Step 1 in Catholic Recovery

We admit that we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives have become unmanageable. [1]

 

Perhaps we will never know the answer as to whether we were born as addicts or if it was something we acquired as we became more separate from God. One thing is certainly clear – our addiction was killing us mentally, physically, and spiritually. “The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had formed a chain to bind me. The truth is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will; when lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion.” [2]  

That we would not die was the great cosmic lie told to us by Satan, the great trickster – and we somehow thought that we would become immortal and be like the gods with our false intimacy and power. We were stuck, not in a garden of Paradise, but in a wasteland of obsession. Eventually, although some of us perhaps came close to a physical death, it didn’t matter, for we already felt dead inside. What was killing us was our disease of self-centeredness and denial. Self-centeredness was making our lives unmanageable; denial was refusing to accept that we were powerless over our addiction. We realized that only hell and despair were sown in the lie of the trickster.

We found ourselves living a life that was somehow not true to our inner selves, but we were unable to do anything about it while under the control of our addiction. “What I do, I do not understand.  For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.  For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rom 7: 15, 19). Increasingly, we were living more and more under the power of our addiction and shutting out the light of Christ. “And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be” (Mt 6:22). We became like the character of Dante in The Inferno, who finds himself alone and imprisoned in the dark wood. The beasts guard the way so that he is unable escape. How similar is Dante’s description of the beast and his dilemma to our own addiction:

And he replied, seeing my soul in tears:
     “He must go by another way who would escape
     This wilderness, for that mad beast that flees
before you there, suffers no man to pass.
     She tracks down all, kills all, and knows no glut,
     but, feeding, she grows hungrier than she was.” [4]

 

Our addiction also grew hungrier until it almost consumed us. We experienced shame at what we had become and may have tried to hide our addiction from others. We were totally oblivious to the destruction of ourselves and the lives of those around us until our eyes were opened and we became naked before the truth. “When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  The Lord God then called to the man and asked him, ‘Where are you?’  He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself’” (Gn 3:8-10).

Finally, realizing that we could hide no longer, we were driven to the Twelve Steps in hope that we would find something there to relieve us of our pain and misery. As in Dante’s Hell, we needed a guide or our own Virgil to show us through and help us emerge from this underworld and back towards the stars of Heaven.

 

It was in many of these Twelve Step fellowships where we found a community of people who were like us and understood. For many of us, this was our first real experience of community. Regardless of our different backgrounds, we discovered that we were bound by the common suffering of addiction and the hope of recovery. “For in hope we are saved” (Rom 8:24). We came to realize that we couldn’t go through recovery alone – that we needed others to share in this journey. When we came to the realization that the “I” was powerless, we replaced it with the “we” of our fellowship.  Even the community of the Beloved Disciple realized that the fullness of Christian life was found in the fellowship of “we”:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life—
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:1-4).

 

The beginnings of faith were found in such encounters with others at meetings. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). St. Therese of Lisieux understood the importance of relating to others when she wrote in her spiritual autobiography, “With certain souls, I feel I must make myself little, not fearing to humble myself by admitting my own struggles and defects; seeing I have the same weaknesses as they, my little Sisters in their turn admit their faults and rejoice because I understand them through experience.” [5]

 

For us, the first experiences of honesty and healing begins with the First Step. Admitting the truth of our addiction and how we manipulated others – how we were causing destruction to ourselves and those around us – is often the first step towards surrender and healing.

Having accepted the First Step in our lives, we still may have found ourselves wandering in the desert. We have become hungry and thirsty for more. Our journey has only just begun. Some of us may still find ourselves like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking along and “looking downcast” (Lk 24:17). We may have feelings of distraught about leaving our old lives behind us, not recognizing our new life in faith and joy that is right in front of us. Even after the disciples were told by Mary Magdalene that Christ had appeared to her, they had gathered and locked the doors behind them as their unmanageability continued to grow out of fear. Christ stood in their midst and simply said, “Peace be with you” (Lk 20:19).

We simply had to give up and become willing to open ourselves to the grace of God. In the letting go and admitting our powerlessness we are able to find peace. We discover the truth in the words of St. Bonaventure writing almost eight centuries ago, “But we cannot be lifted up above ourselves unless a higher power elevates us. However many interior steps are set out, nothing will happen unless divine aid comes to our assistance.” [6] Having accepted our powerlessness over our addiction and admitting the unmanageability of our lives, we were then ready to move on to Step Two where we begin to deepen our relationship with this Higher Power.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.  As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (Gal 4:4-7).

 

[1] Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 59-60.  The steps given here are adapted from the original twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The emphasis is on the word addict and not alcoholic, which is a symptom of the disease of addiction.  It is also written in the present-tense.

[2] St. Augustine, The Confessions, translated and with an introduction by Maria Boulding and John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997), 144.

[3] The terms substance and object is whatever a person may put into his or her body or use – mentally or physically – that will cause spiritual sickness.

[4] Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, Canto I, translated by John Ciardi and with an introduction by Archibald T. MacAllister (New York: New American Library, 2009), 6-7.

[5] St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Third Edition, translated and with an introduction by John Clark (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), 240.

[6] St. Bonaventure, “The Mind’s Journey into God,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, translated and with an introduction by Bernard McGinn (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 165.

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