When I first became sober, maintaining my recovery was the most important part of my life. But two years in something happened. My life changed. Suddenly I was engaged and moving away to start graduate school.
Since my faith was important to me, I found a parish right away. I tested out some local meetings but they were different. The people there had not witnessed my recovery, so there was not as much of a bond. And it was easy for me to get resentful at some of the anti-Catholic comments that I occasionally heard.
Suddenly, I was taking the inventory of others—rather than myself—and began using it as an excuse to stop being involved in recovery. Besides, I was busy now anyway. I only had so many hours in the day, so I thought.
I eventually started going back to meetings after hitting a personal crisis in my life. Upon looking back on that period, this season of being a “dry drunk” (someone sober but not active in recovery), I began falling into these three unhealthy behaviors.
Letting My Ego Go Unchecked
Through my “dry drunk” period, I often lived a life of self-sacrifice but I struggled in one major way: trying to play God. This is not something that happened overtly. Still, I more or less entertained a deep belief that I could achieve things through my own willpower.
After all, I had achieved a lot that way. For one, I graduated from graduate school at the top of my class—all with a full-time job and a baby at home! Although I often had the right intentions, I often made a mess of things because I was trying to do things the way I thought best rather than discerning what God wanted. When I was involved in recovery, discerning God’s will was part of my regular practice throughout the day. Now it wasn’t anymore.
Furthermore, no matter how long a person is in recovery, there is just something about going to a meeting and introducing yourself as an addict that is humbling. That very act gives you a sense of your own powerlessness and helps keep your ego “right-sized.” When I was not doing this on a regular basis, my ego grew and I thought that I often knew best.
Feeling Isolated and Concealing My Addiction
As I slipped away from recovery but remained active in my faith, I stopped being able to relate to others. Working with people with addiction and unhealthy attachments gives you a strong sense of your faults and helps you realize how far you have come—as well as how much further you could have fallen without God’s grace.
Like many religious people, I succumbed to the sin of spiritual pride while on my “dry bender.” I told myself that I went to Mass every Sunday, practiced natural family planning with my wife, and did everything else the Church tells me to do.
These were all good things, undoubtedly. But they were vain when not taken in light of God’s grace. This is such an easy sin to fall into for an ego-maniac when not working a program. Without God, I am nothing.
Furthermore, people in the parish, while well intentioned, did not always understand addiction and the nature of addiction. When I would explain that I used to have a drinking problem they didn’t always know how to act. Eventually, I began not sharing and concealed it.
I lacked the camaraderie that all people in recovery share with each other through the overcoming of obstacles. That same camaraderie was not available to me in regular parish life. Furthermore, how can I even begin to speak of the presence of Christ in my life without discussing the fact that he pulled me out of the pits of sure death, imprisonment, or institutionalization?!
My faith began lacking a genuine quality as I tried to conceal my past addiction.
Serving as an Obligation Rather than for Love of Christ
Although I was still doing service-work during my dry period, my service felt dead. Helping out at the soup kitchen or parish activities was not the same. One thing that I had picked up in recovery was the ability to see Christ, and indeed even myself, in others no matter how far they had fallen.
Without this element in my life, showing up at the soup kitchen became just another box to check to help get me into heaven. It did not come from a place of faith. My works were dead.
However, getting involved again in my recovery has given me the opportunity to go back to where I was ten years ago and remember all that God has done for me.
As I write this, I sit close to celebrating 10 years of sobriety. I have had the experience of being involved in recovery, then not being involved, and then returning. From this, I’ve learned a lot about the role of recovery in my faith.
My Catholic faith is an amazing, beautiful cathedral. That is what people see. However, the foundation for that cathedral is my recovery and working the Twelve Steps. When I cease to do this and let pride and resentment get the best of me the foundation cracks and the cathedral comes crashing down.
In other words, I simply cannot have a genuine Catholic faith without my recovery. Indeed, I would probably lead more people away from Christ rather than to Him without it. Today, I listen to those people in AA who are not Catholic or Christian. And much of my support group is not of the same faith persuasion as me.
But the difference now is that I’m humble enough to listen because I know that God indeed works through these people and they share what is truthful. I can accept their biases without resentment and still listen enough to learn from them.
Jonathan has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol since 2010. The Catholic faith has always been part of his recovery. He found freedom from his addiction in modeling Christ through service to others through 12-step groups, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, youth ministry, and really any other outlet he could find. He is a strong believer in the power of Christian fellowship in recovery.