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

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

 

Step 4, Part I of Part I (Resentments)

The Conscience

The Conscience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 4th Step inventory is not an exercise in beating myself up. I need to be scrupulously honest, but I need to be fair to myself, too. I have strengths–not just defects—and although I’m not inventorying (i know that’s not a word but just go with it) them in this Step, it is important people like me (prone to depression) remember the good parts of myself as I look at my defects.

As a Catholic, this 4th Step inventory is just like doing a very thorough “examination of conscience.”  The key words here are “very thorough.”  I’d never done so thorough an examination of conscience as when I did my first and only 4th Step back in 2007.

I think the Catholic version of the typical Examination of Conscience is actually meant to be more like the 10th Step—it’s meant to be an ongoing way of life, examining our conscience every evening and then once a month talking about the most common sins (“defects” in AA lingo = “sins” in Catholic lingo) with a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  AA would call my most common sins my “patterns.”

Here is a one page pdf  Examination of Conscience from Catholic Youth Ministry that can help Catholics prepare for Confession.

Here is another great guideline for an Examination of Conscience, and another, and another here.

The 12 Steps version is the 4th Step:

Made a searching and fearless moral  inventory of ourselves.

My sponsor (whom I’ll call “AF”) is a former teacher.  She takes me step by step through each step, which is perfect for me.

AF gave me worksheets and assignments to take me through this Step.  There are four parts to Step Four: Resentments, Fears, Sex, Whom I Hurt.  I’ll start first with Resentments.  And this part on Resentments has four parts. I wish the Catholic Examination of Conscience was explained this thoroughly—there should be a book Examination of Conscience for Dummies.

The first things AF said to do (Part I) for the Resentments portion of Step Four was:

  1. Read Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 63-71
  2. Complete each Part thoroughly before going on to the next Part.

PART 1 – WHO am I angry with?

Make a LIST. List all people, institutions or principles you are angry with. Leave no one out. Go all the way back to childhood, if necessary. List whomever you hold resentments against.

Done!  Check! Voila!  Yay! I have officially begun!  Are you wondering how many people, institutions or principles are on my list?

33.

Acceptance

I often hear in meetings people sharing about page 417 in the Big Book as the solution to basically everything we have to face in life.  Of course, Christ is the solution to everything we face in life.  And this excerpt from the AA writers ties in with God’s teachings through Jesus.  This is what it says:

page 417, AA Big Book
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

That pretty much sums it up!  I must look at what needs to be changed in me.  And if it isn’t within me then I can change it and can only give it to God and accept the results as God’s will for  my life or others’ lives.

Pray for the one I Hate

Hate is such a strong word, and I don’t even allow it in my home.  If my children say they hate someone or something, I immediately stop them in their tracks and have them re-phrase their feelings.  To me, hate is everything to do with satan and nothing to do with the light of God.

Yet, as I pondered the title of this post, that was the only word that fit.  I guess I “hate” this person.  I definitely resent the hell out of her and wish her pain and misery for the rest of her life!

Semantics aside, it was suggested to me through the sharing of another at a meeting to read page 552 of the Big Book if there is a resentment that I just can’t get past.  If there is anger I am holding on to, tightly and refuse to or am unable to let go, then do what it says on page 552.  I started this last night.  Can’t say that I feel any better but I will commit to it.  This is what it says:

Page 552, AA Big Book
He said, in effect: “If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person that you resent, you will be free.  If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free.  Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free.  Even when you don’t really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway.  Do it every day for two weeks, and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.”

Last night I prayed that God give her, this woman, everything I want for myself.  This woman, who manipulated my husband (with his consent) back into her life while I was away in treatment. This woman who is also sober and part of the AA fellowship, who selfishly disregarded her friendship with me and who disregarded her program of honesty with herself and within her own marriage in order to capture the love and attention my husband had for her in college.  Yes, this woman.  Last night I prayed God give her continued sobriety, good health, happiness and a peaceful wonderful blessed family and marriage.

I’ll commit to pray for her for 2 weeks.  And if the resentment isn’t lifted by then, then I’ll continue the prayers until she doesn’t haunt my thoughts and steal my peace of mind anymore.