Getting Down on My Knees

jesus-mary-magdaleneI get emails from people who wonder if it’s possible to be a practicing Catholic and a full-participant and “member” of AA. To them, I emphatically say, “Heck yeah it is!” One of my FAVORITE practices (traditions) in AA stems from Step 11, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”

“As we (individually) understand God…”
This gives me the freedom to use the tools and the fellowship in AA to help me stay sober each day, without compromising any of my own Catholic beliefs.

Most people in meetings truly live this practice—most evident when we “share.” Sharing in a meeting is when someone takes three to five minutes to talk about their own experience with a certain topic or subject. In sharing their experience, strength and hope with others, it helps us each see how we too can get through life’s circumstances without drinking.

Phrases like these included in our shares really help:  “for me, what I do, what’s worked for me, what I find helpful, I can’t speak for anybody else but for me I….”

Sharing like this is an important, unwritten rule (tradition) passed down from the 75 years of alcoholics meeting and sharing with one another.  Never give advice. Never tell someone what they “should” do. Never “judge” another’s way of relating to God. Love and tolerance is our code, we say.

If you’re like me, you hear the word “tolerance” and immediately cringe – uh oh. Tolerance. That’s what is preached politically to mean anything goes, and I can live my life however I want. You must accept it. Change all the laws to accommodate my way of living. There is no moral law. Everything is relative.

This is NOT at all what is meant in this AA practice of only speaking for oneself, in my opinion (ha! See? “in my opinion lol).

God gave me and you free will, so He must think it wise to “allow” us to choose His will or not. He “allows” us to be wrong. He “allows” us to follow the wrong paths, sin, even spend years looking everywhere but to Him for our solutions. I’d say God is pretty tolerant in this regard. He is constantly drawing us to the Truth, but He doesn’t punish us, turn his back on us, strike us down or judge us too harshly for getting off track. He is there when we finally come home to Him, our Father. He is waiting with a fatted calf and a ring!

So, unlike the political understanding of “tolerance,” in AA we all have a God-like understanding of tolerance, which has nothing to do with whether abortion or gay marriage are legal. Each person has the right to be wrong. We trust each other to find our way because the program is built upon the premise that doing God’s will is our goal each day. God’s will for us first and foremost is SOBRIETY.  That we all agree on!  Without sobriety, people like us couldn’t possibly ascertain God’s will. It’s hard enough when we’re sober! So, as we help each other stay sober, we love each other unconditionally, which is the ONLY environment in which one can be safe to explore their character defects (sins) in front of others. We leave all political (and other) topics outside the doors.

And there is a rule we call, “No Crosstalk.” This means we do NOT comment on what the previous person just shared. We just share our own truth. We don’t even really acknowledge the other person’s share, which feels kind of odd at first. Even if that person was crying over something sad during their share, we don’t comment or coddle or speak sympathy or give advice. We keep going.  It’s really beautiful when practiced well.

If I shared my vulnerabilities then people gave me advice on how to “fix” it, I’d be so annoyed. I would never share if I thought I was going to get bombarded with advice from other people. Even though these “other people” have become my friends, I’m not looking for advice. Nobody pretends to be better than anyone else. Nobody knows what someone else “should” do.

Does this make sense? Sometimes I talk in circles, but I feel like this is important for people unfamiliar with AA to know. It’s OK to be Catholic – or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, even atheistic — in AA. Everybody has the right to be wrong.

I’ll try to think of an example of how I shared in a meeting, which shows how I can be Catholic and a participating member of AA.  Let me think of one…

OK, the other day the topic was “humility.” People shared about when they weren’t very humble and how they work on being humbler in our daily lives. Humility is the principal behind the 7th Step. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. A couple of people shared something passed down over the years in AA— the practice of GETTING ON OUR KNEES to pray.  The act of getting on our knees to pray is a recognition of humility before God. He is God and I am not.

So, when it was my turn to share, I said this:

“My name is ______,  and I’m an alcoholic. I love all the talk about the importance of “getting on my knees” in the morning and at night when I pray. It makes sense and I’m going to start doing this now! Funny, I’ve been doing this my whole life at Church — people even joke about Catholics standing up and kneeling and standing up and kneeling. And I’d never thought of “why” we kneel. But hearing others talk today about getting on their knees to pray makes me recognize that getting on my knees is an outward, physically expression of my inner humility. An outward sign of my inner love for God as my King. I’m not just “thinking” about humility. I’m physically humbling myself before God. Now I have a better understanding of why we did that so much at growing up. Thank you for letting me share.”

And that was that.  I sometimes work my Faith into my shares if my experience on a certain topic is better explained through the eyes of my Catholic faith. This is as the 11th Step instructs, “as I understand God.” And nobody feels threatened by me because I share it all from the perspective of what works for me, how I understand this topic. And then I actively listen when they share their own experience, strength and hope.

The person after me shared about being agnostic and not feeling comfortable about getting on their knees. The person after him shared about how adding this one practice of getting down on their knees first thing in the morning when she gets out of bed, makes all the difference in her day.  She puts her phone under their bed at night so she remembers to get down on her knees first thing when she wakes up (to retrieve her phone!) While she’s down there, she prays.

Nobody gives advice. If they did, I’d probably never go back. I certainly wouldn’t love it as much as I do. Everybody listens. Everybody is safe. Including me, a freakin’ practicing Catholic. I feel safe to fully live my Faith in AA. As long as I remember to speak only for me, no one else.

Scaredy Cat

scaredy-catIn meetings we talk about things that “real” people don’t usually talk about. Sometimes I have to redefine words used a lot in the 12 Step program because my definition doesn’t fit. In order to fully grasp the message of the meeting, I need to see some words from a different perspective.

One of those words is, “Fear.” Fear with a capital “F.”  In the AA text book, we are told Fear is pervasive and runs throughout all aspects of an alcoholic’s life.  That was difficult for me to grasp at first because to me Fear was what happens when I find out my brother’s snake is loose in our house or when seeing a scorpion in my bathroom.

The Fear we talk about in meetings is subtler. It’s in our minds. It’s future-based. And, it’s more than mere “worry.”

The founders of AA felt so strongly about Fear that they even made it its own category/column in the 4th Step.  We inventory not only our resentments but also our Fear. If we don’t “conquer Fear” we may drink again to escape it.  I’m on the 4th Step again right now, so this topic (at yesterday’s meeting) was really pertinent for me.

There are some acronyms—AA loves acronyms, I guess because we aren’t smart enough to remember things without them.

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real
FEAR = Face Everything And Recover

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s good when we come across a bear in the woods and we need to act.  But our minds trick us into thinking emotional stuff is like a big bear in our heads.  Do we fight or flight?  When I am walking into a room with people I know don’t like me/are judging me, my brain creates this huge black bear that I am supposed to be afraid of.  Do I fight it or escape?

Escape. All my life I’ve chosen escape in the face of Fear. Drink. Liquid courage. And then walk into the room. No Fear. Now that I’m sober (again) the Fear is back and I’m having to deal with it head on. I’m told to “walk through the Fear.” I do that, but not very well. I tippy toe around it hoping it won’t see me. I make a lot of crazy noise hoping it won’t attack me. I fall into self-pity, hoping it will feel sorry for me and walk away to find another target. But in the end, as long as I don’t drink, I eventually HAVE to face and feel and deal with my Fear.

It’s funny, I used to choose escape/drink/flight—and now I find myself choosing to fight and get angry. The pendulum is swinging the other way, I guess intending to balance itself out eventually. So, this anger I feel at my ex-husband, his “lovers,” his parents, his sister… all that anger is surfacing and it’s troubling me. It’s all still Fear and I still need to walk through it. The Fourth Step is supposed to help me with this. I’m hopeful.

One way to deal with Fear is by talking to other people about it.  That’s what we do in meetings. When we talk about our Fear the thing we are afraid of gets a lot smaller, more manageable to face.

People like me—who think we don’t need help, don’t need advice or need to talk to anyone to solve my problems, who think we can do everything on our own— we do sometimes rely on God but we forget that God send us people to stand in for him and help us, too. That’s one thing AA has REALLY helped me with—asking for help, seeing I need help, acknowledging and discovering that I need people.

So, even if I don’t yet call someone and talk about my current Fear, I do share in meetings. For some reason, sharing in meetings feels less personal than calling someone up and asking them to listen to me talk.  What if they’re busy? What if I’m annoying? What if they are rolling their eyes on the other end of the line? What if they think I’m stupid?

In meetings, that’s what we’re there for. We sit there and listen to people “share.” So, I don’t feel like I’m putting anybody out or being a burden or annoying. And I get it out of my head and into the room, in the hands of people that “get it.”  And the Fear subsides a little.

The scariest Fear for me is the one that grips me and immobilizes me.  Perhaps everyone has something like this? Perhaps not? I do.  And it’s always relationship based—intimate relationship based. It’s usually my (ex) husband or family members that can evoke this type of visceral, gripping Fear. And it’s all in my head. It’s usually based on something subconscious I can’t control, like fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, stuff like that. Something imagined, but very real to me.

And so I panic. And that feels like I’m dying. And I know from experience that a drink will fix that. In those moments, I feel like I am going to die if I have to continue feeling. It really feels like if I don’t make this feeling go away then I will die.  So, drinking fixes that and I never truly face or walk through that subconscious Fear and get to the other side of it. I would just drink and feel better and all would be right with the world! Until I did something awful while drinking and then the Fear and shame were increased.

I’m rambling this morning but I just wanted to get back into blogging.  It’s good for me.  It’s good for my sobriety. Today I choose to walk through my Fear, even the gripping awful Fear I feel when I deal with my ex-husband and think too much about my future. As long as I just DON’T DRINK then I’ll eventually (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) get to the other side of the Fear and realize I didn’t die. I felt it and didn’t die.

I’m told the opposite of Fear is Faith. I’m told Fear and Faith cannot co-exist in a person’s mind. I’m either in fear or have faith. If I’m in Fear, I’m not trusting God that He’s got me. I’m not trusting God will take care of me. God gives me only the burdens and blessings and grace needed for these 24 hours. He won’t give me more than that. I can face anything that comes my way today. Tomorrow He will give me what I need to deal with tomorrow. As long as I stay in the present, not worry about what may or may not happen in the future—what is my life going to look like a year from now? Will I be lonely and old? Maybe, maybe not.

I choose Faith. Trust God and have Faith that everything will work out for good. It will either work out or it will work out.

2 Timothy, 1:7
“God did not give us a spirit of FEAR, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.”

yahoo! My Friend at Sober Catholic is 14 today

33a7053d6bc5390c1c42af7232d3748b0aaa88789eda2112a5172121988ed552I was trying to think of something to write about today. I wrote a boring draft post but drafted it because it was, well, boring.

Then I surfed Facebook and see that my friend Paul at sobercatholic.com is celebrating 14 years of sobriety today!!!!  Big shout out yay you, Paul. This makes me so happy.

Be sure to check out Paul’s blog if you haven’t already. A wealth of a resource for all of us!

Congrats Paul!

New issue of 12 Step Review on LOVE and FEAR

IMG_0641New Issue of The Twelve Step Review (Spring 2016) came in the mail this week. This quarterly newsletter is a publication of the Western Dominican Province and produced by Father Emmerich Vogt. Learn more at 12-step-review.org or call them 800-556-6177. They’re based in Vancouver, Washington.

This issue discusses LOVE. The product of love is peace and joy. But we have to be free from the slavery to sin (and addiction) before we are able to love rightly.

Father Emmerich instructs us the 4th Step is basically an inventory of the Seven Deadly Sins in our hearts and minds. If we’re a slave to any of these sins, we are unable to find peace, to love ourselves or others well.

He goes on to say if we don’t root out our (sins) character defects then we are ruled by fear. Fear in all forms, a “soul-sickness in its own right, for these fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.” {p49, AA, Big Book}

I find this to be true. Before I started working the steps I only thought fear was being afraid of snakes or roaches. But the fear the Big Book is talking about is more pervasive. A “soul-sickness.” Fear of things that don’t necessarily put us in physical danger, but spiritual or emotional danger.

FEAR robs us of our relationships with God and other people, and prevents us from reaching our full potential. Fears can usually be classified into three categories – afraid of losing what we have, afraid of not getting what we want, and afraid of being discovered for who we really are.

A really great acronym for the word fear is “false evidence appearing real”.  Barefoots World (a web site with lots of help for working the Steps) has provided a Fear Inventory Prompt Sheet to help us with identifying our fears.

My biggest lesson in how damaging this kind of FEAR can be for me came last September. I won’t go into all the details but it had to do with a psych hospital and huge trust broken in my marriage. I was in a state of “fight or flight” for a little over two weeks. Fight or flight is an instinct we all have to protect us from true danger. The danger I felt was psychological, spiritual, emotional, and REAL…and it felt like I might physically die from it.  So, the physiological response I had to this very real/perceived danger lasted long enough and was consistent enough and strong enough…that it may have changed me. I felt something in my brain change. My mind tried to protect me by heightening my senses, speeding my reflexes, increasing adrenaline…this is only meant to be a short-term, temporary reaction of the mind on our body in the face of physical danger. But my experience lasted more than two weeks. This caused tremendous anxiety and physical illness.

TMI.

All I’m saying is this kind of fear is REAL and debilitating. The Fear inventory in the 4th Step is important–I’m amazed the founders of AA even came up with it!

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Quotes from Saint Pope John Paul II on FEAR: (yesterday would have been his 96th birthday!)

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
― Saint Pope John Paul II

And this one doesn’t have to do with fear but I liked it:

“The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, by means of temperance, that is, continence of desires.”
― Pope John Paul II, Blessed Are the Pure of Heart

That’s all I’ve got for today folks. Night.

Number 9

 

Mother Theresa’s Meditation: “I Thirst”

love this

Catholic Alcoholic

My Mom gave me this. It’s a meditation Mother Theresa wrote as if Jesus was speaking directly to her.  I am putting it here on my blog because I love it and will refer back to it often.  I wanted to share this with others who might like it as much as I do.  I love prayers and meditations that are written as if Jesus is talking directly to me.  That’s how my favorite My Daily Bread book is written.  So is the Cloud of the Unknowing, which I love.  Also, the Imitation of Christ.  LOVE.

***

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Rev 3:20)

mother teresaIt is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are…

View original post 1,212 more words

searching

hippoThe other day on the drive home from school, my younger son said hippos were one of the most dangerous land animals on the planet.

I was incredulous, “What?! Hippos?! No way. Hippos are those cute fat animals that splash around and play with their young.”

The most logical next step of any modern family disagreement was to, “Google it.”  So, we Googled it. And he was right. In fact, hippos are actually pretty darn aggressive. I gave him a dollar.

Laughing, my oldest son asked how old I was when I started using the internet. He looked stunned when I told him I was 25.  It was one of those, “I had to WALK FIVE MILES to school in 8 FEET OF SNOW,” conversations we have with our kids to let them know how easy they have it compared to, “When I was your age!”

I told him if we wanted to find out about hippos, we’d have to get our parents to take us to the library, hope the specific volume of encyclopedia wasn’t already in use, and look up hippopotamuses…then find the specific section and passage which mentioned their temperaments. We’d have to take notes if we wanted to take the information home with us because we weren’t allowed to check out reference books.

By the look on his face, I think he actually felt sorry for me. (Mission accomplished, ha!)

What’s my point? Sometimes I annoy myself because I take way too long to get to my point when i write. SEARCHING. Searching is my point. We are all searching for answers…either to academic questions, trivia, lyrics to our favorite songs, or the meaning of the universe. So, we Google it. 

Since I hadn’t blogged in such a long time, I checked the stats on the backend. Even when I wasn’t posting anything, I had thousands of visitors per month coming to my blog. WTF? So, I dug deeper. WordPress gives us the exact “search terms” that are most often used to find us.

Here they are…this is what people are SEARCHING for when they find Catholic Alcoholic through Google:

  • catholic alcoholic
  • alcoholic from a catholic perspective
  • patron saints for alcoholics
  • prayer for alcoholic
  • my husband is an alcoholic, catholic view
  • stop drinking catholic
  • catholic aa
  • help for catholic to stop drinking
  • catholic and can’t do aa
  • is there something other than aa for catholic alcoholic
  • alcoholism catholic view
  • prayers for my son alcoholic
  • catholic addiction recovery
  • catholic alternatives to aa

So, there you have it. We’re all searching. Searching for something, whether it’s why hippos are so angry all the time, what time is the Braves game tonight, or help me I’m Catholic and can’t stop drinking…. We don’t have to call a hotline and speak with anybody. We can do an anonymous Google search to hopefully find what we’re looking for.

Fortunately, questions about hippos have easy, definitive answers. Deeper questions, those that relate to recovery from alcoholism or helping a loved one with an addiction…those answers aren’t solved by Googling. Wouldn’t that be great, tho? If there was ONE right answer.

This blog post is sort of making me sad. I have no answers. I guess all I’d say is never give up, never stop searching. Giving up is NOT an option. Keep trying. Each day is a new beginning. Who CARES what “they” say? You’re worth it. Keep searching.

AA is a big part of my recovery equation. But don’t feel hopeless if you can’t do AA. Please. Keep searching. I can see from these search terms that there are thousands of alcoholics that really want help but can’t do AA. I get it. You are NOT ALONE. I’m not here to sell anybody on my way. One of my dear friends has been sober three years by daily recitation of the Rosary. Another by daily Mass and a commitment to weekly Reconciliation. I wish that was my story. I need all the help I can get. So that’s sort of why I started this blog to begin with…because I felt strange…i needed a Catholic slant to my recovery. I just did. It’s who I am. So, anyways, good night. This post isn’t making sense even to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

well, mercy me

18763MercyHeroWell, mercy me!

I heart mercy.

Pope Francis established this Jubilee Year of Mercy—and I am thrilled. “Mercy” is one of my most favorite words, a borrowed word in English derived from the Old French word “merci,” which derives from the Medieval Latin word “merces,” meaning to pay, to recompense, or to hire.

I prefer mercy over justice all day long. Justice is like tough love. Ugh. No me gusta tough love. From what I’ve read, tough love has been the most practiced way to deal with alcoholics and addicts dating back to Nancy Reagan’s, “War on Drugs.”

Ostracize, abandon, “don’t enable!”, give up on, don’t help, let them help themselves, shun, shame, avoid, forced rehab, jail-time, unfriend, roll your eyes, look down on, judge, etc… tough love. The theory is then, and only then, the alcoholic/addict will start helping themselves. (hogwash)

Prior to THAT, I think we were mainly handled with PITY. Poor you. Sucks to be you. Glad it’s you, not me. I will pray for you. Go to AA and don’t tell me anything about it. I don’t wanna know.

And, prior to that, pre-AA, with EXASPERATION and hospitalization– psych hospitals. The odds of an alcoholic sobering up were so bad, that loved ones would lock us up– either in jails or psych wards. I have a good friend whose mother died in an insane asylum in Milledgeville, Georgia because she was an alcoholic and deemed “insane.”  While it is insane to continue drinking despite all of the consequences we inflict on ourselves and others, the sanity returns once the alcohol or drug is removed. But these types of hospitals will turn us into crazy people. I’m terrified to ever go back to one.

Now, thankfully, the tides are changing so therapists and the recovery community are starting to deal with alcoholics and addicts with MERCY (and medicine).  Not “ignorant/sunny skies mercy,” but REAL mercy. Mercy which can only be offered by a few in an alcoholic’s circle…those closest to her…in order for it to be received. That’s when the mercy has impact.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” This means to obtain mercy, we must BE merciful. We receive mercy by giving mercy to others.  And the more mercy we receive, the more mercy we give! It’s a beautiful circle.

The Urban Dictionary defines, “Well, mercy me,” as meaning: “Well, I’ll be damned, wow!” A surprised kind of thing. ha. Urban dictionary, my friends is tongue in cheek so don’t freak out. I’ll be damned is just part of our lexicon.  But “mercy” is a surprising, humble sort of gift. “Wow. Thanks. I didn’t expect or deserve that. Thanks so much.” The kind of gift that changes hearts over time.

I felt mercy through my Mom. That’s probably why it’s easier for me to accept God’s mercy. Mercy is unconditional love, no matter what—the way we love our own children—the prodigal son is still welcomed back into the fold and thrown a party. (no alcohol served at this party, tho.)

Last month my sister gave me the book, Beautiful Mercy, by the organization Dynamic Catholic. The sub-title is, “Experiencing God’s Unconditional Love So We Can Share It With Others.”  The book claims (and I tend to agree!) it is the “perfect companion for the Year of Mercy.”

I’ll add that IMHO I believe people who offer the most mercy are people who have a sense they have received a lot of mercy. People who are very grounded in humility, in who they truly are at the foot of the cross.

If I had been dealt with by JUSTICE then I’d be dead, in jail or in a mental institution. I’m not saying that to be funny. I’m saying that because I have DUIs and should be dead or harmed others on the road and been jailed…the crazy things I did while under the influence and the effect of alcohol on my brain should have landed me in a psych ward long-term. So, MERCY is awesome. Please keep it coming. And offer it lavishly to others. You just may need it yourself one day.