I never wanted to stop drinking. I loved to drink. I realized I was an alcoholic in my 20s when I was in school in New York. I remember telling this to my brother, to which he responded, “You think?”
I grew up in a middle-class home in northern Virginia. My parents never drank. In fact, my father’s side of the family did not drink at all: they were all good Norwegian Lutherans. My mother’s side was also made up of good Norwegian Lutherans, but some of them drank. And the ones that drank too much we didn’t see that often.
After I graduated from college, I began a very successful career in New York in the fashion industry. I continued to drink a lot to keep pace with my friends and colleagues. During this time I still would pray every night, just as I was taught to do when I was young. However, there was a prayer I never recited: Help me to stop drinking.
As I look back, I was similar to St Augustine with his oft-quoted prayer: “Please God, make me good, but not just yet!” I ended up getting married but my husband died shortly after. At that point my drinking and drugging really took off and my performance at work plummeted. My confidence was nonexistent. No one tells us how grief will affect us when we lose someone close to us. It was a difficult time, yet I never blamed God or anyone else, which is strange because I blamed everyone else for my drinking.
Four years later I met a wonderful man and eventually moved out of New York. He and his friends drank, and so I drank with them (though, as it turned out, I could still drink more). We got married and I became pregnant with a baby boy so I stopped drinking during that time. Not drinking was really hard until I started to show, and then once I realized there was a tiny little baby—a gift from God—inside of me, I knew God would give me the strength to stop.
The marriage was a happy one until I ruined it with my drinking. I hurt my husband and son while I thought I was only hurting myself. Although the marriage didn’t last, today we are still friends and my son and I have a beautiful relationship.
As I entered 12-step rooms over the years, I knew that I was never going to stay sober. Some days I wouldn’t drink and some days I would. I lost my driver’s license many times because of driving under the influence, and so I relied on friends to drive me to 12-step meetings and work. I had faith in God but not when it came to my drinking. This seemed too big for God to handle. Instead, I continued to try to “handle” it on my own. I was still playing God.
After my last DWI, the court pronounced that I was a repeat offender. I would lose my license for seven years and have to spend 21 days in jail. The truth is that those 21 days in jail—being away from the world and its temptations—helped. I worked on my fourth step and I read Bible verses that my cellmate’s boyfriend mailed to her. Since I was in there during Holy Week, I was also able to attend church every day of that week. God’s grace was working on me.
When I got out I went to my son’s baseball game and it was there that I realized I had no desire for alcohol. The obsession was gone! Sometimes only God can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
About a year later, I was laid off from my job of 10 years. With a desire to attend church regularly during this difficult time, I ended up attending daily Mass at the Catholic Church down the street (I was still Lutheran but Lutherans don’t have daily services…).
I loved it! I loved everything about it: the holy water, the statues, the blessings, and most of all the realness of it all. It just all seemed right to me. Some people come to a 12-step meeting for the first time and say that they finally feel at home. That’s how I felt when I first went to Mass.
I went through the RCIA program and loved it. The sister in charge of the program started every prayer with, “Let us put ourselves in the presence of God.” I now try to do that with every prayer. Although I came late to the Catholic Church, as I write this and look back on my journey, I can see how God was always guiding me to His Church.
In fact, when I was a teenager there was a Catholic church across the street from my family’s Lutheran church and when I was really in trouble I would sneak over to it, when no one was watching, and pray inside the Catholic church because I believed it was more powerful than mine!
Today, I share my journey into the Catholic faith during 12-step meetings because, along with my sobriety, it’s the single most important factor in my life. And I frequent the Sacrament of Confession because I want to keep my heart clean, to prepare myself for eternity. With the eyes of a child, with wonder and awe for the gifts of the Church’s sacraments, I remain grateful to receive God’s grace each and every day.
Jeanine has been sober for over ten years and a member of the Catholic Church for about nine.