The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 7

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

SOBRIETY BIRTHDAYS

Alcoholics with a sense of humor have observed that congratulating an alcoholic for staying sober “is like congratulating a hobo for not jumping from a moving train.” Even so, A.A. members celebrate the anniversary of their last drink: such a commemoration is an act of gratitude for the blessing of sobriety, and a testimony to the newcomer that they too can live without drinking.

At A.A. conventions-large gatherings of alcoholics-it is customary to conduct Sobriety Countdowns: the audience stands, and as the chairman counts off the increasing years of sobriety participants take their seats and clap and cheer until only the alcoholic with the most years of sobriety is left standing. By the end, the event has become something like a sporting event pep rally.

HOW IT WORKS

A.A. emphasizes a remedy to alcoholism based on the “moral and spiritual regeneration” of its members. Reduced to a simple formula, the A.A. approach looks like this:

Problem: the alcoholic lacks the personal power to control his drinking.

Solution: there is an external source of power that can remedy the problem.

Action: the Steps provide a means for tapping into that power.

One assumption in A.A. is that “two people with the same wound by telling their stories can heal each other.”10 Alcoholism nearly always leaves a man feeling isolated and hopeless. By listening to the story of a kindred suffering spirit, an alcoholic’s sense of “terminal uniqueness” is sufficiently

diminished for him to take actions he does not yet believe in-i.e., the Twelve Steps.

Here is one account of this identification between alcoholics:

It seemed to Tom that he felt a (new) sense of assurance …He didn’t feel alone now; and he didn’t feel altogether  helpless.   His   attention reverted to the newcomer just a few feet away from him, and the thought struck deep into his mind: this man was as Tom K. had been only a few hours ago…. That thought had meaning: it meant that Tom was now different than he had been. He did not feel superior to his companion but he experienced a feeling of maturity and of quiet strength. Something had happened to him, something that made for a changed outlook. Then Tom surprised himself. He said very quietly, “Tell me about yourself.”11

What does it take for an irritable, restless, and discontent alcoholic to forget the turmoil inside his own head and reach out to help another suffering alcoholic? What brings him to the point of finally being willing to, in the words of A.A. members, “trust God, clean house, and help others”? Bill Wilson said it was “deflation (of ego) at depth, and more of it.”12 An alcoholic who has reached a personal low, and is willing to go to any lengths to relieve his suffering, will be willing to attempt the way of life described in the Twelve Steps.

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