Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The 12 Steps for Catholics ~part 1~

A Journey Begins with One Step

Hello, my name is Adrienne, and I am an alcoholic.

Before we get into the heart of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I must tell my story because in the end that is all I really have to offer you.

I come from a family of alcoholics as so many of us do. Alcoholism is a family disease and where you find one, you will usually find many. My Mom was an alcoholic who really only drank in an out of control fashion for a few years. When I was about 9 years old, by the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, my Mom was led to a rather new group called “Alcoholics Anonymous”. She took her sobriety seriously, and for years she was on jail duty, receiving calls at all hours of the night to come to the jail and talk to someone in the drunk tank.

My Father was probably what we in AA call a “dry drunk” - someone who exhibits the character defects usually associated with an alcoholic, but without the outward manifestation of excessive drinking. Since it is against our tradition to breach someone’s anonymity without permission, it is sufficient to say that my family harbored more drunks than sober folks.

I was raised not only with a fine Catholic education through the 12th grade, but also with the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. As I tell my fellow drunks, “knowledge is not always protection against alcohol.” In the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” it says, “Remember that we deal with alcohol, cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power. That One is God. May you find Him now!”

Sparing the readership all the gory details, this is my story. I had my first drink around the age of 15. There is no doubt that I did not relate to alcohol as my friends did, but that was something I would not learn until 30 years later. I continued to drink through college because that’s just what we all did. We worked hard, studied hard, and partied hard.

After college, I went on to many different professions – all of which were chock full of party-type people. Without being aware I was doing so, I surrounded myself with people who made it possible to drink without being conspicuous. There were also periods of time, sometimes years, when I didn’t drink very much at all. But like all alcoholics, I had one goal and that was to get drunk. Reaching the goal sometimes required a few months or even a few years, but sooner or later that’s what was waiting at the end of the road.

I met my husband in my early 30’s, and during the first 5 years of our marriage, we cared for my Mom who was dying of cancer. During that time our drinking started to escalate ever so slightly. My Mom, who had always been my 12th Step rock, died when I was 36 and the drinking cranked up at an alarming rate.

Too often, a non-alcoholic visualizes alcoholics as those folks lying about on the streets or sleeping at a shelter. For some, that is indeed the reality of their disease. For the majority, it is not. Most of us are your neighbors, co-workers, and friends. We don’t miss work or get arrested. Women can be particularly good at hiding this affliction.

By the time I was 44, I had a suspicion there might be a problem. I started to do all the things we drunks do to find a way to keep drinking. I switched brands of gin and set limits on when I could have my first drink each day. I even decided that maybe I should only be having one martini every day. The fact that my glass was the size of an industrial mop pail didn’t ring any bells. How could I possibly have a problem since I was only having one drink?

My husband had a very high profile student that had flown in for a week of intense guitar lessons. Since the student was spending so much money, I decided that at least one nice home- cooked meal was in order. I was home alone preparing ribs in the pressure cooker and having my “one” drink. The next thing I remember was waking up the next morning. I had no recollection of cooking those ribs, and had no clue if I had cleaned up the kitchen or even how I had managed to get myself to bed.

I knew at that very moment that I had a serious problem and I needed help. When I got to work my first call was to the AA main office to find a meeting. The next day, July 21, 1990, I attended my first AA meeting and have never had another drink since.

Was I sober? Absolutely not! I stopped drinking in order to get sober. Through the grace of God, the Catholic Church, and the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I embarked on a journey of conversion and have remained alcohol-free one day at a time. Was my drinking accompanied by the ugliness and desperation that goes with all out of control drinking? You bet! But those details will remain between God, my confessor, and myself.

All journeys start with a first step and our first step is:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol…that our lives had become unmanageable.

Romans 7:18

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."

Maybe alcohol is not your problem. Maybe it is food, sex, a deficiency in charity or hope, or any of the myriad things that destroys our spiritual life. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that we can do nothing without God.

Disclaimer: I can’t make decisions for others or tell anyone what they must do to improve their life (other than not to drink.) I can only tell my story and hope someone will receive some benefit. If you are one of those people who harbor antipathy towards the organization of Alcoholics Anonymous please feel free to not visit.


the mother of this lot said...

Can't wait for Step 2!

Tom in Vegas said...

What a story.

Perhaps it's these experiences or - I should say - the WISDOM that came from the perseverance of these tumultuous times that I detect in so many of your posts.

Your words go beyond alcoholism into the deeper pathology of addiction, which so many people are afflicted with. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your experiences with the rest of us.

I had intended to write my own series of posts detailing the commonalities and differences between Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholic but, to be perfectly honest, I'd rather put those on hiatus and follow your chain of posts on this subject matter.

Kelly said...


Romans 7:18 "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."

Boy oh boy does that hit the nail on the head. I know that I can add my name to that giant collection of broken people and I thank God every day for the grace that He gives. God's Blessings to you and I look forward to the rest of this series.

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

The 12 steps are a wonderful tool. I use it just for 'life'.
Accepting the 'Higher Power' is slowly proving a gentle balm to someone I love dearly. She came to Mass with us on Sunday. She has been going to Mass with her sponsor too. Say a prayer.

Jennifer said...

What a wonderful first part to the story. It will give hope to many people.

Terry Nelson said...

Thanks for doing this - I have a lot of questions I hope will get answered.

Anonymous said...

Seeing the generational "curses" addictions passed from one generation to the next--one can easily understand original sin. You did not choose the disease, but are left with it's effects--how hard is it to overcome them, and how inspirational your story will be to others--thanks for posting this Adrienne.

xxxxxx said...

Wow, what a story! And how courageous you are to tell it!!!!

I had no idea about "dry drunks" and the effects on other generations of this disease.

I pray for those who suffer this cross, any kind of addiction from nicotine to food to soap operas.

Yep, Tom is right...you have such a wisdom.

Adrienne said...

Jackie - calm down. One day at a time.

Tom - we're all addicted to something. Just look at you and your beans. Scary

Kelly - you are on the right path, Just don't be too hard on yourself

whitestone - how exciting.

Jennifer - I pray for you all the time since I have a bit of what you have.

Tara - "met" a friend of yours from your church. He'll probalbly reveal himself. We agree that you're pretty neat.

Diane - dry drunks are so insidious. At least with us active, fun loving, drink everything in sight peeps there is an outward manifestation of an inward sickness. With a dry drunk you’re never sure what the hell is going on.

Fr John Speekman said...

Thanks, Adrienne, wonderful Part I. I attended NarAnon for drug users as part of my formation as a priest. The struggle is always, initially ... my name is N. and I'm drug dependant, alcoholic, or whatever. How strangely 'lovely' it is to hear people admit their 'sin' or addiction. Thanks.

Scott M. Frey said...

wonderfully written...I can really identify with what you went thru... I have an interesting tale to tell as well....

Thank God for AA, that's all I can say!

Subvet said...

"Without being aware I was doing so, I surrounded myself with people who made it possible to drink without being conspicuous."

We're pretty good at that. Thanks for the posting, I'll be checking back later for the remaining Steps.

Unknown said...

Hi Adrienne,

I knew that there was something special about you. I am an alcoholic/addict. I have 4-1/2 years in recovery. My recovery is what led me to the Catholic faith. I will become an official Catholic at the Easter vigil!

I look forward to going through the steps on your site.




Anonymous said...

I have been in AA for 20 years and the Catholic bashing in getting worse and worse in the rooms.
What do you suggest?


Adrienne said...

Tom - Find a new meeting, if possible. If not, you will have to weigh the good parts against the bad and decide if you really need to be putting up with that.

Patty said...


Thanks for this post, I look forward to reading the rest of the series. It's funny how "birds of a feather, flock together" so to speak. I can relate so well to this post. Although my parents were not alcoholic, I had aunts and uncles on both sides of my family who were. My mom became addicted to prescription drugs when I was quite young, due to what I have later come to believe was the result of grief and depression from 2 miscarriages. My dad was your typical co-dependent.

Although I drank alcoholically for 15 years or so, and at one time I thought I was an alcoholic, I have since come to know I am not an alcoholic, but certainly am very co-dependent.

After 18 years of marriage and finally hitting bottom, I vividly recall kneeling at Sunday Mass and crying out to God to "help us". Less than a week later he did when my husband entered treatment on September 17, 1991. We are friends of Bill W and Lois and we have not had a drink since. It has been tough and the first 5 years of sobriety were worse for both of us than the active drinking years.

Although it was my Catholic faith and commitment to God that led me to not divorce (for all the good that would have done) and ultimately to seek help for my co-dependence first through Alanon and then a brief time of individual counseling. It was really AA and Alanon that led me to a deeper intimacy with the Church. Many of our AA crowd are Catholic and many of the meetings are held at Catholic Churches.

When my mother-in-law passed away in 2001, my husband and I were graced with a very spontaneous and deep reversion to our Faith. We are both finally at peace and know we have experienced many graces through the Sacrament of Marriage.

Of our two boys who have lapsed from the Faith, one seems to be having relationship problems to the point he has chosen to no longer have a place in his life for us. The other one seems to have some problems with drinking.

I know this comment is long and I do apologize but I have just a few more items to mention. Our anniversary is July 21, (1973), and I love to garden, although I am not a Master Gardener by any means. For a very long time I have wanted to write my conversion story and reading this post has nudged me a little further along into actually making the commitment to do it.

Finally for Tom above, there are a lot of AA meetings in my area that are held at Catholic parishes, maybe he can find some in his area. I would think it would be hard to develop the type of relationship needed to maintain a recovery program surrounded by those who are bashing my Faith...in fact for me personally if you bash the Church (my Mother) I take it as a personal attack against me. It would either have to stop...somehow, or would have to find other meetings, it's that simple.

Thanks again for this post and your wisdom!

God bless you!

An after thought, have you visited Fr Emmerich Vogt's website at http://www.12-step-review.org/?

Sherry said...

Beautiful brave woman! Bravo!

Sue said...

Beautiful! Thanks so much for having the courage to tell your story in such a public venue. I will be praying for you and your family as you enter the next few weeks - for protection from evil and many more graces to fill your days.
I love one of Scott Peck's lines - "To be alive is to be addicted." Not that I know anything about that.
Many blessings.