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

 

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.

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.

FullSizeRender (1)

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!

 

 

 

My Thoughts on Why AA Can Be Difficult for Traditional, Practicing Catholics

split_pixel_personality__by_monsters_scare_you-d4yv6f7Because of this forum, I hear often from Catholics who are hesitant to go to AA. Certainly, AA isn’t for everybody. And there are more ways to get sober than Alcoholics Anonymous. What I hope to do is talk about the reasons why it was process for me to fully embrace the “program.” But, I’m glad that I did.  Maybe some of this resonates with you guys.

The Big Book
I like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I do. It makes a lot of sense, outlines a program of action and provides stories of alcoholics who have recovered using the program’s 12 Steps.  I do, however, still get uncomfortable when members of AA seem to treat the Big Book like the Bible.  This turns me off very much. Since AA is a spiritual program, it sometimes feels like some people worship the Big Book, quoting portions of it as if it is Gospel. This uncomfortability kept me from embracing parts of AA that would help me.

Finally, a friend told me the Big Book is not the “Bible” of AA, it’s just the “textbook.”  This helped me tremendously!  Looking at the Big Book as a text-book, I was able to read it without feeling threatened, or like I was being sacrilegious.  AA is not a religion, like Catholicism or Judaism. Some members do take it to that level; but if I’m able to look beyond this I can get a lot of insight and help from reading the Big Book.

My spiritual life is guided by the Church, not by AA.  So, as long as I can consider the Big Book the “text-book,” I am ok.  If I start quoting it like it’s the Bible, then I’m probably in trouble.

Community “Spirituality” with Non-Catholics
We Catholics have a lot of other spiritual practices, Sacraments, Mass, saints, devotions, the Rosary, Mary, priests, the Pope, etc… AA is not a Catholic devotion or Catholic spiritual practice. So, it’s uncomfortable for us to be in a spirituality-type meeting other than authentically Catholic ones.

In AA, in the beginning we’re encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. This was VERY helpful for me. The meetings were/are key for me–I hear other people getting through life sober and it gives me the strength to do so. Plus, my heart opens up to these people in a way that was impossible when I was isolating in alcohol.

But going one hour a day every day seems to me a lot like “worship.”  It seems a lot like “daily church.”  It seems like I’m starting to spend a lot of my time sitting with people whose faith and spirituality are much likely much different from mine–and none of it is Catholic.

Wouldn’t it be better if I go to daily Mass for 90 days instead of AA meetings for 90 days?  Certainly there’d be more grace!  But while going to daily Mass would be amazing, it’s still important to attend the meetings for me. In AA we focus on the problem we’re trying to overcome–alcohol.  There are all kinds of spiritual persuasions, but a strong Catholic can look beyond other’s ways of doing things and focus on the common problem: alcohol dependency.

12 Steps
Why would the Steps be problematic for traditional, practicing Catholics?  They’re a pretty simple, straightforward, action plan of turning my alcohol problem and my life to God. But they’re not Catholic.  I know I keep saying this, but for devout Catholics, we feel we already have the Steps. Turning our will over to God, surrendering, profession of Faith, examination of conscience, confession, reconciliation, penance, giving back to others through service.

So, why would I need AA and why would I need to work the Steps, as they say?

I’ve struggled with this one a lot. I’ve discovered that for we Catholics who already have all the resources of the Church it’s still important we sit down with another alcoholic, one-on-one and work through each Step, as it relates to our drinking.  Something about spending time with another alcoholic and working the Steps as they are written actually ends up making us better Catholics, more inclined to the Sacraments.

Sponsorship
I don’t need a sponsor. I already have a spiritual advisor or confessor.  My sponsor isn’t Catholic. How could she help me? This was my thinking when I first began to attend meetings and participate in AA.

However, I’ve learned sponsorship is key. This is the one person that you actually confide most of your bad drinking behavior too.  They listen and don’t judge; all they do is encourage you in the Steps. They tell you how they did it, how you too can just not drink one day at a time. Sponsors come in all sorts of varieties, but if you get one like mine, you’re blessed. Getting and staying sober is tough. Sponsors are there to guide us through the Steps because they’ve done them before. Also, in order for them to stay sober they have to help others get sober.

Tolerance vs Fear of Influence
This might not be an issue for every one but for me, someone who had previously been pretty susceptible to peer pressure, who avoids conflict and prefers everybody to be happy and get along–for me, I struggled with tolerance vs fear of influence.

What do I mean by this–I’ve always been and am tolerant of everybody, all religions, races, sexes, political-leanings, sizes, colors of people–I can “live and let live” pretty well.  But, I do prefer to stay closest to the people who are like me, or that are the way that I want to be. Because I am easily influenced by others. If you’re funny, I gravitate to you. So, I worried I would be influenced away from Catholicism if I got too involved in AA.  I worried I would lose my Faith.

That didn’t happen.  In fact, being a part of it actually made me a better Catholic, a better person even.  It’s hard to explain. But I really was pretty on guard at first.  Worried I would be infected with heretic points of view (ha ha–sounds lame). But in the meetings everybody respects (for the most part) everybody else’s faiths (or no faith).

So, these are my thoughts. Feel free to share yours or tell me why I’m wrong 🙂  XOXO

Number 9

Justice and Mercy and the 5th Step

First off, I need to say, “Happy Birthday, Mom!”

***

I did “part” of my 5th Step yesterday with my sponsor AF.  I have been putting off finishing the 4th for so long that she finally said, “Let’s just meet and do what you’ve done so far?”  So, that’s what we did. And it was good.

rembrant_prodigueAF is like that “perfect sponsor.”  She has maybe five or six sponsees and tailors her sponsorship of each according to their own needs and personalities.  For me, that means she pretty much leaves me alone, ha ha.  Not really true.  We communicate via email every single day. She sends out a “daily inspiration” each morning, as well as a separate email with her gratitude list of five things she’s grateful for today. She cc’s all her sponsees and we each “reply all” back with our own gratitude list of five things.

And I text her a lot.

But she doesn’t make me “call” her all the time.  That’s just not me.  One of her other sponsees calls her twice a day but refuses to participate in the emails.  So we’re each just different animals.

And yesterday, she just listened, as I read her my list of “resentments” and “why.”  (those of you in 12 Step programs understand what I’m talking about here.) And then she helped me see my part in things and pointed out some of my apparent assets and liabilities, since this is a moral inventory.

When I worked at $3 Cafe (a popular chicken wing establishment in Atlanta which boasted over 125 different types of beer, foreign and domestic) to put myself through college and pay for my long-distance phone calls to a stupid boyfriend, I remember my sister (the Manager) would take an inventory of all the beer each week.

The big trucks would arrive and deliver boxes of beer; and she would spend hours counting the beers and taking inventory of what she had enough of, what she needed to order more of and what was just right. Then she’d place the order with the beer companies for more of what was dificient.

Wouldn’t it be great if a “moral” inventory (the 4th Step) was that simple?  We make a list of things we have enough of (honesty, generosity, loyalty, discipline), a list of things we have too much of (dependency, laziness, self-pity, grandiosity), and then a list of things we’re deficient in (obedience, holiness, commitment, self-care)— and then we place an order of God for more of what we lack. Then we’re done!

We get the order via UPS or Fedex the next day from our “Higher Power” and we’re all set until we do another inventory of it all over again next week.

I titled this post “justice and mercy” because I meant to talk about justice and mercy, but I got off track.  My point is that during my time with AF yesterday doing part of my 5th Step of part of my 4th Step, I discussed with her how I do well with justice as long as it’s tempered with a lot of mercy.

There have been people in my life that I’ve received justice from…yeah, I deserved it.  But the people that didn’t temper their justice with mercy are no longer in my life–I don’t cultivate relationships with people that only deal in justice.  I don’t experience love that way.

And when I love others, I am pretty low on the justice thing and really high on the mercy. When I love others, I love with 100% mercy first.  Justice second.  How does God love us? How does God love you?  How does God love me?

How’s that for a hump day all over the place post?  Have a great day y’all!  Moving to the beach is getting closer…  about 90% chance.  Going back this weekend for another interview (not the editor job, though–a different one).

Evangelical Virtues of Mary: Prudence

Virtue

Virtue (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

This is my article that ran on CatholicMom.com this week. I like to post them here, too. To view it over there, click on this link and voila!  Happy Holy Saturday!

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with God’s help, the evangelical virtues forge character.

The ten evangelical virtues are derived from a combination of the human, moral, cardinal and theological virtues, described to us in the Catechism. They are actual qualities of Mary, the Mother of God who by her example is the epitome of evangelization: chastity, prudence, humility, faith, devotion, obedience, poverty, patience, mercy and sorrow.

In this year of faith, efforts to increase in virtue are a worthy exercise. We are called to evangelize with virtue in a variety of vocations, as a mother, a daughter, a sister, an employee, a wife. Modeling our behavior on the Blessed Virgin is an excellent way to bring others to Christ.  Who more than Mary has brought more of us to her son?

The second Evangelical Virtue of Mary is Prudence.                                           

But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

And he descended with them and went to Nazareth. And he was subordinate to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. Luke 2:51

Mary “ponders” these things in her heart. She discerns. She doesn’t react, debate or take any action right away. She simply ponders things first.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (1806), “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”

The prudent woman looks where she is going. Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas. The prudent woman determines and directs her conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles without error and overcome doubts about good and evil in our everyday circumstances.

Prudence is also one of the four cardinal virtues, which means it can be practiced by anyone. The cardinal virtues are not, in themselves, the gifts of God through grace but the outgrowth of habit.

Prudence, as explained by Fr. John A. Hardon in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is “Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of thing that ought to be avoided.”

So how do we know when we’re exercising prudence and when we’re simply giving in to our own desires?

How do we know if we are acting prudently or not?  As an act of virtue, prudence involves three stages of mental operation: to take counsel carefully with oneself and from others; to judge correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand; and to direct my actions accordingly.

When faced with a dilemma, we first pray, ask God to direct our thinking.  Next we ask for advice from someone of good character, someone we can trust, of good moral character. We look at all the evidence at hand, the facts in front of us. We never rush. We ask God for his will for us. Then, finally we make a decision and act upon it.

And we must always keep in mind that the definition of prudence requires us to judge correctly. If our judgment is proved after the fact to have been incorrect, then we did not make a “prudential judgment” but an imprudent one, for which we may need to make amends.

One way to integrate these virtues into your life is by praying the Chaplet to the Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary.