Let the Oppressed Go Free

imageI have a bookshelf, well, actually it’s more like a couple of drawers full, of books that have and are helping me through my alcoholic journey.  As a Catholic alcoholic, or maybe just the way my contemplative/mystical brain works makes this so, I don’t gravitate towards Louis Hay and her affirmations – or even the AA books- when I’m feeling squirrely and in need of help. I don’t “call someone.” I don’t “go to a meeting.”  Instead I retreat into my world of Catholic books…with the Church, Her wisdom and guidance, Her help.  The saints, the Sacraments, Mass. Confession. Adoration.

These things fill me up.  The other things just don’t “do it for me” when I’m in the most need.  The company of others helps when I’m happy and content.  But when I am struggling, all I want is God.

So, I go into a place by myself, a place only me and God exist – other people would just distract me, no matter how well-meaning they are.  Being around others all the time exhausts me, drains me. As an ambivert (look it up) I do like other people a lot. I like to get out and talk to people and be social or bounce ideas off of others. But this also wears me out, leaves me tired and often confused.  My best friends in the rooms of recovery are not Catholic. And the rooms aren’t Catholic. So, while all of this camaraderie and all of the meetings do me a world of good for staying on track, they’re the last thing I look to when I find myself getting off track.

That’s when I turn inward. In order to refresh my soul.  I retreat into my world of Catholic books and my little quiet spaces with God.  Maybe that’s how Jesus felt when he sometimes went off to find a quiet place to pray.  Being around other people all the time makes me tired. Then I crave my quiet time with God, the same way I’d crave a drink.

Soooo…. I just took three paragraphs to explain myself!  Why so many explanations — I guess because in the rooms, I’d be told I was “isolating.”  Or, I’d be told to “call someone.”  As if my desire to be alone was a bad character trait that will make me relapse.  In treatment, when I really wanted to walk the grounds, rosary in hand, and simply be by myself – I was accused of not caring enough about others, of not opening up and talking with the other women.  In treatment they had a whole “group session” of the other women telling me I don’t care enough to open up and talk to them.

Come to think of it, it’s been this way my whole life – I was an ambivert in high school, too. And so, although I had a lot of friends and was involved in lots of activities, often I just wanted/needed to be by myself. Collect my thoughts, not be around people. I was accused of being a “snob” on numerous occasions. And I remember thinking, “God if you only KNEW how insecure I was?!” I’d think, “If you only knew that I’m the furthest thing from a snob – that I think you are so comfortable and happy and I am so uncomfortable and awkward!” I’d think, “All I want is to be alone, just me and God for a little bit; and then I promise I’ll be back.”

And so I feel a little insecure about my desire to retreat.  Nobody else seems to do this. At least not the people that are staying sober. They do the “we” thing.  I completely second guess myself. What if I was better at being a social being, wanted to be in community with others more? Maybe then I would be “doing this right.”

I know other people need their quiet time with God too. Of course. That’s not what I’m referring to here. I need that each morning too.  What I’m talking about is needing days of this!  Needing to step away from the world for days and recuperate from all this togetherness.  My need for retreat seems to be exaggerated. After too much time with people, I pull away and HAVE to have it. And so I’m sometimes not a very good friend.  At least in my own head, I’m not.

There’s a woman in the meetings, a new friend — she’s AWESOME. Wonderful, caring, loving, faithful (not in a Catholic way but in a very wonderful Jesus loving way) and she really likes me. She’s helped me with rides and stays in touch with me. So, I feel guilty pulling away but it’s exhausting me. And so again I lose a friend – or at least I lose the intensity with which she wanted to be my friend.  Her feelings appear to be hurt and I feel badly about this.

And my point is….

My point is, I’m doing this now. I’m in a retreat. Actually, creating my own little “retreat” with all of my wonderful books. I’ve been reading the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola — a tough read, but I love it! And my Magnificat, of course. And my book “In Conversation With God,” by Francis Fernandez. And my 30 day series of books with the Saints —namely St Teresa of Avila, St Teresa the Little Flower and the Cloud of the Unknowing. And I found a little book I bought last year called “Let the Oppressed Go Free” by Cardinal Rigali.  And THAT’s what I wanted to talk about today!

This little book should be in the hands of every Catholic alcoholic and family member who loves one of us.  It’s from “The Shepherd’s Voice Series,” published by Basilca Press.  Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction.

Cardinal Rigali writes perfectly for me. He explains the nature of addiction and how the Church can help addicts so simply and eloquently — I wonder if he is a Dominican? I usually am drawn to Dominicans.  My thoughts are so rambly today, sorry! I can’t even give a good review of this book because my head is swirling with too many thoughts.  So, I’ll spare you dear reader and close.

I’ll review the book tomorrow or something.

2 More Patron Saints for Alcoholics: St Therese of Lisieux and St Dymphna

St Therese of Lisieux - the LIttle Flower

St Therese of Lisieux – the LIttle Flower

These are not officially patron saints for Alcoholics, but I think they could be. Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint Dymphna.

The first is St Therese of Lisieux – the Little Flower:

St Therese’ story is disarmingly simple. She was born in Alencon, France in 1873 the youngest of five sisters. She was only fifteen when she entered the Carmelite Order in Lisieux where she was known as Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy face. Nine anonymous years later she died, with no indication that her reputation for holiness had spread beyond the cloister walls.

But within a very few more years she was a household name in Catholic European circles, the object of an extraordinary worldwide following. She had then become “The Little flower.” Less than 30 years after her death, she was canonized saint of the universal Church, without question the most popular and best-loved saints of the twentieth century—an extraordinarily influential force in the spiritual lives of millions of ordinary people.

Her deathbed promise was to spend her heaven doing good on earth.

Alcoholics desire God. It is a rare alcoholic that doesn’t wish to be closer to her Creator. St Therese always desired to become a saint, but in comparing herself with the saints she felt she was as far removed from them as was a “grain of sand trampled underfoot to a mountain.”  Instead of feeling discouraged by such reflections, she concluded that God would not inspire a wish which could not be realized. And that, in spite of her “littleness” she might aim at being a saint.

Many alcoholics strive for sobriety but struggle to attain it. St. Therese instructs us that “the striving” for God is pleasing in His eyes. He knows our imperfections and limitations. I offer there is not one more “little” in one’s own mind than the alcoholic, full of shame and remorse wishing he were a better person.

The second saint I believe would be great for alcoholics to have recourse to is Saint Dymphna.

Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna, another saint who died at a very young age, is “officially” the patron saint of mental illness. Science has established that alcoholic is a “disease of the mind.”  Alcoholism affects the deep recesses of our brains, the limbic system, which controls pleasure, reward, survival, spirituality. Over time, with persons pre-disposed to this, alcohol changes our brains and makes it very difficult for us to recover absent miracles.

So, alcoholism is a mental illness which is treated with the latest medication, therapy and 12 step programs – Saint Dymphna has a special love for those of us hindered by brain/mental diseases as her father was “mad.”  She fled her home with the assistance of a local priest in order to escape her father’s desire to marry her to replace the loss of his wife/her mother. She fled into the hills and became a hermit. But her father found her and beheaded her and her friend.

Centuries later, the tombs were discovered and the name “Dymphna” was written on a brick found on the coffin of the young girl. As the remains were reinterred in a tomb, miraculous healings of those suffering from mental illness were reported in the immediate area. The bishop of Cambrai commissioned a text of the life of Saint Dymphna and the tomb became a pilgrimage site for those suffering.

By the end of the thirteenth century a hospital was built near her tomb for the treatment of nervous and mental disorders. today, Gheel remains a world-renowned hospital center, offering the most enlightened methods in treating the mentally ill.

I have a special love for these two young saints and often pray they intercede for me and for my loved ones who suffer from alcoholism.

New Issue of 12 Step Review is Out

photoFather Emmerich Vogt, OP has put out the Summer 2013 issue of The Twelve Step Review and it’s a really important one for those of us out here in recovery-land.  Letting go of resentments is the focus and he nails it.

“Among feelings of unexpressed anger, resentment is regarded as the source of many mental and even physical illnesses. It has been defined as anger re-sent. It’s reliving the bitter hurts of our lives. Going through life with deep resentments leads only to unhappiness and futility in our efforts to get along.”

It was interesting for me to read that there are only two individuals in Sacred Scripture who are called Jesus’ “friends:” Lazarus and Judas. Lazarus makes sense. But Judas?

In the feature article, Father writes, “When Judas comes to betray Jesus, he is not greeted with ‘You filthy betrayer may you rot in Hell!’ Rather Jesus greets him with “friend.” (Matthew 26:49) I’ll write more verbatim from Father’s words:  Why did Judas betray Jesus? This is an important question to ask because betrayal is something we might all be capable of, and the more we understand our sinful nature, the more we can learn from other people’s mistakes, even Judas’.

It would seem that Judas, having his own agenda, was trying to force Jesus into something that would play into his own plans, trying to force Jesus’ hand, so to speak. And, meditating on the role of Judas, some of us can see ourselves in his behavior. How? When we try to force the outcome of events, when we complain against God when things don’t go according to our plans. For this reason, the person seeking to recover from the effects of sin in his life is taught by Step Eleven to put aside all self-serving motives in his relationship with God. The focus of our prayers should be only seeking God’s will for our lives.

Father says he heard once, “Anger is not getting my way in the present; resentment is not getting my way in the pas; and fear is not getting my way in the future. ”

The Twelve Step Review is a quarterly newsletter and web site publication of the Western Dominican Province and written by Father Vogt.  Visit them at www.12-Step-review.org for the whole thing.

Ciao!

Letting Go of Our Attachments is Key to Loving God

magnetsI’ve said this before but one of my most favorite daily prayer books is “My Daily Bread” by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, published in 1956.  Here is an excerpt from it regarding “attachments,” from pages 192 -194, Chapter 98:

1. My child, as you go through life your heart tends to attach itself to many things. If these attachments become too strong they will make you their slave. You will eventually sin because of them. True, your natural likes and dislikes are not decided by an act of the will. You can, however, control them with the help of prayer, mortifications, and My Sacraments.

2. Purify your love for all earthly things by using them wisely according to My will. Only with a pure love like this can you escape the slavery of earthly attachments. You will never again be too troubled at the possibility of losing something, be it a friend or a cherished possession. Nor is this a form of misguided selfishness. You are simply choosing first things first, God before creatures.

3. Refuse to be a slave of anything on earth. Love Me and My Will more than all else. You are still disturbed and displeased when matters go against your wishes and desires. You still fail to understand the passing nature of earthly things.

4. Let no human being nor earthly satisfaction mean so much to you that you would sin for them. If you love anything that much, your love is misguided and foolish. You are preferring a reflection of God to God Himself.

5. If you want true joy and real greatness, be attached to Me above every person and thing in your earthly life. Let your desires and love be guided by My wisdom, and they will never lead you into folly.

Alcohol + Alcoholic = Death, RIP My Sweet Friend

This Scripture must be talking about alcohol and alcoholism:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

The crazy thing is that alcohol in and of itself will not kill and destroy. It will only kill and destroy the alcoholic—and I suppose anyone who is unlucky enough to be in the path of a drunk driver.

Most people can have a drink or two at the end of the day or at a wedding and nothing changes. But an alcoholic who takes that first drink immediately changes. Something in the brain and the body changes and the alcoholic (like these mice in laboratory experiments) will continue to take more and more despite the negative consequences to relationships, health and life.

A dear friend of mine passed away last weekend because of her alcoholism. She was a beautiful girl, 36 years old and a single mother. She has been in my meetings for the last year and a half.

She WANTED sobriety.

She had a beautiful soul—knew the goodness of sobriety was within her reach and she kept trying to get it.

She loved beer and football. She was always smiling and shining her light—unless she was crying and recovering from another relapse. She shared in many meetings that she had reached her limit and was going to stay sober. But then she would always drink again—usually because she liked to have fun. I completely relate to her on this.

At one point back in November, she had made a bigger attempt at sobriety than she had in the past. She was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober this time. She and I had/have the same sponsor. She started working the steps–like me, getting hung up on the 4th Step–and even attended a women’s sobriety weekend retreat.

She was a morning person and she and I would text at 5am when we were each talking to God–she would send me Bible verses and when sober she was filled with the holy spirit. But she couldn’t ever get more than about 30 days of sobriety.

And her alcoholism wore her down. Eventually she stopped trying as hard—after giving it her all over and over and still not being able to stay sober, she sort of resigned to her fate–she kept trying, but her periods of sobriety by this past Spring were mere days–she apparently began to add pills to her drinking.

And she passed away in her sleep a week ago—just like that. She didn’t wake up.

Below is an email from Stacey last November talking about how happy she was as well as a poem she wrote after that retreat:
—–Original Message—–
From: Anonymous <@gmail.com>
Sent: Tue, Nov 13, 2012 8:49 pm
Glad you enjoyed the poem. Writing is one of my most cherished passions that in being sober I am able to tap back into. 🙂 Got my 30 day chip today! So happy!

 

Victorious
by Anonymous
What an amazing place to be
In a place where I am faced to face me
There is no place I’d rather be
Than the here and the now
Looking back at my life
I can’t help but to think wow!
It all seems so surreal
I’m having to face how I feel
About all of the things that have been said
And all of the things that have been done
It’s surreal to be 36
And to feel my life has just begun
What a blessing it is
The gift of a new beginning
Right now, today, I feel like I am winning
Thanks to my God
For never leaving my side
I now have the courage
To no longer hide
The closer I get to Him
The more that I find
That all my life’s hardships
I seem to not mind
God is teaching me so much
But mostly about perception
To not dwell on the past as hindrance
But to embrace it as lessons
They say when the student is ready
The teacher will appear
These lessons I’m learning from Him
Are slowly ridding me of my fears
I’ve been shedding many tears
Not even sure of why they’re there
Whatever the reason is
I don’t even care
They’re obviously meant to be shed
So therefore I let them fall
And when they are done streaming
I thank my God for them all
This program of AA
Was truly God-sent my way
And each and every passing day
More gratitude sets in
The serenity I feel within
I can now accept as my friend
My prayer to my God
Is to never let it end
Serenity is not the only friend
That has come into my life
My new friends are all of you

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8

You will be deeply missed, my friend. Look out for the rest of us please?

Saint Monica: Another Patron Saint for Alcoholics

saint monica
Saint Monica is patron saint of married women, alcoholics, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse.

Saint Monica was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honoured in the Roman Catholic Church where she is remembered and venerated for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband, and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life with her in his Confessions. Popular Christian legends recall Saint Monica to have wept every night for her son Augustine.

Monica was born a Christian at Thagaste, North Africa, around the year 331, the daughter of devout parents who educated her in the faith. Augustine gives only one incident from her youth, obviously relayed to him by Monica herself, of how she was in danger of becoming a wine bibber, but was corrected when her secret sips in the wine cellar were discovered and a maid, in a moment of anger, called her a “drunkard.” This stinging rebuke prompted her to change her behavior and develop perseverence. Perhaps this is why recovering alcoholics are among the many groups who intercede to Saint Monica.

Prayer for the Intercession of Saint Monica
Dear St. Monica,
Troubled wife and mother, many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime. Yet, you never despaired or lost faith. With confidence, persistence, and profound faith, you prayed daily for the conversion of your beloved husband, Patricius, and your beloved son, Augustine; your prayers were answered. Grant me that same fortitude, patience,and trust in the Lord. Intercede for me, dear St. Monica, that God may favorably hear my plea for (Mention your intention here.) and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

She was married early in life to Patritius, who held an official position in Tagaste, He was a pagan, his temper was violent, and he appears to have had bad behavior outside the marriage. Consequently Monica’s married life was far from being a happy one. Her mother-in-law was as bad as her husband. Her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence.

Monica had three children: Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Monica had been unable to secure baptism for her children, and she experienced much grief when Augustine fell ill. She asked Patritius to allow Augustine to be baptized; Patritius agreed, but on the boy’s recovery withdrew his consent.

Eventually her husband became a Christian but died shortly afterwards. She decided not to remarry.

All Monica’s anxiety now centered in Augustine; he was promiscuous and partied all the time. And, as he himself tells us, he was lazy. Augustine had become a Manichean and when on his return home he shared his views regarding Manichaeism Monica drove him away from her home. However, she is said to have experienced a strange vision that convinced her to reconcile with her son.

It was at this time that she went to see a certain holy bishop, whose name is not given, but who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Monica followed her wayward son to Rome, where he had gone secretly. She met St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing Augustine convert to Christianity, after seventeen years of resistance.

In his book Confessions, Augustine wrote of a peculiar practice of his mother in which she “brought to certain oratories, erected in the memory of the saints, offerings of porridge, bread, and wine.” When she moved to Milan, the bishop Ambrose forbade her to use the offering of wine, since “it might be an occasion of gluttony for those who were already given to drink”. So, Augustine wrote of her:

In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor – so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned.

— Confessions 6.2.2

Mother and son spent six months of true peace and then he was baptized in the church of St. John the Baptist at Milan.

At the port of Ostia, Monica fell ill. She knew that her work had been accomplished and that life would soon be over. She had such a joyful disposition that her sons were unaware of the approach of death. As Monica’s strength failed, she said to Augustine: “I do not know what there is left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. All I wished for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God granted me even more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service.”

The finest pages of Augustine’s Confessions were written as the result of the emotion he experienced after his mother’s death.

The “weeping” springs outside Santa Monica, California were named for Saint Monica.

Spring 2013 Issue of Twelve-Step Review: Christian Friendship

12A wonderful, and under-marketed project by Father Emmerich Vogt, OP is the Twelve Step Review. He writes and sends out a quarterly newsletter on topics relevant to Catholic alcoholics and also provides CDs and DVDs of his talks about recovery. Father Vogt has published a book The Freedom to Love on the subject of adapting the 12 Steps to a serious understanding of the Seven Deadly Sins.

This issue of the Twelve Step Review covers Christian Friendship, inspirational quotes from Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, as well as information on Father Vogt’s most recent talks and recordings.

Here is a quote from the newsletter and the book of Sirach on Christian friendship:

A faithful friend is a strong defense. He that has found him has found a treasure. Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend and no weight of gold and silver can countervail the goodness of his fidelity. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality. The book of Sirach 6:5-17

The emphasis here seems to be on the “faithful” friend.  We all know there are many other kinds of friends (Facebook “friends,” acquaintances, business contacts) but the “faithful” friend is a treasure.  Let’s hope we each have one or two of these types of friends in our lives!  I do, thank you God.