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!

 

 

 

Father Emmerich’s 12 Step Review new issue Out!

photo 1And this one is a doozy.  Anger and Fear. Man oh man how anger and fear drive the alcoholic into our cups. I am one to think I am never angry. I don’t even hardly ever feel angry. Cut me off in traffic? Oh, you’re probably on your way to an emergency. Cancel your ad at the last minute? Crap. But I get it. Things come up.

But when Fr Emmerich talks about Saint Thomas Aquinas (whom is awesome) take on anger: ” St Thomas Aquinas teaches that one can sin with regard to anger in two ways, by excess or by defect: by excess when we act out of the anger in a sinful way; by defect when we stuff the anger and become depressed instead of allowing the anger to express itself in a good and holy way.”

I’m a stuffer.

I cringe and get annoyed by those who express anger “by excess!” Those who go crazy, cuzz, freak out and make a scene causing everybody to feel so uncomfortable— aka my husband 🙂

But I’ve learned in recovery this is such a true Truth: “You spot it you got it.”  So, if I spot this awfulness expression of anger by excess do I have this in ME?  oh my goodness grose!  Please God no. I don’t have this awful anger thing, right?

Right?  Wrong.  I have what Saint Thomas Aquinas describes as anger “by defect,” where I stuff it and get depressed.  So, I can be all high and mighty that I’m not an “angry” person but damn straight I actually am.  I just handle my anger differently. I stuff it and deny it.  Either way, the sin is just as bad.

To see all of Father Emmerich’s 12 STep newsletters, check out www.12-step-review.org

Related articles

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.

7 Quick Takes Friday: Seven 7-Quick-Takes

I’m a day late. Yikes!  Here we go again with our 7 Quick Takes Friday hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler over at Conversion Diary. We reciprocate links to her blog and then post 7 “quick-takes” on our blogs.

“I am invariably late for appointments.  I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.”Marilyn Monroe

7quicktakesYes, I am late. In this post I’m simply going to do a synopsis of my first 7-Quick-Takes. So, (drumroll) voila!:

1. Seven Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

In this post, I list seven incredible people, Catholic clergy and religious, who have overcome their alcoholism and went on to help others:  Sister “Molly Monahan,” Father Joseph Martin, Father Emmerich Vogt, Father Ralph Pfau, Father Francis Canavan, Father Jim McKenna, and of course the Venerable Matt Talbott.

2. Seven Greetings of “Happy Woman’s Day” from a Politically Incorrect Full-Blooded American Woman

In this post, I am a little cheeky about how old school feminists have hi-jacked what it means to be a woman. I don’t relate to them at all and I write about how these feminists have in essence actually hurt women.

3. Seven Reasons I Like Alcoholics Anonymous

In this post, I wrote about how to the traditional, practicing Catholic, AA might seem a little too non-denominational and new agey, but by finally overcoming my uncomfortability with AA I was able to accept help from other women in the meetings—women that God had sent to me to walk me through the 12 Steps.

4. Seven Things I Do NOT Miss Now That I am Sober

In this post, I painfully recalled some not so graceful moments from my past and used wisdom from the saints, Scripture and theologians to hit home the message that sobriety is key for me.

5. My Seven Favorite Saints

In this post, I wrote about these seven saints: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Therese de Lisieux, Saint Bernadette, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Catherine of Siena, and my own mother–future Saint Claire of Brooklyn.

6. Seven Pilgrimage Sites in the Southeast

In this post, I detailed seven pilgrimage sites within driving distance from Atlanta: Monastery of the Holy Spirit, The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (where Husband and I got married!), The Shrine of Saint John Berchmans, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, Ave Maria Grotto and my favorite, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.

7. Seven Non-Alcoholic Drinks to Celebrate the Season

In this post, in the middle of the Christmas parties, I gave yummy recipes for non-alcoholic drinks we can concoct to take part in the festivities without losing consciousness.

Grumpy Today

imageSo much to be grateful for but I am grumpy today. Normally I could blame this on hormones but its not it. I’m restless, irritable and discontent. And tired. And my back hurts.

And I’m picking fights with strangers. Maybe it’s because Husband is drinking again and I’m jealous. He’s not an alcoholic so no worries there. But he was my drinking buddy. He quit to support me. Oh well. It’s not his problem, it’s mine. Sooooo…

Gratitude list?

1. I’m grateful for the rain that is taking away the new pollen.

2. I’m grateful for all kinds of people, whether I agree with them or not. I do have that weird eternity kind of love for all people. Does that make sense?

3. I’m grateful Husband refrained from drinking for so long just to support and “suffer with” me

4. Grateful I can go to the women’s meeting tomorrow at 11:30 to see my peeps.

5. I’m grateful it’s almost bed time.

Good night! I feel better already. Nothing like a gratitude list to cure a bout of self-pity. Plus I found this awesome picture of the Samaritan woman listening at the feet of Jesus.  He offers her (and me) his living water.

Dear God

deargod insecureDear God,

Hi. Good morning. Just thinking about things, up before everyone else in the house. I love this time of the day,the early morning with my coffee and my runaway dog Gypsy.

I’m a little conflicted as you know, God, about this blogging thing. I told you in the beginning when you and I decided it was okay and time for me to go “public” with my alcoholism and this blog that it was a risk because of my scruples. After a couple of years of just writing for myself and you, I have since early January been writing for a third person now. I have the reader in mind. I edit what I write. I re-word things that might sound controversial or stupid.

I told you I was worried this would happen, that I would care too much how or even if I’m perceived by others. You know this is one of my faults. Sometimes I call it vanity. But still you encouraged me to do this.  Why?  I’ve lost my time with you in the mornings. I’ve lost the intimacy you and I shared. My mornings used to be 45 minutes of sitting in my prayer chair, reading, praying, listening to you.

Now the first thing I do in the morning—well, I do make myself say the Rosary before I get out of bed, but it’s rushed and I can’t wait to finish it in order to get up for coffee and to check my blog.  Did anybody read what I wrote yesterday? Comment? Do I have a new follower overnight? Where did my traffic come from? What search words do strangers use to find my blog? How interesting it all is to me!  And although this information shows me that you and I are on the right track with this, I don’t like how my focus has shifted from you to me.

I just wanted to talk about this blogging thing, this public alcoholism I’m engaged in. What about all the people in my life, my professional life and my Facebook/personal life—my Facebook life is filled with people I’ve met along the way all the way back to elementary school!  What will they think if they find out I’m an alcoholic?  My blog posts are showing up in SEO, in Google.

What about those girls from high school and college, you know the perfect ones?  What will they think of me?  What about my sister, the one who is more private than I am.

You know, that’s the thing that’s bothering me the most right now.  The sister who may not be comfortable with me being publicly alcoholic.  I try to summon up the courage to not worry about this but it does make me question myself and your plan for me.  Maybe I should just be a quiet, non-wave-maker, mother and wife. I have that scruples thing, not all the time and not with everybody but with some people. But the love is there. Definitely the love is there

Should I be sharing these personal things about my life?  Shouldn’t I be more careful about what I put “out there” on the internet?  Why am I even doing this blog? It’s not like I’m blogging about arts and crafts, cooking, motherhood, something respectable. I’m blogging about alcoholism and how it has affected me and my family.  Maybe I should be more private about things, especially these things?

Even though I’m INFP on the Myers Briggs personality thing, I do have a way about me that sort of barrels through life. I don’t take  precautions, and I usually just go for it, do things. I’ve always been this way. I’m always like, “Okay, sure. Let’s do it.”  I was a gymnast and a diver in my youth, and I’ve always had a lot of courage–or maybe some would call me a “risk-taker,” which is actually one of the qualities the experts say is evident in every alcoholic.  A risk-taker. My coach would show me a difficult thing in the gymnastics book and I would say sure, I’ll try it.  So I guess my point here is how does me doing this blog affect the people I love? Am I being selfish here, risking more than just my own reputation? By having this blog am I hurting the reputation of those I love, too? Will my children be embarrassed one day when they’re old enough to know the difference?

Anyways, I”m not making ANY sense. I sound like such a victim here which is not how I feel at all.  Just wanted you to know that part of my fear and reservation about going public with my alcoholism and this blog. All of this could be in my head.  All of this, I suppose unfortunately IS in my head. ugh.

Back to you.

Dear God, I’m just asking you this morning two things. Well, of course the normal things like bless and take care of Husband and the children, my parents, Husband’s parents and all of my siblings and their families. Of course that.  But the two things I’m asking for in addition to the regular things are:

1. Bring me back to you in my mornings. I am loving blogging and writing, but I think of Wormwood in the Screwtape Letters, how satan is a master manipulator and uses the things we love to separate us from you. So help me give my mornings back to you, in my prayer chair, with my journal and my Lectio Divina, my Magnificat subscription, My Daily Bread book…  I want to be with you in the mornings again.

2. Release me from my attachment to pleasing anyone but you. Help me not worry about what I think people think of me.  I’m not the kind of person anymore that worries about what everybody thinks—but I guess I do still worry too much about what “certain” people think.  So, can you release me from that?

3. oh and three. I know I said it was just two. But three, can you reveal what it is exactly you want me to do with this blog?  It’s all for you, you know?

Love, Regina

7 Quick Takes Friday: 7 Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

matt talbot

Here we go again with our 7 Quick Takes Friday hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler over at Conversion Diary. We reciprocate links to her blog and then post 7 “quick-takes” on our blogs.

7 Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

1. Venerable Matt Talbott

Matt Talbott was born in the poverty of Dublin’s inner city. He began drinking at twelve years of age and became a chronic alcoholic. It was the drug culture of the 19th century. Matt was an addict.

After a horrendous sixteen year struggle, he found sobriety.  He decided to ‘kick the habit’. A priest helped him, giving him a rehabilitation program, which providentially incorporated aspects and principles of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. With the help of this Priest friend Matt modeled his life on that of the monks, who lived in Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries.7quicktakes

He remained sober for forty years until his death. His life story has been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world. He is a candidate for canonization in the Church and has achieved the title of “venerable.”

Matt’s program of recovery was built around devotion to the Eucharist, love of Mary, Mother of God, spiritual reading, self-discipline and manual work. But he never forgot his struggle with his addiction.

“Never look down on a man, who cannot give up the drink”, he told his sister, “it is easier to get out of hell!” (Matt Talbott)

Here is an 8 minute YouTube video telling the story of Matt Talbott.

seeds of grace book2. “Sister Molly Monahan” (not her real name), author of Seeds of Grace

Sister Molly Monahan” wrote a wonderful book a decade or so ago about her experiences with alcoholism and recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous. She had been drinking, quietly and compulsively, for years when she finally decided to attend her first AA meeting. There she found the emotional support that AA is famous for-but she also found a surprising source of spiritual strength. In this unique book, she reflects on how a nonreligious group brought about such a powerful reawakening of faith-and explores gratitude, community, forgiveness, prayer, and many more subjects of interest not only to alcoholics but to anyone on a spiritual quest.

“Monahan’s unique understanding of both the human and spiritual side of alcoholism forms an important, personal understanding of theology in action.” (Library Journal)

Sister “Molly” was trained in the methods of Ignatian Spirituality, had made week-long retreats annually, had studied spirituality and obtained a graduate degree in theology, yet as she writes, “None of this prevented me from becoming an alcoholic.” And she claims that without Alcoholics Anonymous’ spiritual program of recovery she would be “spiritually bereft.” That is a big statement!  She had all the spirituality and knowledge of Catholic sacramental life yet still couldn’t break the alcoholism cycle until she made it into AA.

I wrote a review of her book here.

Vogt3. Father Emmerich Vogt, “12-Step Review”

Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. is a Dominican priest of the Western Dominican Province. Educated by the Dominican Order at its seminary in California, Fr. Emmerich went on to receive a MA degree in Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and a graduate degree in Near Eastern Religions from University of California.

THE 12 STEP REVIEW is a publication of the Western Dominican Province, a nonprofit organization of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers, and is founded and edited by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. It is published four times a year through donations. Father Vogt travels around the country giving retreat talks on Christian principles within 12 Step spirituality. Sober for 30 years, Vogt wrote a book published last year The Freedom to Love and continues to make his talks and retreats available on CD and DVD.

The site 12 Step Review is maintained by volunteers and offers a wonderful resource for today’s recovering Catholic alcoholic. My mother attended sessions of his retreat in Johns Creek, Georgia a couple of weeks ago and said they were wonderful and appealing to all types of relationship dilemmas, with the focus on 12 Step process of recovery.

father jim4. Father Jim McKenna (1953 – 2006)

Fr. Jim’s lifelong dream to become a Catholic priest came true in 1960. At that time he took a pledge to refrain from alcohol for five years. In 1965, while he was fulfilling his priestly duties he started enjoying occasional cocktails.

He later went for an evaluation and it was decided that while he was a good priest, he was also an alcoholic. After three months in Guest House in Minnesota, an addiction treatment rehab for Catholic clergy and religious, he returned to Bergen County and attended AA meetings.

Fr. Jim was assigned to Oradell’s St. Joseph’s R.C. Church where he started the recovery mass for anyone affected by the disease of alcoholism, with the hope of giving more people an opportunity to leave the “Hell” of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction and perhaps find the “Heaven of Sobriety.” The Third Saturday mass began with 18 people and quickly spread to over 500. Fr. Jim began each mass with, “Hello, my name is Jim and I am an alcoholic”; and all felt welcome.

This is a special Mass for all who are affected by the disease of Alcoholism. The Recovery Mass continues on even after Father Jim’s death and is held on the third Saturday of every month.

“Alcoholism is a disease, not a bad habit.” (Father Jim)

FatherCanavan5. Father Francis Canavan (1917 – 2009)

An author of more than 10 books and a political philosopher who inspired and encouraged many students at Fordham, Father Canavan taught for 22 years in the Department of Political Science. He wrote prolifically about liberalism and Catholic social teaching, and, during the 1960s, served as associate editor of America magazine. He was also a member of the advisory board of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

During the 1980s, Father Francis Canavan had given inspirational talks to members of the Calix Society, which were compiled into a pair of books, The Light of Faith and By the Grace of God. I haven’t read them but intend to. They are both available via the Calix Society website.  He was the spiritual director for the Calix Society for many years.

Here is part of the talk he gave on the topic of the 2nd Step “Coming to Believe:”

“[Coming] to believe is a process that goes on all our lives and is never completely finished. No matter how deeply we believe, we can always believe more deeply, and God will lead us to a steadily more profound faith through the experiences of our lives, if we will let Him. But what is of immediate interest to us here is the coming to believe of the person who has little or no faith in God. “Acting as if” is the way in which he begins the process of coming to believe.” (Father Canavan)

fathermartinpicture6. Father Joseph Martin (1924 – 2009)

Father Joseph Martin, after ten years of priesthood, was encouraged to get help for his alcoholism. He was treated at the Guest House in Orion, Michigan. After getting sober he presented the “Chalk Talk”- a blackboard presentation that helped earn Father Martin national recognition as an authority on addiction.

“Chalk Talk” was filmed by the U.S. Navy for use in drug and alcohol education around the world. Father Martin later received multiple awards for his work with addiction in various branches of the military.

Father Martin and Mae Abraham (an alcoholic who was helped by the “Chalk Talk.”) sought resources to open a chemical addiction treatment center based on Father Martin’s philosophies of treatment, including his heartfelt belief that every addict is worth saving. A 20-acre property, the Oakington estate in Havre de Grace, Maryland was the perfect location for a treatment center.

Finally, Father Martin’s Ashley opened its doors to the first group of patients. The center was named for co-founder Father Martin, as it was his treatment philosophy that would be the basis of patient care. Soon he helped establish the Ashley Relapse Treatment program, which incorporates the Gorski Relapse Prevention Model, 12 Step approaches and Father Martin’s treatment philosophy.

Father Martin’s published a book No Laughing Matter, compiling three of his talks—”The Chalk Talk”, “Guidelines” and “Alcoholism and the Family.” The Rainbow of Hope Children’s Program was started at FMA. Held one Saturday each month, the program is open to all children who live in homes with addiction.

“He (Father Martin) is the master mentor who teaches and touches at the same time.” Robert Ackerman, Ph.D.

pfau7. Father Ralph Pfau (1904 – 1967)

He is believed to have been the first Roman Catholic priest to enter Alcoholics Anonymous and is affectionately known also as “Father John Doe.”

He was a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, ordained at St. Meinrad Seminary, and received an MA in Education at Fordham University.

In the opening paragraph of his autobiography, “Prodigal Shepherd,” Father Pfau wrote:

“All my life, I will carry three indelible marks. I am a Roman Catholic priest. I am an alcoholic. And I am a neurotic.”

He had never a drink until about a year after his ordination. But by 1943 he was sufficiently worried about his drinking to investigate A.A. While responding to a call from a woman who said her husband was dying, he learned from the doctor that the man was not dying, but merely passed out from a combination of alcohol and barbital. As Fr. Pfau was leaving the house he noticed a book on a shelf and asked if he could borrow it. It was “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

AA history recalled by a member who attended the first International A.A. Convention in Cleveland in 1950, speaks of how Father Pfau helped insist that AA remain non-religious.

In this first Convention in 1950, at the ‘Spiritual Meeting’ the main speaker’s topic, “dealt with the idea that the alcoholic was to be the instrument that God would use to regenerate and save the world. He expounded the idea that alcoholics were God’s Chosen People and he was starting to talk about AA being ‘The Third Covenant,’ when he was interrupted by shouted objections from the back of the room. The objector, who turned out to be a small Catholic priest (Father Pfau), would not be hushed up. There was chaos and embarrassment as the meeting was quickly adjourned.” As the member recalls Father Pfau’s objections:

” How well we shall always remember that A.A. is never to be thought of as a religion. How firmly we shall insist that A.A. membership cannot depend upon any particular belief whatever; that our twelve steps contain no article of religious faith except faith in God — as each of us understands Him. How carefully we shall henceforth avoid any situation which could possibly lead us to debate matters of personal religious belief.”

***

So there you go! This is a great list but where are all the Catholic alcoholic women?  “Sister Molly Monahan” on this list but she remains anonymous.  hmmmm..  I am going to have to scout out Google (or Bing, if I’m feeling counter-cultural) for women Catholic alcoholics.  Where are we?