Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking about addiction, compulsion, and loving those who suffer this cross. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
I received a phone call from a high school friend recently. Her adult child struggles with alcohol addiction. She wanted to know if I had any advice. “What’s been going on?” I asked.
She began telling me what her daughter was doing: the rehabs attended, participation in out-patient treatment programs, going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, living in sober living, and finally relapse. Then her daughter repeated the whole process over again. My friend sounded tired and worried. I recognized the pain in her voice.
“I’d like to tell you that you only have to do three simple things, and everything will be better. But recovery doesn’t work that way. It works the way that you just described it. There are often ups and downs. What are you doing to take care of yourself”? I asked.
Loving Someone With an Alcohol Addiction
I remember getting that question in my very first twelve-step meeting for those who have been touched by the addictions of others. I lost count of the number of times I was asked that same question. I’d come to my first meeting with a notebook and pen. I was going to find out how to fix my son and his addiction.
Instead, they asked me to look at myself.
What is wrong with these people? I wondered. My son is the one with the problem.
In recovery, we learn that addiction is a family disease. I can’t fix them. But the changes that I make with myself often have positive effects on my relationship with my addicted loved ones and my family as a whole. Many times, when we get better, they do too.
Learn and grow in our Faith and love for the Lord.
Support and Resources
I was a little nervous after that first meeting, though. While 12-step meetings are spiritual, they are not religious. When they spoke about a ‘higher power’ or the ‘god of my understanding,’ I wanted to be sure that what I was doing didn’t go against the teachings of the Church. We were in such a vulnerable position. I needed to be sure.
I came home and Googled the history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I was so surprised to learn that a Jesuit priest, Ed Dowling, SJ, became friends with Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA. Father Ed had taken some of his Jesuit brothers to an AA meeting and had discovered that the twelve steps were not only similar to the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, they also appeared in the same order. He was so intrigued that he made a trip to New York to meet Bill Wilson in person. Eventually, Father Ed became Bill W.’s spiritual advisor.
I felt better about these meetings. If a priest thought that they were okay and that they followed a similar path to Saint Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, then this had to be the way to move forward. The only problem was, I didn’t know who Saint Ignatius of Loyola was. And, I’d never heard of his spiritual exercises.
The Spiritual Exercises
I learned that Saint Ignatius founded the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) order. He was a soldier who was wounded in the battle of Pamplona 1521 and while he was recuperating, he asked for books on chivalry and knights in battle. He was a very proud man. Instead, they only had books about Jesus and the lives of the Saints.
Ignatius began to be moved by these books. He realized that he felt better when his focus was on Jesus than on worldly matters. He devoted his life to helping others become spiritually fit. He taught his followers to go out and look for God in all things.
I began to read every book that I could find on the subject of the spiritual exercises and looked for their connection to the twelve steps. The more I learned, the better I began to feel. As a result, I grew to know God in a very intimate way. Even in the midst of active addiction, I began to trust God more and more. I trusted that he had control of our situation. I trusted that his journey with my son was right where he needed it to be.
Eventually I realized that the twelve steps and the spiritual exercises are all about relationships: to God first, to self, second, and then to others. Isn’t that interesting? We heal when in relationship.
The work that I was doing made me feel…high! I couldn’t believe how few people in the Church knew about these tools. I got busy and began working on a book that uses the twelve steps and Ignatian spirituality to help families heal from addiction.
My Piece of Guidance
If I were to think of one thing to tell my friend, I think it would be this: with the disease of addiction, we are as sick as our secrets. Don’t isolate. Don’t allow fear to keep you from reaching out for help.With the disease of addiction, we are as sick as our secrets. Don’t isolate. Don’t allow fear to keep you from reaching out for help. #BlessedChats #BISblog // Click To Tweet
The stigma of addiction is real. It is the great barrier to many people finding hope and help.
If you haven’t been touched by this disease, learn what you can so that you can understand the disease of addiction. It is important that we demystify this disease and humanize those who suffer from it.
If you have been touched by this disease, know that you are not alone.
We’re praying for all of you struggling with substance abuse or loving someone who does.
If you want more on the Church’s rich teachings on these engaging topics, our best-selling study, “Blessed Conversations: Rooted,” dives into the Catechism’s teachings and now offers a video companion series along with it featuring Theological Editor Susanna Spencer and Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Get it here.
Written by Jean Heaton. Find out more about her here.