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.

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

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

  1. This is great and really relates to what I posted earlier. I will most likely read it several times to fully digest it. Thanks for sharing. And yes. I was raised as catholic as well although now we are in a more “universal” church that we love.

  2. I was an AA member for 20 years, but my reversion to Catholicism dismembered me. I wrote a book about my experience. It is called A Journey from Drunkenness to Eighteousness. Would you be interested in reading it?

  3. Hey Regina – feels like forever since I made a comment here! But this post was really very cool, informative and honest. I am not a Catholic, so I can’t offer any experience in that realm. I think that is why I said I learned a little bit more reading this. I have always admired your passion for Catholicism and recovery, and love when you combine them like you do here.

    I think that what you say about having a sponsor as opposed to a spiritual adviser is very important. In tandem, yes they can give you a one-two punch at times. But when it comes to being with another alcoholic, someone who has been there, who has worked the steps and has had the spiritual awakening as a result of those steps…that is key for us in working the program ourselves. I am not religious, but would *love* to have a spiritual adviser! My sponsor and some of the other men in my recovery life certainly have spiritual undertones to their conversations, but it’s usually couched in AA / recovery ideas. But to have someone just to discuss purely spiritual ideas is wonderful. You are so lucky!

    What I find funny is that so many people slag the program because of it’s Christian roots, and here you are explaining why it is difficult for tradition Catholic people to follow the program. The one thing that stood out was the idea of people using the BB as the Bible, so to speak. I too don’t see it that way. As Sandy B (extraordinary AA speaker) said, the BB is a treasure map, but the real treasure is God. So I look at it like that. I mean, I love the BB and I do study it a lot, and really take a lot from it, but I don’t consider it sacred text in the traditional definition. It’s a book. A life-saving book. But it only points to the real deal – God.

    Great post – missed your recovery posts 🙂


    • Thank you Paul!!! I love your comments. I have been horrible about posting original thoughts lately so thanks for noticing this time when I did! I love how you say the BB is a life-saving book that points us to the real deal, God. And you’re right about how people see AA based on where they are. I’ve thought about this a lot too because of the atheist AA members that think AA is too “Christian” or too much about God and then here are the traditional religious that think it’s not in line with their faiths. aye aye aye! AA can’t win for losing! Thanks for referencing Sandy B. I bet he has podcasts somewhere I could listen to? I’ll google him. Thanks so much! – 9

  4. Hey 9…. I have had similar questions and challenges in AA. While I am not Catholic, I am a believer of the Bible and God as I understand Him is Jesus Christ. Some would call me a Christian. I prefer simply to say I believe Jesus was who he said he was and leave the labels to others.

    A few thoughts on some of the points in your post. In my experience, while I don’t believe AA set out to be a religion, it is indeed practiced as one by many of its members. And this does not surprise me. It has a spiritual basis, a method for living, gatherings, traditions, offerings, and many other factors that are parallel to a formalized religion. But in the end, it is how it is practiced that in my experience can make it into a religion.

    Contrary to the practice of AA as a religion, original AA actually encouraged people to go back to their own religious affiliations. But again, many members instead turned AA into their religion instead. Why not? Its easy. There are few rules and only suggestions. And as long as you are sober, you can pretty much carry on anyway you want. Oh ya, and the big one, you get to make up your own God! So of course many choose to make AA their religion.

    The Big Book / Bible thing is similar. I personally believe that the Big Book was, as you stated, intended to be a text rather than holy scripture. In fact, to me, The Big Book seems more to be a simple collection of experiences and suggestions simply bound together so the reader has a track to run on.

    When I hear the Big Book quoted as if it were definitive holy text, it makes me nervous and frankly turns me off. Much of the Big Book was derived from Biblical teachings. But it is far from being on par with the Bible. I bet the authors would be shaking their heads if they were to have known their collection of experiences and suggestions would be considered parallel to or even above The Bible by some.

    Naturally, this is an emotionally-charged topic I am sure. As is any topic involving faith.



    • Thank you Chaz! I loved your comment! I love your faith! I think maybe some make AA their religion because they don’t have another one. Or they’ve left their religion of their childhood while they were drinking and so by the time we get to AA we have “lost our religion” so to speak. Many of these, by the grace of God, find God in the rooms and return to their childhood faith and enjoy rich religious life outside of AA, while maintaining affiliation with it to deal with alcohol. For very devout Christians like you and very devout Catholics like me, we’re bound to be uncomfortable with some of the activities because we have vibrant active faith lives—so AA seems to be sort of a duplicate of that. But, as for helping the alcoholic I truly believe AA has the system down. And I feel God gets some of us to AA so we will find him again. Loved your comment.. Thanks so much! –9

      • I am simply surprised that more people are not uncomfortable with the convenience of making up your own God. I can understand people coming to their conclusions that they believe a particular interpretation of God easier than I can understand the wide acceptance of the convenient God.

        • I know. To us it seems strange because the Truth is so obvious. I guess AA wanted to be able to appeal to those with no God at all. So they appeal to the lowest common denominator, I guess? In order to include everybody so everybody can be helped. There are a lot of people that can’t do AA for a variety of reasons, be they theological or whatever. It’s tough to find what works for us and what doesn’t. Thanks Chaz!!!!

  5. It makes sense that someone who already has a well-defined faith with appropriate support within that particular belief would find AA difficult. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that it’s trying to reach out to everyone by referring to “a higher power” rather than specifically “God”. And you’re right, everyone has to find the way that works for them. I don’t know if there are enough people involved in local areas for AA to consider creating faith-based groups as well, so that you have Christians in one group and Muslims in another group and so on. But then thinking about it, and knowing what the Christian Church has been like for the past 2,000 years since it started, you’d have to have it broken down into denominational groups because we (sadly) tend to fight like cats in a sack!

    • ha ha. great point! AA probably wouldn’t split into groups but there are groups that have sprung up like that: Celebrate Recovery is one that works for a lot of people, too. Thanks Faith Hope Chocolate!!

  6. 9, I have had a different experience. As opposed finding AA difficult as a life long Catholic, I have experienced it as an affirmation of my catholic faith. I suggest reading the Soul of Sponsorship, which is about the relationship between Fr. Edward Dowling, S.J. and Bill Wilson. Fr. Rowling sought out Bill after reading about the 12 steps and he asked Bill if the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius influenced his twelve steps, because Fr. Dowling saw the similarities between the two. Bill’s response was ” never heard of em.” In the book, you can see how Catholicism, through Fr. Doweling, influenced Bill in his spiritual progress over the years preceding Bill’s writing of the 12×12.

    • Thanks Ric–I will read those. Thank you! I am familiar with some of this but not that book! For me AA is absolutely necessary for my recovery. There was a process for me tho because at first it was tough to reconcile AA spirituality with my Faith. I get a lot of messages from Catholics that want to quit drinking but don’t feel they fit in AA so I wanted to sort of explain my process with it and hopefully others will give it a try too. It’s a beautiful thing and not in conflict at all with Catholicism in my my opinion. But I see how people might feel that way as for me it was a process too. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

  7. Than you! I attend Al Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics but I find it somewhat atheistic. They mention god in the 12 steps but it was sort of frawned upon to mention him in the sharing. The spiritual, secular nature of the steps made me uncomfortable so I modified them to reflect catholic teaching and now they feel more accessible. I steered clear of their book of affirmations, instead, reading their well written pamphlets. Some people have a sponsor. I have the church, the parish, sacraments, the bible and devotions- the saints are my sponsors. No one bothers me in regards to the steps or forces me to get a sponsor, I am allowed to take what I like and leave the rest. I urge everyone who is struggling with addiction to give it a try. My husband credits AA with keeping him sober and that’s what matters. Whats important is not the theory or spirituality of the program but that a person like me and my husband can go and talk to and listen to people who know what its like. Everyone in AA want everyone to get sober and be supported and for me that’s all that matters.

  8. I reconverted to Catholicism 5 years ago, got sober and started going to Aa all within 3 weeks of eachother. 5 years later I try to get to 4 meetings a week, go to mass more than once a week, go to confession monthly and go to adoration. I also have a Sponsee and sponsor. I am a devout Catholic and many times I feel very isolated with my fellow aas because our views in life are so different. But without Aa, I know I would not be sober. I was still drinking and going to mass for 3 weeks; it was the fellowship and meetings that help keep me sober. I believe God absolutely wants me to be in the AA program, and the isolation I feel sometimes is half truth and half disease, but I guess that is my cross. AA fellowship makes me feel amazing when I’m not focused on the differences. Bortom line: frequent AA and frequent sacraments, and a daily Rosary of at least 10 decades has kept me sober. Thank you God!!

  9. You cannot except the idolotry of any god of your choosing as AA teaches and be a Catholic that knows that only can you get to the Father but through the Son, Jesus Christ. AA is a Satanic deception. Please research the occult inspiration and similarities. God bless.

    • Thanks for your comment. I disagree tho. At its most basic level AA is like group therapy, trying to band together to solve a common problem. But unlike secular phychiatric group therapy AA friends make sure you know that all the group therapy in the world won’t help you if you don’t put God first. I’m thoroughly Authentically Catholic in and outside of AA. Meeting regularly with others who share my common problem is critical for me. My nature wants to isolate and try to solve my problems with just me and God against the world. Knowing I am weak, God sent me a bunch of people to help me. People just like me.

  10. I have been doing some reading on this subject and I was surprised at some things I found out about Bill W. and the steps. First I have to say I have almost 2 years of sobriety right now. I had 9 years at one time. I was a relapsed Catholic during my 9 years. Now I have come back to the Church. Anyway, if you read “Pass it On” it talks about Bill and his wife using a “Sport Board” and channeled a Benedictine Monk and guided him. He came up with the 12 steps using automatic writing. I checked this out and found it in 3 different places. The orange papers was NOT one of them. He used practices no Catholic would use to come up with these steps. I have left AA. I can’t justify staying. I started a blog about my journey. The Rosary, prayer and the Sacraments are my new recovery program. I do enjoy your blog. I have been reading it for a while now.

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