Zaccheaus the Crazy Tax Collector and Rehab

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I was very proud of my little tramp stamp turtle tattoo in rehab even though the other ladies had more elaborate beautiful tattoos…

I liked yesterday’s Gospel explaining how Zaccheus climbed the Sycamore tree to see Jesus walk by. And rather than walking by, it’s as if Jesus senses Zaccheus desire to “see” Him and calls out to him to come down from the tree. Jesus wants to stay at the home of a sinner, which must have been shocking not only to the crowd but to Zaccheus himself. Zaccheus was probably used to being disliked by every one. As the tax collector, collaborator with Rome and the town sinner, perhaps he simply resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t have any friends, isolated with his addiction to riches.

Living in isolation from the community is something we alcoholics are familiar with. Isolating is one of my favorite character defects! I say, “I just need space.” Or, “I need peace–I want to be alone.” And I believe myself. When I’m living a lie, of course I separate myself from God and others in order to be able to continue in my comfortable way. The last thing I want is the discomfort of coming into the light and accountability of sharing my life with God and those around me.

But what does Jesus do? He senses the isolation, senses the little bit of desire in our hearts to see Him, and then He announces He wants to stay in our house.

That’s always His way. He initiates the contact through His grace and the power of the Advocate – the holy spirit.  And then He waits for us to answer. The ball is in our court.  And the easiest thing in the world to say – like Mary – is YES!  Yes, come stay in my house, Jesus! YES! And, please never leave!

Saint Catherine of Siena’s quote: “God brought you into this world without your cooperation and will not save you without your cooperation.” And Saint Augustine had a similar quote when he wrote, “God willed you without you and will not save you without you.”

All that is required of is our “yes.”  And then God takes care of the rest, one day at a time of course – as long as we say yes every single day. In the morning. That is key for me. 

The Third Step of AA is to be practiced daily, as well. “We made the decision to turn our wills (thinking) and our lives (actions) over to God (today).

My six week relapse last April and May ended as I said with a DUI in early June while on vacation in Florida.  That DUI sobered me up really quickly but I allowed it to separate me from God – I was so angry at the consequences. I was so angry that God would let something as bad as a DUI happen to me. Of course I knew the Truth, that I caused my own consequences, that it could have been much, much worse, and God is there to help me recover from my own mess; but my Pride was so huge that I couldn’t see God’s plan. It’s funny how I can “know” the Truth but still not let it penetrate me because I am happy sitting in my Pride.  ugh. gross!!!

So, I launched a magazine this summer, sober, and became a workaholic with that.  Didn’t do meetings and didn’t connect with my God but stayed sober.  In early September when my lawyer informed me I would have to do 30 days in jail or 30 days in rehab, I was angry again. So I said screw it and drank for the three weeks leading up to rehab, knowing I’d have to quit anyways so why bother.  I got out of rehab on October 28th and have been home a week. Rehab in itself was crappy. I’m sure I’ll be writing about my experiences there but what matters is I am home now and need to get myself into the routine of meetings and talking with my sponsor. I’m meeting with her today at 10am to go over step 6.  The one good thing that came from rehab is I got through my fourth step FINALLY!

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.

Sponsorship
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

Justice and Mercy and the 5th Step

First off, I need to say, “Happy Birthday, Mom!”

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I did “part” of my 5th Step yesterday with my sponsor AF.  I have been putting off finishing the 4th for so long that she finally said, “Let’s just meet and do what you’ve done so far?”  So, that’s what we did. And it was good.

rembrant_prodigueAF is like that “perfect sponsor.”  She has maybe five or six sponsees and tailors her sponsorship of each according to their own needs and personalities.  For me, that means she pretty much leaves me alone, ha ha.  Not really true.  We communicate via email every single day. She sends out a “daily inspiration” each morning, as well as a separate email with her gratitude list of five things she’s grateful for today. She cc’s all her sponsees and we each “reply all” back with our own gratitude list of five things.

And I text her a lot.

But she doesn’t make me “call” her all the time.  That’s just not me.  One of her other sponsees calls her twice a day but refuses to participate in the emails.  So we’re each just different animals.

And yesterday, she just listened, as I read her my list of “resentments” and “why.”  (those of you in 12 Step programs understand what I’m talking about here.) And then she helped me see my part in things and pointed out some of my apparent assets and liabilities, since this is a moral inventory.

When I worked at $3 Cafe (a popular chicken wing establishment in Atlanta which boasted over 125 different types of beer, foreign and domestic) to put myself through college and pay for my long-distance phone calls to a stupid boyfriend, I remember my sister (the Manager) would take an inventory of all the beer each week.

The big trucks would arrive and deliver boxes of beer; and she would spend hours counting the beers and taking inventory of what she had enough of, what she needed to order more of and what was just right. Then she’d place the order with the beer companies for more of what was dificient.

Wouldn’t it be great if a “moral” inventory (the 4th Step) was that simple?  We make a list of things we have enough of (honesty, generosity, loyalty, discipline), a list of things we have too much of (dependency, laziness, self-pity, grandiosity), and then a list of things we’re deficient in (obedience, holiness, commitment, self-care)— and then we place an order of God for more of what we lack. Then we’re done!

We get the order via UPS or Fedex the next day from our “Higher Power” and we’re all set until we do another inventory of it all over again next week.

I titled this post “justice and mercy” because I meant to talk about justice and mercy, but I got off track.  My point is that during my time with AF yesterday doing part of my 5th Step of part of my 4th Step, I discussed with her how I do well with justice as long as it’s tempered with a lot of mercy.

There have been people in my life that I’ve received justice from…yeah, I deserved it.  But the people that didn’t temper their justice with mercy are no longer in my life–I don’t cultivate relationships with people that only deal in justice.  I don’t experience love that way.

And when I love others, I am pretty low on the justice thing and really high on the mercy. When I love others, I love with 100% mercy first.  Justice second.  How does God love us? How does God love you?  How does God love me?

How’s that for a hump day all over the place post?  Have a great day y’all!  Moving to the beach is getting closer…  about 90% chance.  Going back this weekend for another interview (not the editor job, though–a different one).

7 Quick-takes: 7 Reasons I Like Alcoholics Anonymous

aa-logo2Here 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 Reasons Why I Like Alcoholics  Anonymous

1. Meetings

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was always an A/B student. There are plenty of folks much smarter than I, especially probably psychiatrists and counselors. But for some reason, every time I’ve ever gone to a therapist I’ve found myself figuring out what it was she wanted me to say, then saying that.

I’m certain the therapist saw right through me.

I’d try to impress her by how introspective I was, while at the same time try to get her to like me by pretending I had all this self-awareness. If I had been honest and open to the process, I could have learned a thing or two and been truly helped. I believe in therapy, but I never did it right.

I assumed AA meetings were group therapy for drunk people, so I stayed away because “therapy didn’t work for me, right?”  Once I checked it out, though I found it is not like therapy. I am absolutely unable to get away with my bull-crap. I have to be painfully honest, in a way at first I didn’t know how to be, because inevitably the truths that come out during a meeting are so real that saying anything other than the God’s honest truth is obvious to all.  Common phrase in AA is, “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” It’s quite refreshing, actually!

2. Fellowship

The last thing I wanted was new friends, especially with all these sober women. I had five sisters who were my best friends plus a non-family BFF, plus two kids, a husband, a house and a business to run. Understanding that any new friendships I made would take time, take me away from my already filled priorities, I decided I wouldn’t reach out to make new friends.

Plus, the word ‘fellowship” bugged me. That seemed like a thing Protestants did on Wednesday nights. It wasn’t a Catholic thing. And slogans like, “You Are Not Alone” rubbed me the wrong way because I wanted to be left alone. I was quite independent, thank you very much, so maybe you guys need fellowship but not me.

7quicktakesAfter sitting in the meetings for months, I found that I really liked these sober women.  I learned their stories, their struggles and mostly admired their courage in facing life on life’s terms.  But still I didn’t reach out.

It wasn’t until I relapsed and found that I couldn’t get back to my sober life without help, that I reached out in desperation.  And, immediately these women I had kept at arm’s length came to my rescue. And ever since then I’ve discovered the (evolving) fellowship is one of my favorite things.

3. “Sharing”

AA, like any other “organization” has developed its own lingo.  “Sharing” is when you raise your hand talk for three to five minutes in a meeting.  Initially sharing terrified me. And the more I tried to sound smart and evolved when I shared the more I was left feeling like a goof.

For example, in the beginning I would share something like this: “It’s so hard for me to stop drinking because I am married to my drinking buddy. Every day I come home to the one person I love to drink with the most. If only he would stop drinking too then I would be able to stay sober.”

Uh-uh.  This just wasn’t “honest.”  Sure it would have worked in a therapy session. Perhaps the therapist and I would have spent $100 discussing whether or not my husband was an alcoholic (he is not, btw!) or how I can separate from him for a few months while I get this sobriety thing down.

Not in an AA meeting.  And nothing was said to me, except maybe by my sponsor after the meeting—there was no real progress until I was able to share, “My husband was my drinking buddy, but his drinking has nothing to do with me. All I can do is focus on my own behavior, turn my dishonest will over to God and not drink one day at a time. I can’t control him nor should I try to.”

4. 12 Steps

It was very easy for me to like the 12 Steps because they were all very familiar to me. After Bill W, Dr Bob and the pioneers of AA wrote their book and developed the 12 Steps, a Catholic priest named Father Dowling had a meeting with Bill W to find out if he had used the principles of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola to come up with them. He had not. But the similarities were startling and there began a life-long friendship between the two men.

Turning my will over to God, doing an examination of conscience, confessing my sins, making amends, all these things are part of my beloved faith already so it was easy to like the 12 Steps.

5. Every one in positions of authority in the Church seemed to recommend AA to Catholic alcoholics.  

Believe me, I searched for a reason to believe that AA’s “higher power” and her “spirituality” contradicted the Church. But priest after priest recommend the program. In the confessional I would say, “But there are so many anti-Catholics in the meetings (which wasn’t true but that’s what I wanted to see).” And my confessor would without hesitation say, “There is nothing contrary to the Church in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

6. There are so many X-Catholics in  AA

Why would this be one of my reasons for liking the program?  I’ll tell you.  It’s wonderful, actually. Many times I’ve watched as x-Catholics come back to the Faith after working the Steps.  Apparently, after developing a way of life based on the Steps, these x-Catholics discover the Church had it right all along!  Many re-conversions are the direct result of x-Catholics getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous.

7. My Sponsor

My sponsor, AF stuck by me when I picked up enough white chips to wallpaper my kitchen with. She never judged me, gave up on me nor told me what to do. She simply made herself available for whenever I was ready. It took a while, but once I was truly ready to live this way of life again she was there to show me the way through the Steps. The neat thing about sponsorship in AA is, when done right, sponsors are completely detached from the results of their work with another alcoholic. Helping another alcoholic is the work that helps the sponsor stay sober. They do it for themselves and that’s how it works. So, if a sponsee drinks or relapses, the sponsor doesn’t judge or take it personally. True sponsorship in AA is done with a spirit of healthy detachment and a desire to be useful, to help another person struggling. Sponsors do the work of sponsorship, but they leave the results to God.

Flesh and Blood

Holy-Eucharist-catholicism-133989_482_493This blog has been a saving grace for me over the last three weeks.  I’ve been confined to my home, mostly to my bed or couch because of a herniated disc in my lower back.  The pain is bad and it seems my left leg muscles are starting to atrophy a little bit from the encroached nerve and non-use.  (whine)

Blogging each day, committing to being part of  WordPress’  “post-a-day-2013” is therapeutic and an enjoyable way to pass the time. I’ve discovered wonderful Catholic blogs “out there”, as well as hope-filled sobriety ones. Funny how I have come to know many of you–your personalities, simply by reading your words every day.

Prior to this, I’d been a four or five times per week meeting maker in AA.  The meetings are key for me in helping me stay out of my own head, which eagerly waits for me to put my guard down so it can recommend a drink to ease my suffering.  So, this online world has become my temporary meeting spot..the place where I come to read the experience, strength and hope from others and share my own when appropriate.

Many thanks to these bloggers for keeping me on my 12-step toes: Bye Bye Beer, Message In A Bottle, Sober Catholic, Emotional Drinking, Running on Sober, Sober Boots, The Bubble Hour, The Miracle Is Around the Corner and many others…

And since nothing can replace actual flesh and blood, I am so grateful that my sponsor AF and her sponsor SZ brought a meeting to me, since I couldn’t make one in person.  They came to my house on Friday, drank tea with me, read from the Big Book and just talked Steps.  AF was coy to point out too that I could use this time to work on my 4th Step, which I am still procrastinating.  ha ha. Maybe I will work on it today?

I typically don’t ever have the desire to drink anymore. One of the benefits of being sober for a while (define: “for a while”) is the desire to drink pretty much disappears.  Therefore, I’ve spent the big chunk of my time in here reading not recovery but Catholic blogs.  Out in the “real world,” or at least in my real world, I don’t encounter people every day who explore their love of the faith.  So, it’s wonderful to hang out in here with you all, especially these: Biltrix, Conversion Diary, and all the blogs that branch out from Conversion Diary through Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes Fridays.

But since again nothing here can replace flesh and blood, I am sad to be missing Mass, unable to receive the body and blood of Jesus.  I live a distance away from my parish so I hate to ask our pastor (who no doubt is busy tending to other more pressing matters) to bring the holy Eucharist to me; but maybe my Mom can bring me communion some time later this week.  She receives an email every time I post so she’ll be getting this request soon enough!  XOXO