Welcome my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Father.”
Recovery is redemptive. What was lost is recovered. It may be different from what might have been had alcohol or drugs not become destructive. Nevertheless, in recovery, a life that is now responsible and rightly ordered can be achieved.
To those who have a loved one in the vice of addiction, the most important thing you can do is pray fervently for that person until she or he reaches out in need. People generally do not begin recovery until they want it. Those who truly want to do the work necessary to recover will reach a point where they realize that if they continue drinking they will die, whereas if they stop drinking they may only want to die.
If addicts choose the hard work of recovery, they will eventually choose life, and you can hope to be present when they do. That is important: be present to them. At the moment they no longer want to live the way they are living, in their broken and wounded spirit, they will not know what to do beyond not wanting to drink anymore.
If you wish to be informed about addiction, how to respond to it, and what recovery from it looks like, resources are available in your community and online. Your local yellow pages book or online can point them out to you. The information you find will help you minister to your loved one’s needs. Immerse yourself in prayer and beseech the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you. Insight into where to go may come from any source. Listen and be open to inspiration. Humility is also essential, as your loved one may resist your help and seek it elsewhere, perhaps even in recovery organizations. It is often believed—and in my opinion it’s often true—that only another addict can help an addict. Addicts in recovery have credibility from living through and recovering on a daily basis from the problem.
If you have an addiction and are seeking help, there are numerous recovery groups available, from Step organizations and those using other recovery methods. Make use of them. They comprise individuals who have been where you are now, they have suffered through it and now have a life that no longer wants the crutches of the drink or the drug. If you fear how difficult it might be to live a life clean and sober, they will teach you.
Recovery programs are like the practice fields athletes use before going out onto the actual field of play. On the recovery field you will learn the life skills you need and how to keep from returning to the addictive drug or drink of choice to cope.
Help from Fellow Catholics and Other Like-minded People
The Calix Society is a prime Catholic organization offering assistance to alcoholics. “The society is an association of Catholic alcoholics who are maintaining their sobriety through affiliation with and participation in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous,” says a line from calixsociety.org.
While Alcoholics Anonymous is not a Catholic organization, its early history reveals the influence of Catholics. AA’s Twelve Steps were developed with the assistance of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Ed Dowling of St. Louis. The steps are closely related to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in their exposition of faults, the amendment of life, and growing closer to God.
Sr. Ignatia, who worked with AA co-founder “Dr. Bob” in his hospital, awarded Sacred Heart badges to alcoholics who successfully left treatment. This initiated the tradition in AA groups of giving monthly and annual chips or medallions to people after periods of self-proclaimed sobriety.
My blog, “Sober Catholic” (found on sobercatholic.com) contains links to many useful resources for anyone who is looking to apply their Catholic faith in seeking assistance for addictions. It has been online since January 2007, and I have endeavored to maintain links to useful resources on it. I believe Jesus, the Divine Physician, established the Catholic Church and its resources, including the liturgical and sacramental life, ministries, and lay apostolates. Our Church, in my view, therefore can be an effective partner for the alcoholic and addict in staying clean and sober. I am not a certified recovery specialist, just a sober guy with a blog. But my application of my Catholic faith has been primarily responsible for keeping me sober for many years. I have published two devotional booklets, The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts, and The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics (for information and to order, see sobercatholic.com). The former carries the reader through all twenty mysteries of the rosary with reflections on each one and how they relate to the alcoholic. The latter does the same with the Stations of the Cross. The reader goes on a healing journey as the old person is cast off and the new person emerges.
The Catholic faith, with its rich traditions of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, can assist with sobriety. Perhaps not completely on its own. Sometimes the sick need resources that deal specifically with an illness. In that regard, you or your loved ones should make responsible use of qualified professionals, from clinical recovery specialists to treatment centers or therapists. But there is an inexhaustible fount of graces and healing flowing from our Church. With those, the glories of sobriety—for your loved one or you if you suffer with addiction—are within reach.