I get emails from people who wonder if it’s possible to be a practicing Catholic and a full-participant and “member” of AA. To them, I emphatically say, “Heck yeah it is!” One of my FAVORITE practices (traditions) in AA stems from Step 11, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”
“As we (individually) understand God…”
This gives me the freedom to use the tools and the fellowship in AA to help me stay sober each day, without compromising any of my own Catholic beliefs.
Most people in meetings truly live this practice—most evident when we “share.” Sharing in a meeting is when someone takes three to five minutes to talk about their own experience with a certain topic or subject. In sharing their experience, strength and hope with others, it helps us each see how we too can get through life’s circumstances without drinking.
Phrases like these included in our shares really help: “for me, what I do, what’s worked for me, what I find helpful, I can’t speak for anybody else but for me I….”
Sharing like this is an important, unwritten rule (tradition) passed down from the 75 years of alcoholics meeting and sharing with one another. Never give advice. Never tell someone what they “should” do. Never “judge” another’s way of relating to God. Love and tolerance is our code, we say.
If you’re like me, you hear the word “tolerance” and immediately cringe – uh oh. Tolerance. That’s what is preached politically to mean anything goes, and I can live my life however I want. You must accept it. Change all the laws to accommodate my way of living. There is no moral law. Everything is relative.
This is NOT at all what is meant in this AA practice of only speaking for oneself, in my opinion (ha! See? “in my opinion lol).
God gave me and you free will, so He must think it wise to “allow” us to choose His will or not. He “allows” us to be wrong. He “allows” us to follow the wrong paths, sin, even spend years looking everywhere but to Him for our solutions. I’d say God is pretty tolerant in this regard. He is constantly drawing us to the Truth, but He doesn’t punish us, turn his back on us, strike us down or judge us too harshly for getting off track. He is there when we finally come home to Him, our Father. He is waiting with a fatted calf and a ring!
So, unlike the political understanding of “tolerance,” in AA we all have a God-like understanding of tolerance, which has nothing to do with whether abortion or gay marriage are legal. Each person has the right to be wrong. We trust each other to find our way because the program is built upon the premise that doing God’s will is our goal each day. God’s will for us first and foremost is SOBRIETY. That we all agree on! Without sobriety, people like us couldn’t possibly ascertain God’s will. It’s hard enough when we’re sober! So, as we help each other stay sober, we love each other unconditionally, which is the ONLY environment in which one can be safe to explore their character defects (sins) in front of others. We leave all political (and other) topics outside the doors.
And there is a rule we call, “No Crosstalk.” This means we do NOT comment on what the previous person just shared. We just share our own truth. We don’t even really acknowledge the other person’s share, which feels kind of odd at first. Even if that person was crying over something sad during their share, we don’t comment or coddle or speak sympathy or give advice. We keep going. It’s really beautiful when practiced well.
If I shared my vulnerabilities then people gave me advice on how to “fix” it, I’d be so annoyed. I would never share if I thought I was going to get bombarded with advice from other people. Even though these “other people” have become my friends, I’m not looking for advice. Nobody pretends to be better than anyone else. Nobody knows what someone else “should” do.
Does this make sense? Sometimes I talk in circles, but I feel like this is important for people unfamiliar with AA to know. It’s OK to be Catholic – or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, even atheistic — in AA. Everybody has the right to be wrong.
I’ll try to think of an example of how I shared in a meeting, which shows how I can be Catholic and a participating member of AA. Let me think of one…
OK, the other day the topic was “humility.” People shared about when they weren’t very humble and how they work on being humbler in our daily lives. Humility is the principal behind the 7th Step. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. A couple of people shared something passed down over the years in AA— the practice of GETTING ON OUR KNEES to pray. The act of getting on our knees to pray is a recognition of humility before God. He is God and I am not.
So, when it was my turn to share, I said this:
“My name is ______, and I’m an alcoholic. I love all the talk about the importance of “getting on my knees” in the morning and at night when I pray. It makes sense and I’m going to start doing this now! Funny, I’ve been doing this my whole life at Church — people even joke about Catholics standing up and kneeling and standing up and kneeling. And I’d never thought of “why” we kneel. But hearing others talk today about getting on their knees to pray makes me recognize that getting on my knees is an outward, physically expression of my inner humility. An outward sign of my inner love for God as my King. I’m not just “thinking” about humility. I’m physically humbling myself before God. Now I have a better understanding of why we did that so much at growing up. Thank you for letting me share.”
And that was that. I sometimes work my Faith into my shares if my experience on a certain topic is better explained through the eyes of my Catholic faith. This is as the 11th Step instructs, “as I understand God.” And nobody feels threatened by me because I share it all from the perspective of what works for me, how I understand this topic. And then I actively listen when they share their own experience, strength and hope.
The person after me shared about being agnostic and not feeling comfortable about getting on their knees. The person after him shared about how adding this one practice of getting down on their knees first thing in the morning when she gets out of bed, makes all the difference in her day. She puts her phone under their bed at night so she remembers to get down on her knees first thing when she wakes up (to retrieve her phone!) While she’s down there, she prays.
Nobody gives advice. If they did, I’d probably never go back. I certainly wouldn’t love it as much as I do. Everybody listens. Everybody is safe. Including me, a freakin’ practicing Catholic. I feel safe to fully live my Faith in AA. As long as I remember to speak only for me, no one else.