Book Review: “Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction and Redemption”

Book Review: “Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction and Redemption“, by Annetta Sanow Sutton

Grade:  B-

Review:  Wonderful, Tragic, Disappointing

books____by_krzysztofwojtczakOne can imagine my excitement when I discovered this book Catholic Alcoholic by Annetta Sanow Sutton published just last year (2012)by Beaver’s Pond Press.  The book has the same name as my blog. I purchased it immediately on my Nook and couldn’t wait to dive into it.  After the boys were in bed last night, I read for 3 ½ hours straight and finished the book.

I decided to write a review of the book here and have had lots of thoughts over the last twelve hours about what I read.  I prayed God would guide me in my review because it’s always best when He guides my thinking and my writing.  His guidance unfortunately won’t make my review perfect or holy or truth—but His guidance will no doubt temper some of my shortcomings and presumptions.

Here goes:

WONDERFUL

  • A wonderful memoir of Sutton’s life, beautifully written, touchingly told family stories of growing up influenced by alcoholism and Catholicism in North Dakota
  • The stories of her mother, father and sisters were told with so much detail and memory, which made me feel a kinship with and a closeness to her “characters” and to her!
  • She loves her Catholic faith as I do; and this is evident in her writing and in her life story—it takes courage in today’s political and cultural climate to “love” being Catholic, and I appreciate and wholeheartedly commend Sutton for that
  • The author is a strong woman, an absolutely amazing mother/sister/daughter/friend/Catholic.  She has come through so many trials and relied on her faith in God to carry her through life.  I admire and “love” her so much just by knowing her story.
  • The author is incredibly qualified and knowledgable about the Catholic faith and about 12 Step Recovery, which are two of my five most favorite topics. Certainly, she is way more qualified and educated than I in these matters!

TRAGIC

  • So many people in her life died tragic, horrible deaths. Her grandfather was killed when he was hit by a train, his legs severed.  Her father died of a heart attack when she was little. Her grandmother died from an infection during childbirth. Her sister died from the same infection two generations later contracted during childbirth.  Her other sister was killed, hit by a drunk driver at age 21.  Her brother died too young, from alcoholism. Much of the story was taken up by these deaths, their eulogies and the impact these deaths had on her life and understanding of her faith and alcoholism. Absolutely moved me to tears.
  • Sutton was married to an abusive alcoholic and after the divorce she struggled to raise their five children alone.  This must have been so difficult but it seems she rose to the challenge beautifully and gracefully. Her children are grown and their lives lovely!
  • She was raped.  An absolutely awful turn of events in this author’s life and in her book was the description of her rape, her attacker, the trial and conviction afterwards, and her almost immediate forgiveness.
  • One of the most tragic themes in the book was her relationship with her mother.  Her mother seemed to disapprove of Sutton her whole life — not necessarily of her actions but of her dignity as a person, it seemed to me. The author’s mother-daughter relationship was strained and painful. I found this especially heartbreaking; and it brought me to tears.  Tragic.

DISAPPOINTING

  • The author is not an alcoholic. The title of the book is a little misleading IMHO. This disappointed me because I was hoping to relate to her journey and hoped I would find strength and hope for my own Catholic sobriety.  Like me, she is a big supporter of the 12 Steps—she works now as a spiritual advisor for Hazeldon which is the top 12 Step recovery organization in the world. Her 12 Step creds are impeccable.  But still, reading her write, “My name is Annetta and I’m a ‘family-member’ (Al-anon Member) just isn’t the same as if she was an actual alcoholic herself.  I highly recommend this book to Al-Anon people, though!
  • Sutton misunderstands the purpose of Vatican II which is very common for women of her generation (baby boomers who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s).  Some Catholics longed for Vatican II to be about the sexual revolution, when it clearly was not.  Still, these Catholics hope to change the Church “from within.”  When I read their words (a good example of this type of Catholic is Caroline Kennedy, as well as the editors of National Catholic Reporter)—when I read their words I sometimes cringe, “Get behind me Satan!”  Certainly they’re not Satan. That’s not what I mean.  But I just want to run away before they corrupt me into their way of thinking—the moral relativism that is so pervasive in the world and in the Church today.  Their way of thinking is so enticing.
  • The author makes the mistake that unfortunately many politically liberal-leaning Catholics make—in order to deflect their opposition to the Church’s Catholic moral teaching they instead put a wedge between fellow Catholics by being hyper-focused on Catholic social teaching.  The implication is that we who faithfully believe the Church’s moral teachings don’t care about Catholic social teaching, social justice, helping the poor and disadvantaged in our worlds. It seems obvious to me we all agree we need to serve the poor. The dispute lies in whether the government should implement this through higher taxes and government programs. The government can’t provide programs with love and through Christ. The Church can.
  • It seems to the author the Church is at best loving and accepting and at worst homophobic, anti-women and sexually repressive.  I don’t get her perspective; but unfortunately many believe this to be true, which is sad. I suppose since the Church teaches the sanctity of marriage between and man and woman that causes some to see homophobia?  And because the Church fights cultural abortion attitudes and won’t “let” women be priests or “let” priests marry some see the church as anti-women?  I’m not usually surprised by these views, which are common. But it saddens me when people within the Church hold these views.  But it is what it is.

I almost stopped reading when on the first page of the book she stated she was not an alcoholic.  But then she stated she loved alcoholics so I kept reading. And, my experience with the Church is somewhat different than hers.  Sure I love the same things she loves.  But when I have had my disappointment with individual priests or members of the Church I don’t question the authority and absolute moral truths of the whole Church. I just see the humanity and sin in her individual members.

Anyways, writing these things disturbs me. I really adore the author and at the same time have fundamental differences of opinion with her on crucial matters of our common faith. I didn’t mean to focus so much here on our differences but I guess that’s the way things go.

I don’t hope to “change the Church from within.”  I look to the Church to change ME from within

One of the many good things about the book for me and my journey/enlightenment is that before reading this book I confess I was ignorant that pro-choice people could actually also be devout, practicing Catholics.  The author is NO DOUBT a devout, practicing Catholic who loves our common faith.  Her book has opened my eyes to look with love on the misguided ones who seek to change the Church to make everyone feel good. Their motives are indeed pure even if their understanding of Catholic theology on some matters of faith is mistaken.

That’s all for today—so many deep thoughts! LOL

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: “Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction and Redemption”

    • thank you! i really enjoyed the book and fell in love with the author. i hoped i didn’t come across as mean-spirited. such a delicate issue within our beloved Church. i suppose this “debate” has been going on since the beginning of time. thanks for reading such a loooooooong post 🙂

  1. Darn~ I was sucked in by the title too…thought I’d finally found sobriety from a catholic perspective. I’m not an alcoholic either, but sure have walked thru hell with a few. Wish there was a catholic based rehab center. Until then, I guess we just gotta be there as well as we can

  2. Thank you for your riveting review. I am in awe. Again, thank you.
    I did want to clarify the title, which is explained in the introduction, p.5, you may have missed it. While working as a diocesan director, the titled came from the writing of the two words during an intervention . If you write the two words over one another, Catholic and Alcoholic with one exception, contain the same letters. The exception is the “t” which is the premise of the entire book. The cross. Everyone has Good Fridays in their life. However, as Christians, as Catholics, we believe-that is only half of the story. Easter Sunday follows, if we see with different eyes, the eyes of faith. Within the disease of alcoholism everyone is impacted-from the alcoholic to everyone that loves them. the church, the community. However, through recovery, we experience Easter Sunday-resurrection.
    Again, thank you for your review. I deeply appreciate it.
    Also, Catholic based rehab happens at every 12 Step based treatment center. When one reads the AA history, the seven Sacraments and the seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching are all present.
    Peace.
    Annetta Sanow Sutton

    • Yay! I’m so happy you found my review!!!! I remember reading that about the two words having the same letters in your book. I had never noticed that before and it’s so funny/crazy that is the case! So many Catholic alcoholics out there! It was a wonderful book. It drew me in and took me on your life journey. Your an excellent writer. I was at a meeting this morning—the first one I’ve been to in three weeks because I am stuck at home with a herniated disc. Anyways, it was a great meeting about the spirituality of AA. I always had that personal connection but what AA has given me is the community/fellowship connection with God. I might not be explaining it well. Anyways, sooooo happy you stopped by. I’m in awe of your career and your service to the Church and your life story. XO

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