Getting Down on My Knees

jesus-mary-magdaleneI 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.

yahoo! My Friend at Sober Catholic is 14 today

33a7053d6bc5390c1c42af7232d3748b0aaa88789eda2112a5172121988ed552I was trying to think of something to write about today. I wrote a boring draft post but drafted it because it was, well, boring.

Then I surfed Facebook and see that my friend Paul at sobercatholic.com is celebrating 14 years of sobriety today!!!!  Big shout out yay you, Paul. This makes me so happy.

Be sure to check out Paul’s blog if you haven’t already. A wealth of a resource for all of us!

Congrats Paul!

New issue of 12 Step Review on LOVE and FEAR

IMG_0641New Issue of The Twelve Step Review (Spring 2016) came in the mail this week. This quarterly newsletter is a publication of the Western Dominican Province and produced by Father Emmerich Vogt. Learn more at 12-step-review.org or call them 800-556-6177. They’re based in Vancouver, Washington.

This issue discusses LOVE. The product of love is peace and joy. But we have to be free from the slavery to sin (and addiction) before we are able to love rightly.

Father Emmerich instructs us the 4th Step is basically an inventory of the Seven Deadly Sins in our hearts and minds. If we’re a slave to any of these sins, we are unable to find peace, to love ourselves or others well.

He goes on to say if we don’t root out our (sins) character defects then we are ruled by fear. Fear in all forms, a “soul-sickness in its own right, for these fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.” {p49, AA, Big Book}

I find this to be true. Before I started working the steps I only thought fear was being afraid of snakes or roaches. But the fear the Big Book is talking about is more pervasive. A “soul-sickness.” Fear of things that don’t necessarily put us in physical danger, but spiritual or emotional danger.

FEAR robs us of our relationships with God and other people, and prevents us from reaching our full potential. Fears can usually be classified into three categories – afraid of losing what we have, afraid of not getting what we want, and afraid of being discovered for who we really are.

A really great acronym for the word fear is “false evidence appearing real”.  Barefoots World (a web site with lots of help for working the Steps) has provided a Fear Inventory Prompt Sheet to help us with identifying our fears.

My biggest lesson in how damaging this kind of FEAR can be for me came last September. I won’t go into all the details but it had to do with a psych hospital and huge trust broken in my marriage. I was in a state of “fight or flight” for a little over two weeks. Fight or flight is an instinct we all have to protect us from true danger. The danger I felt was psychological, spiritual, emotional, and REAL…and it felt like I might physically die from it.  So, the physiological response I had to this very real/perceived danger lasted long enough and was consistent enough and strong enough…that it may have changed me. I felt something in my brain change. My mind tried to protect me by heightening my senses, speeding my reflexes, increasing adrenaline…this is only meant to be a short-term, temporary reaction of the mind on our body in the face of physical danger. But my experience lasted more than two weeks. This caused tremendous anxiety and physical illness.

TMI.

All I’m saying is this kind of fear is REAL and debilitating. The Fear inventory in the 4th Step is important–I’m amazed the founders of AA even came up with it!

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Quotes from Saint Pope John Paul II on FEAR: (yesterday would have been his 96th birthday!)

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
― Saint Pope John Paul II

And this one doesn’t have to do with fear but I liked it:

“The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, by means of temperance, that is, continence of desires.”
― Pope John Paul II, Blessed Are the Pure of Heart

That’s all I’ve got for today folks. Night.

Number 9

 

New Issue of the 12 Step Review Newsletter by Fr Emmerich Vogt OP is Out!

ImageThe Spring 2014 issue of the 12 Step Review newsletter by Father Emmerich Vogt OP just arrived in my mailbox and I had to share it with you all.  Be sure to sign up to receive your copy by visiting 12-step-review.org.

This issue focused on “The Proper Love of Self.”  How do we differentiate between loving ourselves and being prideful or conceited or selfish?  In fact, loving ourselves- in a proper way – is part of the Gospel. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. Father Emmerich uses an example of insight given from my patron saint, Catherine of Siena. She says we tend to love other people with the same love we see ourselves loved with.

Where do we first learn how to love?  From our parents and family-life growing up.  Research has now established a clear link between the breakdown of the family and the major problems plaguing our society. Anything that weakens the family, eventually weakens a free society. Father Emmerich discusses divorce as it relates to childhood depression and chemical abuse.

Visit The Twelve Step Review to learn more.

12 Step Review Winter 2014 Issue – Father Emmerich Vogt

This Winter 2014 issue of the 12 Step Review opens with a piece about “turning the other cheek.”

photo“There is a principle that all seminarians learn that St Thomas Aquinas presents in his theological work, the Summa.  This gives insight as to why the teaching of Jesus about turning the other cheek is so often misunderstood.  The principle goes, ‘Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver.”

Father Vogt writes, “We are very much influenced by our own personality, backgrounds, the level of faith, knowledge we’ve acquired, etc..”

He writes about a woman who can’t stand up to her husband on an important family/marriage issue.  The husband informs his wife they are moving, to pack up — without discussing things with her.  She seeks the help of a priest to talk her through her challenge of being a good wife and honoring God’s will for her life.

So, when Jesus’ teaches us about turning the other cheek, is He is telling us to be a doormat?

Certainly not.

Now I don’t speak for Jesus but the way I understand things is that He teaches us to turn the other cheek to teach us to forgive and not judge.  DO NOT JUDGE.  It doesn’t matter that somebody offended you or killed your child.  Forgive.

If somebody offends me, it’s pretty easy for me to forgive.  And my temperament — cutting me off in traffic or canceling your ad at the last minute.. easy. forgive. easy peasey lemon squeezy.

Kill my child? not so much.

So let’s go with Jesus’ teaching as if it was applying to just every day stuff.  Every day annoying people that cross our paths.  His teachings about turning the other cheek when it comes to the big stuff can be taken to our confessor, our spiritual advisors.

 

 

 

Another Catholic Role Model for Alcoholics: Father Ford

Thank you to one of my blog readers for telling me about Father Ford! What a great role model for Catholic alcoholics!  Here is an excerpt from his biography that is particularly pertinent for us.  Go to THIS LINK HERE to read all about him, how he was a friend to Pope John Paul II and has an amazingly interesting story.  Anyways, here is the excerpt:

FordMusically talented and gregarious, Ford enjoyed playing the piano and partying with his fellow Jesuits. In the early 1940s, his drinking got out of hand. Realizing this, he obtained treatment from Dr. William Silkwood at Towns Hospital in New York, regained his sobriety, and became friendly with one of A.A.’s co-founders, Bill Wilson. Finding that A.A. was more effective than previous organizations at helping alcoholics remain sober, Ford subsequently sought to ensure that A.A. would not be problematic to Catholics and would be recommended to Catholic alcoholics by their pastors. In 1948 he participated in a summer program of Alcohol Studies at Yale University; he then served as a regular lecturer in that program for many years. He also personally helped many fellow alcoholics, especially after he retired from teaching in 1969.

The experience of alcoholism nurtured Ford’s previous interest in the psychological aspects of moral life and in people’s complex, psycho-moral problems. Through the 1950s and ’60s he continued reading in psychology, conferring with professionals in the field, and addressing psycho-moral issues in his writings. Catholic professionals and pastors, including bishops, as well as many lay people with problems increasingly sought his advice and help not only with alcoholism but with other addictive behaviors, sexual problems, scrupulosity, and so on. Competent, compassionate, and generous with his time, Ford by his confidential pastoral work provided great though little-noticed service to the Church.

Buy the Book: Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics

Reblogging this from last year! My friend “Sober Catholic” wrote this wonderful book and it’s perfect for Lent! You can buy a copy over at his blog Sober Catholic. Enjoy!

Catholic Alcoholic

stations-cross-for-alcoholics-paul-sofranko-paperback-cover-art Just in time for Good Friday , I’ve discovered, The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics by Paul Sofranko, a terrific e-book written by my friend who blogs over at ‘Sober Catholic.’

Sofranko also wrote, The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics. You can read my review of that book here.

From the Catholic Sun, “Sofranko, a recovering alcoholic himself, has added one more element to the whole scheme of fighting addiction — hope. While many or even most self-help books suggest that we are the only ones capable of fixing our brokenness simply by reading the book, Sofranko elevates the place of prayer in the healing process and reminds readers of the necessity of relying on God for the grace to overcome our addictions.”

At our parish and I expect in most parishes the stations of the cross are offered every Friday during Lent. I usually only do…

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Book Review: Anonymous Disciple by Gerard E Goggins

untitledAnonymous Disciple, copyright 1995, is written by an author who not only did his research and is an excellent writer, but by someone who knows what he’s talking about. I can always tell when a book or a work is written by someone who has walked the walk with us.  The understanding is there. Reading this book was often like sitting in an AA meeting listening to a fellow alcoholic speak of his experience, strength and hope.  I highly recommend this book to anybody who wants a better understanding of our plight and how God’s healing miracle can be performed in the heart of an alcoholic.

It’s written like a novel – but it’s actually a biography of a Catholic priest who suffered from alcoholism and whose life was transformed by God into a beautiful thing.  Father Jim, the book explains was a disgrace to his fellow Jesuit priests, couldn’t stay away from the bottle and was admitted into the psychiatric ward of the hospital as a hopeless case.  This is what they used to do with alcoholics, put them in psychiatric wards because they were obviously insane.

There was no other way to keep them safe—from themselves and others.

Insanity. What else could the diagnosis be? A person who drinks themselves to oblivion every day, causes all sorts of trouble and disgrace to those who love him and whose own mother told him at age 50 to never come home again; yet he still continues to drink.  This wasn’t his first stay in a hospital either. He had been numerous times; but each time he was released with a little bit of health he went right back to the bottle or the bar.

A person with “so much potential.”  The alcoholic is mind-boggling to the “normal” person. Why can’t he just quit? Why would he drink again?

The author describes how to an alcoholic in this dilemma, this insane thinking is commonplace. We think alcohol is the solution to our problems, our only solace. Alcohol becomes the problem and the solution.  We get to the point we can’t imagine life with or without alcohol.  So we keep trying to drink the next time and hope for no consequences.

Father Jim and Father Fred drank together. Father Fred visited his friend in the hospital one last time before traveling to Detroit to “get sober” at Guest House, a rehab for alcoholic priests.  A few months later, Father Jim joins him at Guest House and the book walks the reader through their experience at Guest House and their miraculous lives afterwards.

Both Father Jim and Father Fred devoted their lives to AA, sobriety and helping other alcoholics. God turned disgraced lives into saintly ones.  A must read for every Catholic alcoholic and every Catholic who loves an alcoholic.

Guest House is still doing great work today.  http://www.guesthouse.org

Their mission is to provide the information, education, treatment and care needed to assure that clergy, men and women religious and seminarians suffering from alcoholism, addictions and other behavioral health conditions have the best opportunity for quality recovery and overall health and wellness.

Now located in a beautiful setting in Lake Orion, Michigan, Guest House continues to do God’s work helping their clients return to active, faith-filled ministry in the Church. A lay ministry of Guest House is the National Catholic Council on Addictions.

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

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New Issue of 12 Step Review is Out

photoFather Emmerich Vogt, OP has put out the Summer 2013 issue of The Twelve Step Review and it’s a really important one for those of us out here in recovery-land.  Letting go of resentments is the focus and he nails it.

“Among feelings of unexpressed anger, resentment is regarded as the source of many mental and even physical illnesses. It has been defined as anger re-sent. It’s reliving the bitter hurts of our lives. Going through life with deep resentments leads only to unhappiness and futility in our efforts to get along.”

It was interesting for me to read that there are only two individuals in Sacred Scripture who are called Jesus’ “friends:” Lazarus and Judas. Lazarus makes sense. But Judas?

In the feature article, Father writes, “When Judas comes to betray Jesus, he is not greeted with ‘You filthy betrayer may you rot in Hell!’ Rather Jesus greets him with “friend.” (Matthew 26:49) I’ll write more verbatim from Father’s words:  Why did Judas betray Jesus? This is an important question to ask because betrayal is something we might all be capable of, and the more we understand our sinful nature, the more we can learn from other people’s mistakes, even Judas’.

It would seem that Judas, having his own agenda, was trying to force Jesus into something that would play into his own plans, trying to force Jesus’ hand, so to speak. And, meditating on the role of Judas, some of us can see ourselves in his behavior. How? When we try to force the outcome of events, when we complain against God when things don’t go according to our plans. For this reason, the person seeking to recover from the effects of sin in his life is taught by Step Eleven to put aside all self-serving motives in his relationship with God. The focus of our prayers should be only seeking God’s will for our lives.

Father says he heard once, “Anger is not getting my way in the present; resentment is not getting my way in the pas; and fear is not getting my way in the future. ”

The Twelve Step Review is a quarterly newsletter and web site publication of the Western Dominican Province and written by Father Vogt.  Visit them at www.12-Step-review.org for the whole thing.

Ciao!