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.

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!

The Power of ONE

One-Logo

Finishing up day ONE. All day I had to bombard my thoughts with prayer and affirmations, and I smashed any random craving thoughts that zipped through my brain without my permission. Around midday, one of those pesky thoughts wouldn’t go away! I was so annoyed—I had to get a little mentally violent with it, actually. lol. And it finally relented.

There is power in getting through another day ONE.  Day one, and I’ve had many unfortunately, takes a tremendous mind-shift. An all hands on deck mentality. An, “Okay, let’s DO this already.” I’m actually pretty mentally exhausted.

It’ll be nice not to bug my friend with drinking emails tonight. Living amends. No more emails. It’ll be nice to wake up tomorrow morning early, not hungover. Journal-time. Yay.

The marriage separation, while sad, is necessary. I had mixed support at home for sobriety. I happen to be married to a human, just like everybody else I know. A human who is quite as imperfect as me, with his own battles to fight. While my sobriety is absolutely and ultimately up to me, I’m giving myself a better chance by separating, at least temporarily. I have a hard time with the “idea” of divorce. It may happen. My focus has to be on sobriety first. First things first.

And I have to remember this every single frickin’ day. Even on the lonely days, the broke days, the hard days. I can’t forget to think of sobriety first. ONE DAY AT A FRICKIN TIME. I have a powerful forgetter. And I have a high-tolerance for unmanageability. When you’re married to your drinking buddy for 18 years, it’s easy to turn to alcohol to let go and enjoy each other. No matter how badly he wants me sober, he’d still love it if I could drink just “once a week.”

Topped day ONE off with a massage. Going to watch some Netflix episodes of Homeland and call it a day. Hit the pillow sober. Nite, y’all.

Relapse Toolbox for Catholic Alcoholics

FYI. This is what happens when we relapse: another DUI, divorce filing from our spouse, living alone in an apartment away from our children, losing trust with homegroup friends, interlock device in our cars, more therapy, more medicine, more white chips, more disappointed faces of loved ones, more pain for everybody—least of all ourselves. But ourselves is all we think about when we’re in the midst of it all.  Not worth the buzz, I promise.

I’m gathering my Catholic tools to make another go at it. Yes, another. It’s worth it, I know. You know how I know? You know how I know it’s worth it?

I’ve had it. I had sobriety. I touched it, lived it, experienced it, loved it. I relished it, appreciated it, was grateful for it, humbled by it, in awe of it. Witnessed the dynamics-change within my family. Then, I took it for granted and lost it.

I have my reasons/excuses. But are there really any valid reasons for giving up the gift of sobriety? Not this gift. This gift is precious, priceless. Special. Something non-alcoholics will never understand. The gift of sobriety in the life of a true blood alcoholic is priceless.

It truly must be ONE. DAY. AT. A. TIME. A cliche I’ve always disliked because I am an enthusiastic dreamer of future dreams. Entrepreneur. Optimist. An “anything is possible” person. But I’ve met my match. The liar of lies finds our weaknesses and beats us down. That’s when God’s gift of humility can open our eyes to new lives.

Here’s to a(nother) new life, friends.

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All of my Catholic alcoholic tools to embark back on the path of sobriety are rooted in the love of Christ and Christ’s special love of sinners:

Rosary: I was broke but paid $100 for this Rosary because I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, it was handmade by a local very elderly woman who carefully chose each bead and prayed as she made it.

Matt Talbot medal: Venerable Matt Talbott, still in waiting for official sainthood. Patron of alcoholics. He’s been there with us in the fight.

Brown scapular: my sister gave me this after my first relapse and I wore it for two months. Now it hangs from my rear view mirror in my car. I never asked her if she wanted it back. I know that was selfish of me but it is so beautiful to me because it’s worn and not brand-new looking.

Prayer card to Saint Jude, patron saint of impossible causes: None other than the alcoholic can understand the utter impossibleness of recovery.

Prayer card of Saint Mary Magdalen: I think that Mary Magdalen isn’t the Mary who was saved from adultery or the demons or at the well…but I still think of her this way when I ask her to intercede for me with her Lord. I believe Mary Magdalen is actually the one at the feet of Jesus listening to him talk while her sister Martha is doing the dishes. That would totally be me lol. If any of y’all smarter than me can educate me on the real Mary Magdalen please do?

White chip: my Aa white chip. Seriously. I KNOW recovery is possible without AA. But not for me. I need AA. And I need daily AA. Not trying to offend any Catholic purists out there. Just speaking my own truth here.

Sacred Heart badge: the ORIGINAL white chip, sister Ignatia (friends with  Bill W and Doctor Bob) would give this sacred heart badge to each alcoholic who left the hospital after detox and told them they must return it to her if they drank again.

My one-year medallion– one of my most prized possessions. I picked this up on September 18, 2007 in the presence of my mother and my five sisters who flew into town for the occasion.

“Lord what do you want me to do with my life?” prayer card: One of my most favorite Irish priests, father Brian Higgins, was head of seminarians in the early 2000s here in Atlanta. He was also a priest at my parish. He gave the best and most convicted pro-life sermon i’d ever heard. He gave these prayer cards out and I kept two. Over ten years ago but it’s always been in my fridge since. Great question to ask myself each morning right?

Saint Michael the Archangel prayer card: i also  have his medal on my key chain. who better to fight for us than the angel who fought satan himself. Defend us in battle against this disease.

Our Lady of Knots: i like this title of Mary, the untier of knots. She calls on her son for us to untie the knots in our hearts and minds that keep us from coming into closer relationship with Him.

If you happen to come across this post out there, then add your own tools that help you in your recovery path!

 

 

 

Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men — New Book by Randy Hain

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff

I haven’t read it, but Randy is a friend of mine: and I’ve read the review by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff from our parish. Randy and Deacon Mike have dedicated their lives — BUSY, family-work-filled lives! – to helping us all live out our Faith more authentically. They co-founded the Integrated Catholic Life blog/website which has over 100,000 followers from around the world. They created the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference, which presents a stellar line-up of speakers each year. They have an active social media presence with fans that help them spread their message.

Randy has written several books: Find them all at Integrated Catholic Life or RandyHain.com

Landed!: Proven Job Search Strategies
The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work
Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith
Something More: The Professiona’s Pursuite of a Meaningful Life
and now, Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men

Deacon Mike’s Review:

There is an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, that is very evocative of one or more of life’s greatest philosophical questions.

“‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

“‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

“‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

“‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

“‘—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

“‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’”

This exchange is often paraphrased and attributed to Carroll as, “If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Maybe Yogi Berra said it best (also paraphrased), “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else!”

Do you know where you are going in life?

Do you have a plan?

Have you laid out your route on a map and checked on your progress lately?

If you are a Catholic man who wants practical help to live a deeper faith and to have a stronger relationship with Christ — or you know someone that fits this description — Randy Hain’s fifth book, Journey to Heaven – A Road Map for Catholic Men (Emmaus Road Publishing), is a must-read.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

 

Woman at the Well from Monsignor Charles Pope Archdiocese of Washington

Woman-at-the-Well-5001Wow!  I just read the most perfect homily from Monsignor Charles Pope, about the previous Sunday’s Reading of the woman at the well.  What a perfect Gospel and Homily for Catholic alcoholics! I hope it’s ok I copied and pasted it but here is the ORIGINAL POST from the blog over at the Archdiocese of Washington.

No words.  This is amazing.

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The beautiful gospel of the woman at the well, which we read, Sunday, has so many wonderful teachings that not all can be dealt with in a single sermon. Hence, I’d like to consider today just a couple of the teachings that relate to this gospel.

In this post, I’d like to deal with the question of the efficacy of Grace, which many struggle to experience when it comes to the promises that Jesus extends. Jesus promises the Samaritan woman water that will satisfy her, unlike the water of the world. Specifically, Jesus says, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).

The Samaritan woman seems less than convinced, at one point even scoffing that Jesus doesn’t even have a bucket! While perhaps rude, her scoffing does give voice to legitimate questions people raise to the promises of Christ, and those of us who preach his message.

Even many faithful Catholics struggle to understand exactly what Jesus means when he says that we will never thirst again. Indeed, many who have accepted Christ still struggle, still long for completion, still feel thirsty.

How then, can we understand what the Lord is teaching here? What does it mean to never thirst again, and how do we lay hold of this promise? Let’s look at the issue in three stages.

I. Clarity– As the Gospel opens, we have a teaching from Jesus that helps us to clarify our desires. A woman (this means you) comes to a well (this means the world). She comes because she is thirsty (and this refers to all of our desires). She thinks the well will satisfy her, but it will not. For no sooner does she have a drink, than she’s on her way to being thirsty again. And thus the well (i.e., the world) can provide momentary pleasures, but no lasting ones.

Jesus is there waiting for her. He is also waiting for you and me who are filled with many desires and questions. He says to her, Everyone who drinks from this will be thirsty again (John 4:13). In this he is helping her, and us, to clarify that it is a simple fact that our desires are infinite and unlimited. Therefore, a finite in a limited world cannot satisfy us.

And in this, the Lord clarifies our desires. They are in fact infinite; we are never really satisfied. Therefore our desires are not really about the world at all; they are ultimately pointing us to God who alone is infinite, and who alone can truly satisfy our desires or fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. Yes, here is clarity: only God can satisfy us; the world simply cannot cut the deal; it is finite and limited.

Meeting us at the well of the world, where we come (once again) to draw from it, the Lord says in effect “How’s that working for you?” Indeed, how foolish we are! We really think that a new job, a new relationship, a little more money, the latest upgrade to the software, etc. will somehow satisfy us. It will not; it cannot. An old song says it well, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Everyone who drinks from this will be thirsty again.

So here is clarity about our desires:

  • First, they are infinite.
  • Second, the well, i.e., the world, cannot fulfill our      infinite desires because it is finite.
  • Third, our desires are thus about God who alone can      satisfy us since he alone is infinite.
  • Fourth, Jesus says he is the One; he is      God who can give us living waters welling up to eternal life so that      we will never thirst again.

Okay Lord, thanks for the clarity, but now along with the Samaritan woman we want to say to you, “Give us this water so that we will not be thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water!” (John 4:15)

In other words, how do we unlock this blessing? Do we simply answer an altar call? Do we simply accept baptism? Do we simply say “I believe, now give me my blessing”?

Some of us may be even more cynical, saying, “Look I’ve been doing this walk with Jesus for a while now, and I’m still thirsty; I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”

And thus the questions “How do I unlock these blessings?” “How do I lay hold of this promise of Christ?” become critical ones for the Church, and for any who would preach this gospel.

The answer is twofold: conversion and conversation. Let’s look at each one in turn.

II. Conversion–  When the Samaritan woman says, “Give me this water…”  Jesus answers her by saying, Go call your husband and come back. (John 4:16).

In other words, Jesus wants to give her this blessing, but first there is an obstacle, an obstacle that must be dealt with. Most of us to know the story of the Samaritan woman and thus know that she has had five husbands, and is now simply living with a man outside of marriage. Though we do not have all the details, this personal history speaks to us of her many sorrows, sins, and struggles. Surely there are issues of sexual sin; she’s living together with a man outside of marriage. But there are any number of other issues that must have accompanied her many marriages such as struggles with forgiveness, patience, mercy, self-esteem, the list could go on. These struggles and sins must be dealt with before the living waters can fully flow.

Consider I have fifty gold bricks to give you, and you are holding a box, but it is full of sand. In order to make room for the gold bricks, I must first help you to empty your box of the sand. The sand must go in order to make way for the gold. So it is with us; our sins must give way to make room for the living waters of God’s grace.  Conversion is necessary and essential to laying hold of the promises of Christ.

And so the Lord says to this woman “Go call your husband.” What does the Lord have to say to you? What conversions are necessary in your life? What obstacles must be removed for the living waters to flow?

And thus, the Lord’s promise of living Waters is not mere magic. It is a promise that stands, but simply answering an altar call, or thinking some perfunctory declaration will be enough is just not realistic. There is more involved here than simply cleaning a house. Human beings are complicated; we have many moving parts. Through conversion, we must increasingly turned to the Lord allow him to make way for these living waters.

III. Conversation –  The Lord goes on to have a rather lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman. We do not have all the details, and many of them are none of our business. Nevertheless, the conversation leads her, by stages, to greater joy, and finally to the point that she is able to leave her water jar (a very symbolic act) and run to town joyfully telling others of the glorious Lord and Messiah she has met!

Of course her conversation is a symbol for the longer conversation the Lord needs to have with us. “Conversation” can be understood here as a kind of journey we make with the Lord, who along the way enters into an ever-deeper dialogue with us through prayer and his presence in our life.

There is for the Christian the summons to enter into an ever deeper, living, and conscious contact with the Lord at every moment of our day. And thus, not only in our prayer, but throughout our day, in the people we meet, in the created world, and in the events of our day, we experience the Lord speaking to us, present to us.

Here then is described an ever-deepening conversation with the Lord, a transformative union in which his living waters flow ever more deeply. The increasing results, if we stay with him in the conversation, are deeper serenity, joy, freedom from sin, and ever-deepening satisfaction with the magnificence of his grace, and his word.

And so we, like the woman at the well, see less and less need for a water jar, that is, for our obsessive need to collect the things of the world and store them up. We, like the woman at the well, come to the point where we can leave the water jar behind. We live more simply, are less needful of the world’s false and empty promises. We live more simply and joyfully in the presence of the Lord, in the power of his Word and Sacraments, in the joy of knowing him, and in his Body the Church.

And thus, for those who might scoff or be cynical of the Lord’s promise of living waters wherein we will never thirst again, there comes a double call to be converted, and to embark on a lifelong conversation with the Lord.

It works only if you work it; so work it because you’re worth it! Of this, I am a witness. I am 53 years old, but I have only been serious about my spiritual life for the last 30 of those 53 years. Prior to that time I lived frivolously and the details are both unedifying and unnecessary. But 30 years ago I entered the seminary and began to pray for an hour every day, to read Scripture every day, to attend Mass every day, and to go to confession once a week. The result? My life has become simpler and richer. Less do the passing obsessions of this world interest me. The Lord is my strength and my song. Living Waters are in fact welling up within me; I am increasingly satisfied only by God and the things of God. Yes, the Lord’s word is true!

Buy the Book: Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics

Reblogging this from last year! My friend “Sober Catholic” wrote this wonderful book and it’s perfect for Lent! You can buy a copy over at his blog Sober Catholic. Enjoy!

Catholic Alcoholic

stations-cross-for-alcoholics-paul-sofranko-paperback-cover-art Just in time for Good Friday , I’ve discovered, The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics by Paul Sofranko, a terrific e-book written by my friend who blogs over at ‘Sober Catholic.’

Sofranko also wrote, The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics. You can read my review of that book here.

From the Catholic Sun, “Sofranko, a recovering alcoholic himself, has added one more element to the whole scheme of fighting addiction — hope. While many or even most self-help books suggest that we are the only ones capable of fixing our brokenness simply by reading the book, Sofranko elevates the place of prayer in the healing process and reminds readers of the necessity of relying on God for the grace to overcome our addictions.”

At our parish and I expect in most parishes the stations of the cross are offered every Friday during Lent. I usually only do…

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