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Sunday, April 24, 2016

No Matter WHAT - I drink

In a couple of weeks I will be, I hope, celebrating 24 years of continuous sobriety.  To the person who does not have the disease of alcoholism, or tends to regard all problems that have been addressed using the 12 Steps developed by Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith (with the contributions of organized religion, evangelical movements and other drunks like them) as 'the same', that probably does not seem like that big a deal.  Afterall, common sense tells you that if you discover you are not a successful social drinker of alcohol, or that you cannot imbibe in cocaine or marijuana or heroin or cheesecake or watching pornography without getting arrested, spending the rent money, beating your husband or your kids, becoming numb to sex with real people or otherwise negatively impacting society then you should stop drinking alcohol, doing cocaine, smoking marijuana or shooting/smoking/eating heroin or cheesecake and stop watching pornography.  It's a no-brainer, right?  if it hurts you or others, then stop doing it.

I have written in the past about the disease of alcohol being something that hits us when we are stone cold sober.  I won't revisit my thoughts on that subject here.  What I am reflecting on today is a phrase I have used and one I hear often around the tables of the 12 Step program I use to stay sober.

Don't drink no matter what.

I understand the sentiment.  I have, as I said, used that phrase myself, but I am uneasy with it and I will tell you why.

I am an alcoholic.  I drink no matter what.

Beloved aunt's funeral?  I show up on time but hung over and have a drink before the Mass starts to steady my nerves.

My nephew is in ICU after almost losing his life in a car accident?  I show up to be supportive of his father - but I have a bottle in my purse and I left the house and drove 80 miles to where they are under the influence.

I have a job interview in three days and it is important that I look fresh and happy and competent?  I drink up until 3am of the morning of that interview and get there with dirty shoes and not-quite-combed hair, trying to pull it off as though I am stylishly ragged and too cool for my shoes.

In other words, telling me that something important or wonderful or serious or necessary is happening to me, around me or for me and so I should 'not drink, no matter what' is not the answer.  I know when I am not supposed to drink.  I understand I am taking my life and the lives of those around me into my unsteady hands when I get behind the wheel of a car but you don't get it - I am not a bad person.

I am an alcoholic and I drink no matter WHAT.

Okay so what should I be saying instead?  What wisdom should I be imparting to a newcomer sitting around those same tables or calling me in the middle of the day sobbing that everything sucks, nothing works right and the whole world hates her/him?

I believe with all my heart that Smith and Wilson developed the 12 Steps with the guidance of a loving and merciful God.  In the words of Mr. Smith, the program he wrote down was not invented - it grew and it has evolved.  What I believe I need to do is to remind the people just starting out (and those who have been here awhile) that those 12 Steps help people like me re-establish (or establish for the first time) a personal and powerful relationship with a Power of the Universe, a loving and merciful God, The Creature, The Alpha and the Omega.  It is THAT relationship that gives me the power I do not have to not drink alcohol one day at a time.

Here is what I have to do, no matter what:

1.  I must start my day with prayer and meditation.

For me, A Catholic and a Lay Dominican, I have my morning prayer through the Liturgy of the Hours.  I must be willing, each morning, to deliberately and intentionally give my life to God and ask Him to do with it what HE wants.  I am willing, deliberately and intentionally, to open myself up to the Grace that gives the strength I need to fullfill my purpose.

2.  I must stay in service.

No matter what, I have got to be of service to others.  I have to be willing to love the unloveable, to counsel the doubtful, to instruct the ignorant.  I must be willing to perform the corporal works of mercy under any conditions and no matter how tired, how stressed or how inadequate I may feel at the time the request is made of me.  I have to be willing to put God, His Church, my family, my community before me.  My very recovery depends upon my constant thought of others.  My mantra and prayer must be, "How may I help?".

3.  I must attend meetings.

No matter how I feel or how tired I am or how incredibly stupid I might decide a group of people are, I need to shut up, suit up and show up.  I need them.  I need to hear how it is going in their lives.  I need to meet newcomers and support oldtimers.  I need to wipe down tables, make coffee and pick up cigaret butts on the sidewalk outside so we are considered good neighbors.   I have to be right in the middle of the herd ready to take two or three with me to go rescue a stray one that is limping along behind us.  I have to be a member among members.

4.  I must keep in contact with the person helping ME.

No matter what, I have got to be willing to tell at least ONE person the complete truth about myself; however I am feeling, how I am doing and WHAT I am doing.

5.  I must receive the Sacraments.

As a Catholic, I know the incredible grace that is available to me through a Sacramental and Liturgical life.  I MUST take advantage of that - I cannot pretend that doing the minimum is going to be enough for someone like me.  I have to remember, no matter what, that Jesus instituted the Sacraments so that I can receive the grace I need, and as an alcoholic I need more grace than the average bear.

There are many other things I have to do in order to stay sober.  I know that, to many of you, this might seem to be a matter of semantics.  For me, however, remembering that there is a difference between trying to exert my will on my Alcoholism and concentrating on bringing my will into line with the Will of God.

St Thomas Aquinas said for us to approach situations by looking at what we want the result to be - and I want the result in my life to be sobriety.

To that end, this Alcoholic acknowledges that she drinks no matter what - and in order NOT to do that, she stays close to God and His Church.

No Matter What.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Collaboration and Dominican Life

One of the reasons I was drawn to Dominican spirituality is the love for Truth, or love for The Divine.  This love for The Divine drives me to look for ways I can collaborate with my Creator in all my endeavors - within The Church and out in the world.

Not always easy.  The world has never been receptive to the Love offered it through religion.  It is a common and erroneous belief that 'religion' is what causes problems in the world.  That is faulty thinking, a logic that would not be applied to, say, formal education and the institutions of learning.

Think about it.  Despite the rise in the number of teachers being arrested for abusing children OR the poor test scores in a school, few people state that the idea of public education should be completely abolished.  Some do, but the majority of people realize that there is a public good that arises from having a citizenry educated in the basics - a citizenry that can read, write and do simple math problems.  Not everyone has to be a scholar, but everyone should be able to write their name and address down on a job application.  When someone can't, we see that as a failure of society.  We know that having an educated populace is actually good for the whole.

The same goes for religion.  While atheists may decry religion as the reason for all the problems in the world (ignoring that the worst slaughters of mankind have taken place under atheistic governments or pagan philosophies), most people are smart enough to figure out that it is usually not the religion that is the problem; rather, it is human beings' lack of ability to live the life the religion requires that causes the problems.

Take me for instance.  I am a Catholic.  I am a Faithful Catholic.  This means that I accept all the Teachings of Holy Mother Church, even the unpopular ones.  I attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligations.  I participate in Parish Life.  I support The Church financially.  I have a regular prayer life.  I do what I can to be a Catholic Out Loud.

The last thing I am is a saint.  I am prickly.  I lose my temper and have a low tolerance for ignorance or bigotry.  I really get driven nuts by faulty logic or people who have arguments by jumping from topic to topic to topic rather than sticking to one point, discussing and arguing it thoroughly and THEN moving on to the next topic.

I am overly sensitive.  My feelings get hurt easily but I have a tendency to think other people need to 'get over it' when THEIR feelings are hurt.  Not only is this unfair it is unrealistic and my unrealistic attitude has caused me lots of harm over the years.

I am introspective and become irritated with people who never EVER seem to think they are wrong.  I have a tendency to simply remove them from my life completely or relegate them to the sidelines, because I cannot be bothered with the perennial victimhood of those who never seem to make a mistake and, so, can point your errors out to you in a heartbeat.  They can tell you how you harmed them, but can never see where they have caused harm.

Now, the Catholic religion does not support this type of behavior or this type of attitude.  I am supposed to love the unlovable, forgive rather than be forgiven and understand rather than seek to be understood.  My failure to do this on a regular or consistent basis is not because the religion is wrong; rather, it is because I am a failed and lousy Catholic, even while being a Faithful one.

In order to properly collaborate with God and work in the world, I have to be able to recognize these failings.  I need to acknowledge when I have been wrong and try to put out of my head the wrongs of others.  Quite frankly that is damn difficult...I am not good at it.

So why do I keep trying?

Jesus Christ and His Church ask only that I keep getting up when I fall, that I look for the St Simon of Cyrene in my life and ask for help when I need it and I be willing to walk the Way of The Lord.  He supplies me with the graces I need to do this impossible thing - be perfect, as my Heavenly Father is Perfect, one day at a time.

I keep trying because it is in the trying that I have found my home.  The religion that I hold so dear helps me to function in the world with love, with grace and with dignity even when the world itself debases that love, refuses that grace and denies that dignity.  I am who I am - and He loves me.

He loves you too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dominican Retreat and the Life of Love

The past weekend I was privileged to go to a day long retreat with my Dominican Chapter - Blessed Fra Angelico - and it was exactly what the Divine Physician ordered.  Our retreat master was Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. , a 91year old fountain of wisdom, humor, holiness and Love.  It was a wonderful experience and, as always, I came away with something that really spoke to my specific situation - a sober Catholic who came to her understanding and relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church through a 12-Step program.

I would be telling a lie if I did not admit to a certain bias when it comes to recovery from the disease of Alcoholism.  Because I found my way to sobriety through the mother ship of 12-step programs and so I have a tendency to look askance at the offshoots.  I am not supposed to do that, of course, but I am human know.

One of the programs I have heard of encourages its participants to not refer to themselves as 'alcoholics' or 'addicts' or 'codependants' or whatever their reason is for coming in from the cold.  Their reasoning is that they have been healed by the power of Jesus Christ and so no longer need to 'define themselves' by their 'problem'.

That has always bothered me but I could never figure out exactly why.  This past weekend retreat helped me to become a bit clearer on the issue.  Let me see if I can articulate what I learned.

I am an alcoholic.  I will never not be an alcoholic, just as someone with schizophrenia or MS will never not have those illnesses or conditions.  Unless there is some miracle of science I will always have an abnormal reaction to alcohol.  It will do things for me that it does not do to someone who does not have the disease of alcohol and no matter how long I abstain from drinking it, that is always going to be the case.

Yet, knowing that has never been enough for me.  Simply knowing that my drinking is different from how my mother drinks has never been enough to keep me from drinking alcohol.  Despite example after example of my inability to properly process the drug, to curb my intake once I start drinking I kept picking up a drink.  In fact, one might say that my mental illness aspect of the disease manifests itself via this simple fact:  I was sober, every time I picked up the first drink.

I am not ashamed of my disease; rather, I am grateful to have finally put a name to that vague and nebulous demon that haunted me from the age of 17 until the morning of May 4, 1992.  It was that day I went 24 hours without drinking alcohol and I have stayed sober ever since that day.

What I know is that I have a disease that manifests in two ways: physical and mental.  I can get caught up in the obsession to drink (some might call it a craving but I prefer obsession - sounds darker) without drinking a drop of liquor.  It can come out of nowhere - I can be happy or I can be sad, angry or ecstatic, lonely or surrounded by loving and supportive friends - but when it hits it hits hard. 

What keeps it at bay?  My relationship with God.  For me, that relationship is a Christian one.  I accept that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that He founded a Church.  I accept that He gave us The Eucharist and that I must receive that in order to have eternal life.  In other words, I believe He is God and not some bland spiritual teacher with some really cool stuff to say about loving everyone. 

If I keep my relationship with God strong, front and center I am going to be able to weather the storms that come with life.  I may, as Father Wall said, wish those storms wouldn't come but when they do I can say, "Please give me the strength to carry this cross, to endure this hardship, to walk with grace and dignity and my head held high.  Please do not let me act like an ass today."

If I do not have a strong relationship with God then I run the risk of thinking that a drink is probably not going to hurt me...after all, it's been over 20 years and surely I have grown up enough by now to be able to have a cocktail or two after a nice dinner, right?

Father Wall says that it is sin that darkens and weakens my relationship with God.  Sin, he teaches, impedes my experience with God.  I sin, Father says, by  "turning to God's gifts and seeking in them the happiness we must seek in God himself". 

In other words, by being self absorbed and self centered and thinking that all the amazing gifts I have received from God are somehow responsible for my happiness and productivity.

I think, and I could be wrong, that by not naming what I have and 'keeping it green' (as we say around the tables) I am running the risk of becoming arrogant.  I can take the healing I receive on a daily basis for granted and start to depend upon waving my arms and shouting 'Alleluia' rather than humbly and quietly offering myself to Him, to do with me as He would, relieving me of the bondage of self so that may better do His Will.

I am so blessed today.  I am blessed with wonderful friends, a loving family, a good job and the sweetest Scottie dog in the world.  I am so aware of those blessings and I have every intention of thanking God for them every day - but I have to remember that my happiness lies in my relationship with Him and not in those gifts.  The gifts are wonderful - but my soul was restless until it rested in Him.

Let me never forget that - one day at a time.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fear and Trembling

I had an interesting conversation with a learned, but new, Catholic the other day.  I say learned because the man comes to Full Communion with a wealth of knowledge of Holy Scripture.  He is a former Pastor and totally in love with Jesus.

My experience is becoming thus:  when a Catholic leaves the Eucharist to join a Protestant denomination, that denomination gets a disgruntled, weak Catholic.  When a Protestant comes to the Fullness of Faith, the Catholic Church gets a strong and willing and knowledgeable Christian.

Our discussion was around a statement made by a Franciscan Theologian.  Without directly quoting or naming the man, basically the Franciscan summarized the idea of 'Fear of the Lord' in a way that our new Catholic found a little 'too PC'.  The assertion by the Franciscan is that 'Fear of the Lord' means that we are to stand in 'awe and wonder' of God - His Power, His Love and His Might - rather than be actually afraid of God.  The new Catholic was concerned that this overlooks the need to have a certain level of actual fear and he used Hebrews 10:26 as a way to underscore his idea.  (If we deliberately keep on sinner after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God).

I understand his point...I do.  What I think he may be missing is the classic approach that Catholicism uses when understanding the relationship of creature to Creator, sin and righteousness.

I think, and I may be wrong, that we need to first consider the difference between our relationship when it breaks and our relationship when it is strong, and the role that contrition plays in the life of a Catholic.

When I commit a sin I have broken my relationship with God.  Like the Prodigal, I have taken what the Father has given me and I have willfully walked into a land that is bereft of grace.  Like a Loving Father, God stands ready to run to meet me when I return.  What causes me to return may be a combination of things:

1.  Sorrow that I offended God  (perfect contrition)
2.  Fear that the sin(s) I committed will send me to hell (imperfect contrition)

Both of these require that I have resolved to not sin again.  I am going to try.  I am going to open myself up to the power and grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and do my best to walk towards heaven without any side stepping or backsliding.

Contrition, according to the Council of Trent (Sess XIV, Chap iv) is the "sorrow of soul and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future".    The Church teaches that this hatred may arise from a variety of causes but to detest sin solely because of my love of God, the God I offended, is deemed perfect.  If I detest my sin because I am afraid of the fires of Hell, of receiving a JUST punishment for offending God by being kept from His Presence for all eternity, that is a good enough reason to be forgiven - but it is not perfect contrition.

I think the same kind of reasoning could be applied to having a Fear of the Lord.  When I am in alignment with His Will, I am not afraid of Hell or being punished.  My 'fear' is of the 'awe and wonder' variety.  I stand amazed that the Great I Am loves me enough to never stop thinking of me and the idea of doing anything that would hurt or offend that amazing God is the furthest thing from my mind.

However, when I am firmly in MY will and determined to do things MY way, it behooves me to remind myself of Divine Justice.  It is okay for me to be afraid of the Justice of GOD, while never losing sight of His Mercy.

As with most Catholic discussions, I think it truly becomes a matter of both people acknowledging that which is the Power that holds us all together.  We may approach from different directions and different mind sets.  What we have in common is the understanding that we are in such great care when we stand united in His Church.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mother Angelica

Mother Angelica passed away on Easter Sunday passed, at the age of 92.  A lifetime of pain, sorrow, suffering and great accomplishment is finished here on earth.  A lifetime of immense power, strength and great deeds now begins. 

Catholic Answers Live has devoted time to mourning her in what I think is a really appropriate and cool way.  The show has solicited "Mother Stories" from their Listeners and everyone who has called in has done so with such joy and appreciation for all this little nun did in their lives.
I did not call in - I was driving and the host is always very good about telling people that calling on a Bluetooth does not make for a good connection.  However, I have a Mother Story myself and I want to share it.

In the year 2000 I was 8 years sober and had just embarked on my last attempt at having my life be MY way.  I had gotten myself into a horrible relationship with a man who turned out to be a con artist and a fake Vietnam vet.  It broke my heart and I came close to drinking.  I didn't - pure anger kept me sober - but one of the things I realized was that I needed to be real about my commitment to The Church.  I had not been up to that time; rather, I had been willing to throw away my soul in order to have a boyfriend and assuage my loneliness.

That same year I bought a little Scottish Terrier puppy.  He was my second Scottie and I named him Shaw's Roddy MacDuff.  Roddy was a special dog.  He bonded with me immediately in a way no other dog had before and our relationship really helped me heal from the heartache my own stupidity had caused me.  We attended obedience classes together, just so he would learn the basics, and it turned out he had 'the chip' - the talent for performing.  We began to compete and for a brief few years I participated in the fabulous world of  Canine Obedience Competition. 

People would make fun of us when we showed up at meets.  See, Scotties are not known for Obedience Competition and they would say funny things like, "Nice to meet you.  Where's the dog you are going to compete?".  I would point at Roddy and shrug. "We are just here to have some fun", I would say, and then we would go into the ring and kick Golden Retriever BUTT.

Roddy won the San Joaquin Kennel Show and we met Julia Priest, dog trainer extraordinaire, who invited me to learn with her how to prepare him for Utility Dog competition.  For those who are unaware, that is like a dog getting a PhD in Obedience Training.  We went up for a few lessons, I bought the gear and we started training.  Roddy was 5 years old.

I had healed.  I was back in the arms of Holy Mother Church.  I was a Catechist.  I was sober.  I was starting to discern my vocation as a Dominican.  Life was solid and good.

One day I went to say good bye to Roddy and noticed his throat felt swollen.  I ask my Mom to take him to the Vet for a check up.  She called me later that day, sobbing.

Roddy had Lymphoma.

Roddy lived for another 10 weeks.  He died at home.  I was bereft.  I also felt so grateful to have had that dog.  I don't know how to explain it - to be so sad and so grateful at the same time!  I went to St Joe's RCIA that night and shared with someone that my beloved pet had died.  The woman, a very good Catholic, said something rather dismissive and I know she did not intend to be mean to me but it stung like crazy.  The fact that I did not lash out at her is a testament to my Guardian Angel, not me.  I wanted to rip her head off but I didn't.  Instead, I went home and for the first time in 11 years I smoked a cigarette.  It was better than drinking, right?  RIGHT.

That night for some reason I turned on EWTN.  I am not a regular watcher - I watch for special things but I have my own shows that I like and so am not one of those Faithful Catholics that have EWTN on 24/7.  But that night I turned it on and there she was - Mother Angelica.  It was a rerun, of course, but I listened to her and at the end of the show I did something really out of character for me:
I wrote her a letter.

I poured out my sorrow over losing my dog, how he had kept me sane after that stupid relationship and that sanity had brought me more fully into the Church.  I told her how I missed him so much and how alone I felt, how unloved and unlovable.  I wrote that I wish I could have saved him and how my giving him medicine to try and save him had made him so sick his last week on earth and how sorry I was for doing that but that I had just wanted to save him.  I poured out my heart to that nun, crying as I wrote, and thinking the entire time "you are an idiot.  Every good Catholic knows animals have material souls and are not humans".   I enclosed a donation - some little sum, nothing much - and the next day I mailed the letter.  I never expected to hear back.

Well, I did.

I received the usual "Thank you for your donation" letter from EWTN...but at the bottom, in her own handwriting, she had written, "Dear Heart, don't you ever think dogs are not important.  I know your Roddy was your Guardian Angel, just like St John Bosco's Grecio was his, and I bet that Angel will be there to meet you in heaven, tail wagging.  Your job will be to get there to be with him. Now get cracking!".

I have that letter in the box with Roddy's stuff.  His medals and ribbons, a picture from his last show when he beat all the other dogs there and so impressed Julia with his talent. 

I have had two other Scotties since then - William Wallace MacDuff (Duffy) and my present Scottie, Shaw's Rob Roy MacDuff (Robbie).  I am a Scottie girl, that is just how it is, but there will never be another Shaw's Roddy MacDuff.

And there will never EVER be another Mother Angelica.

Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon her.

Mother Angelica, pray for us!