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 and...well....you 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.