Relapse Toolbox for Catholic Alcoholics

FYI. This is what happens when we relapse: another DUI, divorce filing from our spouse, living alone in an apartment away from our children, losing trust with homegroup friends, interlock device in our cars, more therapy, more medicine, more white chips, more disappointed faces of loved ones, more pain for everybody—least of all ourselves. But ourselves is all we think about when we’re in the midst of it all.  Not worth the buzz, I promise.

I’m gathering my Catholic tools to make another go at it. Yes, another. It’s worth it, I know. You know how I know? You know how I know it’s worth it?

I’ve had it. I had sobriety. I touched it, lived it, experienced it, loved it. I relished it, appreciated it, was grateful for it, humbled by it, in awe of it. Witnessed the dynamics-change within my family. Then, I took it for granted and lost it.

I have my reasons/excuses. But are there really any valid reasons for giving up the gift of sobriety? Not this gift. This gift is precious, priceless. Special. Something non-alcoholics will never understand. The gift of sobriety in the life of a true blood alcoholic is priceless.

It truly must be ONE. DAY. AT. A. TIME. A cliche I’ve always disliked because I am an enthusiastic dreamer of future dreams. Entrepreneur. Optimist. An “anything is possible” person. But I’ve met my match. The liar of lies finds our weaknesses and beats us down. That’s when God’s gift of humility can open our eyes to new lives.

Here’s to a(nother) new life, friends.

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All of my Catholic alcoholic tools to embark back on the path of sobriety are rooted in the love of Christ and Christ’s special love of sinners:

Rosary: I was broke but paid $100 for this Rosary because I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, it was handmade by a local very elderly woman who carefully chose each bead and prayed as she made it.

Matt Talbot medal: Venerable Matt Talbott, still in waiting for official sainthood. Patron of alcoholics. He’s been there with us in the fight.

Brown scapular: my sister gave me this after my first relapse and I wore it for two months. Now it hangs from my rear view mirror in my car. I never asked her if she wanted it back. I know that was selfish of me but it is so beautiful to me because it’s worn and not brand-new looking.

Prayer card to Saint Jude, patron saint of impossible causes: None other than the alcoholic can understand the utter impossibleness of recovery.

Prayer card of Saint Mary Magdalen: I think that Mary Magdalen isn’t the Mary who was saved from adultery or the demons or at the well…but I still think of her this way when I ask her to intercede for me with her Lord. I believe Mary Magdalen is actually the one at the feet of Jesus listening to him talk while her sister Martha is doing the dishes. That would totally be me lol. If any of y’all smarter than me can educate me on the real Mary Magdalen please do?

White chip: my Aa white chip. Seriously. I KNOW recovery is possible without AA. But not for me. I need AA. And I need daily AA. Not trying to offend any Catholic purists out there. Just speaking my own truth here.

Sacred Heart badge: the ORIGINAL white chip, sister Ignatia (friends with  Bill W and Doctor Bob) would give this sacred heart badge to each alcoholic who left the hospital after detox and told them they must return it to her if they drank again.

My one-year medallion– one of my most prized possessions. I picked this up on September 18, 2007 in the presence of my mother and my five sisters who flew into town for the occasion.

“Lord what do you want me to do with my life?” prayer card: One of my most favorite Irish priests, father Brian Higgins, was head of seminarians in the early 2000s here in Atlanta. He was also a priest at my parish. He gave the best and most convicted pro-life sermon i’d ever heard. He gave these prayer cards out and I kept two. Over ten years ago but it’s always been in my fridge since. Great question to ask myself each morning right?

Saint Michael the Archangel prayer card: i also  have his medal on my key chain. who better to fight for us than the angel who fought satan himself. Defend us in battle against this disease.

Our Lady of Knots: i like this title of Mary, the untier of knots. She calls on her son for us to untie the knots in our hearts and minds that keep us from coming into closer relationship with Him.

If you happen to come across this post out there, then add your own tools that help you in your recovery path!

 

 

 

Letting Go of Our Attachments is Key to Loving God

magnetsI’ve said this before but one of my most favorite daily prayer books is “My Daily Bread” by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, published in 1956.  Here is an excerpt from it regarding “attachments,” from pages 192 -194, Chapter 98:

1. My child, as you go through life your heart tends to attach itself to many things. If these attachments become too strong they will make you their slave. You will eventually sin because of them. True, your natural likes and dislikes are not decided by an act of the will. You can, however, control them with the help of prayer, mortifications, and My Sacraments.

2. Purify your love for all earthly things by using them wisely according to My will. Only with a pure love like this can you escape the slavery of earthly attachments. You will never again be too troubled at the possibility of losing something, be it a friend or a cherished possession. Nor is this a form of misguided selfishness. You are simply choosing first things first, God before creatures.

3. Refuse to be a slave of anything on earth. Love Me and My Will more than all else. You are still disturbed and displeased when matters go against your wishes and desires. You still fail to understand the passing nature of earthly things.

4. Let no human being nor earthly satisfaction mean so much to you that you would sin for them. If you love anything that much, your love is misguided and foolish. You are preferring a reflection of God to God Himself.

5. If you want true joy and real greatness, be attached to Me above every person and thing in your earthly life. Let your desires and love be guided by My wisdom, and they will never lead you into folly.

Alcohol + Alcoholic = Death, RIP My Sweet Friend

This Scripture must be talking about alcohol and alcoholism:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

The crazy thing is that alcohol in and of itself will not kill and destroy. It will only kill and destroy the alcoholic—and I suppose anyone who is unlucky enough to be in the path of a drunk driver.

Most people can have a drink or two at the end of the day or at a wedding and nothing changes. But an alcoholic who takes that first drink immediately changes. Something in the brain and the body changes and the alcoholic (like these mice in laboratory experiments) will continue to take more and more despite the negative consequences to relationships, health and life.

A dear friend of mine passed away last weekend because of her alcoholism. She was a beautiful girl, 36 years old and a single mother. She has been in my meetings for the last year and a half.

She WANTED sobriety.

She had a beautiful soul—knew the goodness of sobriety was within her reach and she kept trying to get it.

She loved beer and football. She was always smiling and shining her light—unless she was crying and recovering from another relapse. She shared in many meetings that she had reached her limit and was going to stay sober. But then she would always drink again—usually because she liked to have fun. I completely relate to her on this.

At one point back in November, she had made a bigger attempt at sobriety than she had in the past. She was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober this time. She and I had/have the same sponsor. She started working the steps–like me, getting hung up on the 4th Step–and even attended a women’s sobriety weekend retreat.

She was a morning person and she and I would text at 5am when we were each talking to God–she would send me Bible verses and when sober she was filled with the holy spirit. But she couldn’t ever get more than about 30 days of sobriety.

And her alcoholism wore her down. Eventually she stopped trying as hard—after giving it her all over and over and still not being able to stay sober, she sort of resigned to her fate–she kept trying, but her periods of sobriety by this past Spring were mere days–she apparently began to add pills to her drinking.

And she passed away in her sleep a week ago—just like that. She didn’t wake up.

Below is an email from Stacey last November talking about how happy she was as well as a poem she wrote after that retreat:
—–Original Message—–
From: Anonymous <@gmail.com>
Sent: Tue, Nov 13, 2012 8:49 pm
Glad you enjoyed the poem. Writing is one of my most cherished passions that in being sober I am able to tap back into. 🙂 Got my 30 day chip today! So happy!

 

Victorious
by Anonymous
What an amazing place to be
In a place where I am faced to face me
There is no place I’d rather be
Than the here and the now
Looking back at my life
I can’t help but to think wow!
It all seems so surreal
I’m having to face how I feel
About all of the things that have been said
And all of the things that have been done
It’s surreal to be 36
And to feel my life has just begun
What a blessing it is
The gift of a new beginning
Right now, today, I feel like I am winning
Thanks to my God
For never leaving my side
I now have the courage
To no longer hide
The closer I get to Him
The more that I find
That all my life’s hardships
I seem to not mind
God is teaching me so much
But mostly about perception
To not dwell on the past as hindrance
But to embrace it as lessons
They say when the student is ready
The teacher will appear
These lessons I’m learning from Him
Are slowly ridding me of my fears
I’ve been shedding many tears
Not even sure of why they’re there
Whatever the reason is
I don’t even care
They’re obviously meant to be shed
So therefore I let them fall
And when they are done streaming
I thank my God for them all
This program of AA
Was truly God-sent my way
And each and every passing day
More gratitude sets in
The serenity I feel within
I can now accept as my friend
My prayer to my God
Is to never let it end
Serenity is not the only friend
That has come into my life
My new friends are all of you

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8

You will be deeply missed, my friend. Look out for the rest of us please?

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

Evangelical Virtues of Mary: Prudence

Virtue

Virtue (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

This is my article that ran on CatholicMom.com this week. I like to post them here, too. To view it over there, click on this link and voila!  Happy Holy Saturday!

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with God’s help, the evangelical virtues forge character.

The ten evangelical virtues are derived from a combination of the human, moral, cardinal and theological virtues, described to us in the Catechism. They are actual qualities of Mary, the Mother of God who by her example is the epitome of evangelization: chastity, prudence, humility, faith, devotion, obedience, poverty, patience, mercy and sorrow.

In this year of faith, efforts to increase in virtue are a worthy exercise. We are called to evangelize with virtue in a variety of vocations, as a mother, a daughter, a sister, an employee, a wife. Modeling our behavior on the Blessed Virgin is an excellent way to bring others to Christ.  Who more than Mary has brought more of us to her son?

The second Evangelical Virtue of Mary is Prudence.                                           

But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

And he descended with them and went to Nazareth. And he was subordinate to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. Luke 2:51

Mary “ponders” these things in her heart. She discerns. She doesn’t react, debate or take any action right away. She simply ponders things first.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (1806), “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”

The prudent woman looks where she is going. Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas. The prudent woman determines and directs her conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles without error and overcome doubts about good and evil in our everyday circumstances.

Prudence is also one of the four cardinal virtues, which means it can be practiced by anyone. The cardinal virtues are not, in themselves, the gifts of God through grace but the outgrowth of habit.

Prudence, as explained by Fr. John A. Hardon in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is “Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of thing that ought to be avoided.”

So how do we know when we’re exercising prudence and when we’re simply giving in to our own desires?

How do we know if we are acting prudently or not?  As an act of virtue, prudence involves three stages of mental operation: to take counsel carefully with oneself and from others; to judge correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand; and to direct my actions accordingly.

When faced with a dilemma, we first pray, ask God to direct our thinking.  Next we ask for advice from someone of good character, someone we can trust, of good moral character. We look at all the evidence at hand, the facts in front of us. We never rush. We ask God for his will for us. Then, finally we make a decision and act upon it.

And we must always keep in mind that the definition of prudence requires us to judge correctly. If our judgment is proved after the fact to have been incorrect, then we did not make a “prudential judgment” but an imprudent one, for which we may need to make amends.

One way to integrate these virtues into your life is by praying the Chaplet to the Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary.

Buy the Book: Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics

stations-cross-for-alcoholics-paul-sofranko-paperback-cover-artJust 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 them on Good Friday, though; and I like to do them alone. I know God likes us to worship Him in community with others—and I do that, of course—-but when I really want to experience grace, I like to have Him all to myself.

So, I’ll take my children through them and then later come back and do them by myself.

Good Friday is one of my most meaningful and spiritual days of the year.  More than Christmas. More than Easter! I love how in our Catholic faith, I can go into Church and by myself walk around the stations, pray, kneel, sit, read—and nobody bothers me. Ha ha!  I am not being anti-social, I just want to hang out with God in His house by myself. Nobody comes up to me and says, “Are you okay?”

Before I was married, and my parents lived in another state, I would spend Easters alone. Three years in a row I went to Stone Mountain after Mass on Easter Sunday just to climb the mountain and sit there.  I think normal people might feel sorry for me, spending Easter alone, but I LOVED IT.  I was not alone at all.  I was completely enveloped in the Alleluia and the risen Lord. The last thing I wanted, ha ha ha, was to be with other people.  I’m so weird!

Back to the book, and from the publisher:

The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics is a book that is rooted in an ancient Catholic devotion. It is intended to assist Catholics and other Christians find deeper meaning in their struggles with alcoholism, by connecting the oftentimes hard road of sobriety with Jesus’ suffering road to His Crucifixion. The reader sees that their old alcoholic ‘self’ is being led to the Cross and the joy of eventual resurrection of a new sober self can follow. Whether they are still drinking and struggling, or have been sober for many years and still have difficulties coping with sobriety, this book should help readers maintain that sobriety.

I particularly like “Jesus falls for the third time.” What a lesson on life that is! If God came down here to show us that it’s okay to fall again and again as long as we pick ourselves back up and keep going, keep carrying our crosses–then those of us who have fallen a few times can take comfort. Who cares if the world thinks I’m a loser. Get back up. Keep going. He’s right there with me.

I still feel a little weird walking into Church with my iPad…even though my readings are on my tablet and many of my prayers…it still feels weird–but this Friday, I’ll be doing just that as I take the Stations of the Cross with this e-book by Paul Sofranko.  It’s only a matter of time before we all have tablets in the pews, right?

My oldest son came home from school last week after having done the Stations with the whole school community. The eighth graders acted out the stations and gave running commentary for the rest of the younger children. Ben was telling me about this and reminded me, “Mom, it’s not always a good thing to go along with the crowd. The crowd is who killed Jesus.”

The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics by Paul Sofranko is just $2.99:

But The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics on Amazon

Buy it on iTunes

Buy it for your Nook

The Way of the Cross is not only a great testimony to an inner depth and maturity, but it is in fact a school for interiority and consolation. It is also a school for the examination of conscience, for conversion, for inner transformation and compassion — not as sentimentality, as a mere feeling, but as a disturbing experience that knocks on the door of my heart, that obliges me to know myself and to become a better person.”  – Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI

Dear God

girl-prayingDear God,

Today, I got nothin.

So, what to do, what to do?  I suppose I’ll go back to the basics: gratitude, praise and then petition, then my memorized Catholic prayers, mainly  my Marian prayers.

Okay, gratitude first: thank you for my sobriety. Sometimes I get jealous that other people can drink and I can’t.  And they don’t even love it as much as I do!  It doesn’t seem very fair?  But thank you for it. You never promised me fair. You promised me peace.

Thank you for my precious boys!!

Ben hit a home run Friday night, got his arse kicked in tennis Saturday, and then played with cousins on Sunday—the life of being a child!  Ups, downs, fun—none of it is taken too seriously. I got an email from on of Ben’s baseball coaches from five years ago, saying he ran into him at the ballpark this weekend and wanted to compliment us on what a handsome, respectful, good boy we are raising.  Proud Mama Bear.

And my Brian, my baby!  He’s so conscientious, judicious. My little attorney. He’ll win an argument with Ben even if he is completely wrong simply because he’s stubborn and Ben gives up in exasperation. He gets that from his Dad—Husband never loses.  Even if he loses, he wins.  It’s funny!  Seeing this in my son makes me look more favorably on this in Husband—I understand it better.  The boys got their report cards and Brian missed straight A’s by 1 percentage point in Math.  An 89.  He was annoyed with himself but vowed to do better this fourth quarter.  School comes easily to him. Proud Mama Bear.

Ok, God, that was my gratitude.  Now, praise.

I forget to praise you!  Gratitude could sort of be the same thing as praise right?  Well, actually no, because in my gratitude I’m thanking you for gifts and grace you’ve given me. It’s still all about me. And praise is all about you!  Ok. Praise. Here goes.

Dear God, you are HUGE. I’m in awe of how you are everywhere and with every one in every moment. I love that your greatness is beyond my understanding, beyond puny human understanding–we humans think we’re so smart.  You must laugh about that, knowing how much you know and how little we know. I’m thinking you laugh a lot. And it’s holy week this week so I can’t help but focus and think about how nice that was of you to come down here and live among us, show us how to live according to your will which is the only path to happiness. Service, sacrifice, mercy, love, justice.  And dying like that on the cross—OUCH!  None of those fake Greek gods or other “goddesses” and deities of other religions would have done that.  You are simply remarkable and I love you so much!

Petition.  Okay, what am I asking you for? Of course, the health and happiness of Husband, the boys, my parents, my husband’s parents, my siblings and their families and my friends.  I also ask for health for the alcoholics and addicts that have reached out privately to me this week after that one post went viral—the ones who asked my advice and asked for prayers.  Please help them get sobriety. It’s so hard. Do your miracles on them, please.  Husband’s biological 95 year old grandmother and his biological mother need your prayers—touch their hearts and heal their aches and pains, please.

Prayer.  First, the Hail Mary. This is my centering prayer–in the East it would be called my “mantra” because I recite the Hail Mary over and over in my head when ever I find myself in need of self-soothing:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

And one of my most favorites—the one my brain immediately goes to in any crisis: The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Have a great day, God! Today, direct my thinking and my actions so that I may be of service to others!