The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 6

I’ve divided this out into 16 parts in order to keep each post to a reasonable length and allow me to really think about each part.

Traditional Catholic and Twelve Step Programs
by Sean Romer
as written for the Angelus magazine, September 2002

THE SPEAKER’S TALK

After being introduced, the speaker tells his A.A. story. This practice of sharing one’s “experience, strength, and hope” has its roots in the shared confessions made at the early Oxford Group meetings (discussed later), and also carries shades of a tent-revival testimony. In A.A. parlance, the speaker describes “what I was like, what happened, what I am like today.” He typically mentions his sobriety date, when he took his first drink (most alcoholics have an uncanny ability to remember this event), and his experiences working the Twelve Steps.

The purpose of the story is to edify listeners by encouraging them in efforts to practice the A.A. program and so stay sober. It really is astonishing to listen to former skid-row alcoholics who once lived in cardboard boxes beneath bridges describe how they overcame their alcoholism, patched up matters with their families, repaid debts, returned to church, became responsible citizens, and then turned their attention to helping the next alcoholic.

Frank descriptions of the life of an alcoholic are not for weak stomachs, however. Non-alcoholics are routinely shocked to listen to alcoholics laughingly recount tales of family quarrels, run-ins with police, criminal activity, immorality, divorce, jail time, and a host of other nightmarish activities frequently punctuated with winks and nods and foul language. Just as astonishing is when other alcoholics laugh at these accounts, which are sometimes jokingly called “drunkalogues.” One is well-advised to remember that the alcoholic is telling a story that other alcoholics can identify with; this shared experience, humor, and esprit de corps creates a common emotional and psychological bond that helps alcoholics overcome feelings of isolation and difference, and so take the daunting actions prescribed in the Twelve Steps.

Even so, practicing Catholics will be scandalized by some of what is said in meetings. This author recalls a Catholic woman who described getting a tattoo to remind her of the son she had aborted when her husband left her; almost as shocking was the subsequent congratulations the speaker received from the audience for successfully overcoming her difficulties. Catholics, of course, can in no way give the impression they condone such activity. It is not rare (but not sufficiently common, either) for audience members to leave meetings when they take exception to a speaker’s comments.

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