“I used to be Catholic, But I’ve Seen the Light”

last supper

This is Jacopo Bassano Last Supper but it made me think of an AA Meeting for some reason.

If you attend a lot of 12 Step Recovery meetings, particularly in the South, you’ve no doubt heard some one share, “I used to be Catholic, but I’ve seen the light.” I’ve even heard someone say, “I’m a Recovering Catholic,” as if being Catholic was its own disease.

Usually the sharer will then pause for effect as the room chuckles with knowing nods and grins. Yikes!

As a traditional and practicing Catholic attending meetings and trying to stay sober, this always makes me cringe a little. But I usually ignore it, keeping in mind “some are sicker than others” (ha–this is AA jargon for excusing all sorts of tactless behavior in meetings).  And remind myself to place “principles before personalities” (this is AA-speak to say we don’t have to like everybody we meet in meetings) as it instructs in the 12 Traditions.

If I’m PMSing, like today (aka, “hyper-sensitive, looking for a fight), and it’s one of those meetings where, to my hormonal brain it seems the entire theme of the meeting gets stuck on, “Yeah me too–I used to be Catholic too!” Where person after person after person chimes in about how awful being Catholic was, how they’ve seen the light and found spirituality, which of course is OH SO MUCH BETTER than religion; and they each seem so gloriously happy about this–then I usually just walk out of the meeting pissed off and make my way to the nearest Adoration chapel.

But, let’s be real here. There are a lot of baptized Catholic alcoholics–whether we still practice our faith or not–the stereotype is there for a reason.  Irish Catholic alcoholic, especially. We like to drink.  We drink at weddings, funerals and baby showers.  Heck, Husband and I had a big cooler of beer for our son’s first birthday party.

Since there is usually a lot of alcohol around growing up Catholic it’s no wonder a few of us liked it a little too much and became alcoholics.  Most of us didn’t, but enough of us did to take up a lot of seats in AA meetings.

Add a couple of decades of drinking too much to a cradle Catholic’s under-catechized faith, and there usually isn’t any Mass attendance or sacraments in the picture anymore. So, we share we “used to be” Catholic, but we wised up. Sadly, instead of blaming our breaking away from our faith on alcohol, we blame it on the “punishing, judgmental God” we grew up with.  You know, the one that made nuns hit us over the knuckles with rulers.

No, it wasn’t alcohol that separated us from God, it was the horrible, judgmental, punishing Catholic version of God, which was our problem. Right?

In 12 Step Recovery meetings we’re not supposed to put down other faiths or other varieties of “higher powers.”  12 Step Tradition encourages inclusiveness of all types of higher powers —- even (gasp!) the Catholic one — because never would we want to make a newcomer feel uncomfortable or made fun of.

cs lewis originalUnfortunately, some of us fear offending someone by our beliefs, so we don’t even mention our faith when we tell our story.  Simply stating we love being Catholic makes temperamentally insecure people feel judged. So we hide our faith. We just don’t  bring it up at all. I think this is a disservice to the members that might benefit from our stories.

Here are 5 things I do to stay honest about my faith in my recovery meetings.

1. Don’t accept the premise.  Just because one person blames their tarnished faith walk on their Catholic upbringing doesn’t mean I have to go along with this premise. Growing up Catholic is a good thing.  I was taught God is good, unconditionally loving, accepting, merciful and infinitely forgiving.  When appropriate, I’ll credit my Catholic upbringing for giving me a positive and personal relationship with my Creator.

2. Turn the Lord’s Prayer into an Our Father. You know how in some meetings some will change “Father” to “Mother” or change “deliver us from sin” to “deliver us from self?”   And some don’t say the Lord’s Prayer at all, simply standing there in silence, but in solidarity. It’s all fine. And, it’s perfectly OK we adapt the common prayer to fit our faith. Other people do this, so I can too. I will bless myself with the sign of the cross before grasping hands to pray.  And I skip the “for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” and instead stop speaking the prayer at the proper Catholic stopping point.

3. I will occasionally share how the Sacraments help bring me closer to my higher power. During 11th Step meetings–when others are sharing the way they understand spirituality–yoga, meditating on an Eastern spirituality mantra, positive thinking, being one with nature– I try not to be shy to share how much celebrating the Holy Eucharist helps me have communion with my “higher power.” Or, mention that I did my 5th Step with my parish priest.

4. Work my Catholic faith into my story when I share my experience, strength and hope. I just might help somebody else who feels the same way I do. I may mention I went to Mass on Sunday and really felt connected to my higher power. I may talk about how being in recovery has brought me back to my childhood faith. I really try not to omit my faith from my story because it is my story—it’s ok to be spiritual AND religious, even in AA.

5. Use humor. Sometimes simply making a joke about being raised Catholic around all that alcohol is good enough–since I am a practicing Catholic, it is perfectly okay to make fun of myself! It is not okay if non-Catholics do this, though.  You know how it goes. I can complain about my family member, but don’t you dare say anything bad about him to me or I’ll kick your ass.  I’ve said, “When I was in high school I used to get in line twice for communion in order to get more wine.”

The really good news is Catholic bashing in 12 Step meetings is VERY RARE.   Like one-half-of-one-percent-rare.  In fact, an AA meeting is one of the few places where people of all faiths can come together without arguing over religion, because it truly doesn’t matter. What brings us together is a common problem. What keeps us meeting is a common solution: the 12 Steps.  Everyone is free to believe as he or she wishes.  It’s truly a beautiful thing.

 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…1Peter 3:15

41 thoughts on ““I used to be Catholic, But I’ve Seen the Light”

    • i know right? it’s easy to get caught up in the culture of being quiet about our catholic faith in certain circles. an aa meeting would be just that type of circle where it would be easier to just keep quiet. but I think God wants me to be a happy catholic warrior LOL. and AA people are usually pretty open to everything as long as you’re honest. thanks for reading!

  1. “Add a couple of decades of drinking too much to a cradle Catholic’s under-catechized faith, and there usually isn’t any Mass attendance or sacraments in the picture anymore. So, we share we “used to be” Catholic, but we wised up. Sadly, instead of blaming our breaking away from our faith on alcohol, we blame it on the “punishing, judgmental God” we grew up with. You know, the one that made nuns hit us over the knuckles with rulers.”

    I don’t look at this sort of thinking as being characteristic of alcoholics or of non practicing Catholics. I think it’s a characteristic of being human. It’s like the kid who doesn’t get along with his 7th Grade Science teacher and decides that science isn’t for him — he just can’t see that he’s too ignorant of science to know whether or not he’d like it.

    I tell people (and I mean it) that of all the things my parents did for me, the thing I’m most grateful for was that they had me baptized. I was so blessed to be raised in a family that abounded in faith! My parents and relatives were faithful, but they were also human. Yes, I know what people are talking about when they talk about the “punishing, judgmental, Catholic God.” I was exposed to that god too! I had my share of nasty nuns, too!

    When Jesus spoke of the blind leading the blind he could have been talking about a lot of us Catholics. So many of us grasp a teensy-weensy crumb of the gospel and then imagine we’re expert enough to teach others. These poor, paltry snippets of our religion that end up getting passed around and branded as ‘Catholic’ aren’t worth a penny — but people assume that’s all the Church has to offer.

    It’s not easy. In fact, it’s impossible — but what’s impossible for man is possible for God.



  2. Excellent post! It is a spiritual program, therefore, we should feel free to share aspects of our individual faiths. How else will those who think they are hopelessly lost discover a path that will lead them to the light? During my own sharing, I keep in mind the need to make sure what I’m sharing relates to my 12 Step journey. I keep references to my particular faith rather low-key, knowing that anyone who wants to know more can talk to me after the meeting. “Gentleness and respect.” Thank you!

  3. What you’re saying is that for you, your faith in God is one of the things that helps you.

    I think a lot of the folks who are disparaging about catholicism/christianity probably don’t actually have much understanding of themselves or of humanity – which is possibly why they drink!

    There’s a song that seems to be following me around, and it might be helpful for you:

    • oh my goodness faithhopechocolate! i had never heard this song before and it is absolutely perfect! thank you so much for sharing it! i will find a way to put it in a side rail widget or something in order to share it with others. bless you!

      • It’s from an album called “Music Inspired by The Story” or just “The Story”. I’m using that track as part of the Lent Intercessions I’ll be leading, because of how powerful it is. I just hope and pray that the Sisters will like it.

        Your observations about people catholic-bashing reminded me of one thing. It’s very, very rare that people will make an intellectual decision to stop believing in God. More often than not, what happens is a gentle drifting away – they’ll start to skip attending services and stop private praying, and then eventually they’ll realise that they’ve not gone and they’ve not talked to God and therefore they don’t think He exists (because, in their minds, if He did, He would have somehow stopped them from ignoring him, even though if He tried that they’d be the first to complain “oi, you gave us free will!”).

        • I remember in high school learning the Catechism about the conscience and how every choice we make contributes to the formation of our consciences. Each time I ignored my conscience it became one tiny step away from God. Over the years these tiny steps added up to a great distance. Glad to have the tools of faith and the 12 steps to erase that great distance and retrace my steps towards God. 🙂

          • The excellent thing is that we don’t have to walk the whole distance – we turn back towards God, and like in the story of the prodigal son, God is already running towards us with His arms outstretched to welcome us back.

  4. What a fabulous post. I was raised Roman Catholic, although I converted to another religion when I married. I am not practicing in either, but since coming into AA and re-learning and feeling my way around God, I am very open to exploring it. Nonetheless, I loved what you said about the Catholic bashing or at least the view that somehow being Catholic was the cause for the disillusionment in some people’s lives. They say that when we are separated from God, God isn’t the one who moved. We did. So how do we reconcile those two ideas? We don’t. We acknowledge that something has blocked us from the Sunlight of the Spirit.

    I have to say that in these parts I haven’t heard the anti-Catholic sentiments that you have. Love and tolerance, that’s our code. To be high on spirituality while stepping on the prejudice of religion is intolerance to me. It’s an act of superiority that goes against the spiritual principles in AA.

    High five on this one for ya!

    Paul (another Paul, yes)

    • thanks Paul! I think it is more common in the south..i have talked with several people who feel the same way about it as i do so i wanted to write about it. thank you for your comments! your comments are so thoughtful and thought-provoking!

  5. Pingback: 7 Quick-takes: 7 Reasons I Like Alcoholics Anonymous | Catholic Alcoholic

  6. I guess this post is to old but I get it every meeting and if I say my esp they put it down so I stoppped going for a time to hurt I,m sober 29 years

      • When I found out that God forgave me for becoming a drunk after he saved my life many years before I could never again turn my back on such an awsome God .I was in awe that I didn,t have to die of this terrible diease like my grandfathers and many others in my big Irish italian family .Graditude for sweet Jesus always being there at my worst .He stays with me everyday in holy communion and confession keeps me honest .thanks for being there ,mary t

  7. Thank you for this post. I hear a some Catholic bashing at meetings. I refuse to hide the fact that I am a practicing Catholic and love being so. The program is spiritual not religious. But I am spiritual and religious.

  8. I came across this post while googling terms to help me deal with anti-catholic shares at AlAnon meetings. The Catholic bashing occurs in AlAnon too, on the East Coast where I live.

    The angry diatribes or snickering jokes are usually from former Catholics in their sixties or seventies who were raised by alcoholic parents who twisted the faith to exert control. I don’t talk about my Catholic faith at meetings, because most of the preambles state that the group conscience requests that people not discuss religion, among other things including treatment centers and non-conference-approve literature. This does not stop fallen-away Catholics from five-minute shares about how awful the Catholic Church is. In the process, they state doctrine that I know isn’t true.

    Yesterday at a meeting, someone read an essay she wrote in which she insulted and stereotyped Roman Catholics and Irish Catholics, and made false statements about Catholic doctrine. The fact that she is a former Catholic doesn’t make it ok. She was still violating the group conscience, which was read at the beginning of that meeting, that says not to discuss religion.

    So I got up and walked out in the middle of her share. There are enough other meetings around here where I don’t have to stay at a meeting where the leader lets this go on. (In fact, there is another meeting in a different location at the same time, so I can go to that one instead.)

    Why is it not acceptable to insult any other religion EXCEPT Catholic? Just a rhetorical question.

    Thanks for this post. In my case, I could not do what you do and share the good things about my Catholic faith during meetings, because that would violate the no-religion-at-meetings rule. I just wish the angry fallen-away Catholics would follow that rule as well.

    • Thank you so much for your comment!!! It’s universally accepted for x Catholics to bash our Faith. I don’t know why it is this way but at one time in my recovery I left AA because of it. In AA we don’t discuss religion but we are allowed to share our own experience and it it includes religion that is ok. I couldn’t imagine putting down another persons faith. But it happens all the time with Catholics.

  9. P.S. The anti-Catholic shares go on at my Adult Children of Alcoholic meetings too. Again, usually by people who are in their sixties or older, late fifties at the youngest.

    • what they say about our faith is the jansonist heracy of self hatred and shame this was spread to the irish and that is who lives around here .The you can,t share your esh but we can because we have no idea what we are talking about as in I don,t know who god is … Goes on for years and is very loud UGH! I have been ill for 2 months so no meetings 1 person calls me I,ve lived here 30 years ????

      • So interesting mary! I never heard if that and will look it up! I’m so sorry you are sick! Thank goodness for sober bloggers when we can’t get to a meeting!!! God bless you and get well very very soon!

  10. “we don’t discuss religion but we are allowed to share our own experience and it it includes religion that is ok” ,<Yes this. The same in the fellowship I am in. I would have thought that working through the steps, that the resentment they have towards the Church would have gone.

      • I,m growing in faith but the lonely way is heart breaking .I continue to do what I can when I know about another my husband goes to meetings only tells if someone needs help or prayer no breach there.I offer mass and adoration rosary and ask the saints to help me to love them .Jesus loved me in my deep sin before I could clean up and say I,m ready to be loved now Lord ,before I could love that is what I pray on.

  11. Thanks for the feedback. I don’t mind if someone shares their own experience with a religion. For example, if someone was abused by a religious parent or clergy person, they need a safe place to get that out. What bothers me is when they state their mistaken impressions of what the Church believes as if it were Church doctrine.

    Sometimes their parents taught them things that I know are contradicted by the catechism, but they state them as “The Catholic Church believes X” instead of “my alcoholic parents taught me X.” (The latest thing I heard shared at a meeting was something like: the Catholic Church withholds grace as a means of control.)

    I would be perfectly happy if we all followed the rule not to discuss religion, but just talked about our Higher Power and AlAnon principles in a general way. I have no desire to convert people to my spiritual beliefs, which have changed a lot over time. That’s why I don’t even mention that I’m Catholic during my shares; I think it’s too specific and violates the rule not to discuss religion.

    But I will think more about the experience piece, as in: is this person just sharing their experience or impression of their childhood religion versus are they speaking as an authority on that religion? Also, I’m sure I’m extra-sensitive to this as some family members are anti-Catholic. So I look to 12-step meetings as one of the safe places where I don’t have to deal with that.

    • It,s not safe for me but I go anyway if I say the correct info they put me down and contradict and laugh.I do not try to get them to see my way I just say what is going on with me but it,s not ok it,s like they realy care about PC only not sober life I asked at a meeting what step people were on they said I,m not working on any of the steps ?No wonder it,s such a mess.

  12. Mary, I never heard of Jansensim and just looked it up. How interesting! That does explain a lot…I live in a part of the country where many people are descendants of the Irish immigrants who care here in the early 1900s. (My family comes from that wave of immigrants too, although we were a mix of Irish and Italian.)

    Sorry about your illness. Praying for healing. Illness and/or chronic pain can feel very isolating. Hope you feel better soon.

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