When I was a student at university, I participated in a complimentary counseling session with a therapist. During the introductory assessment, I indicated that I had purged the night before.
My therapist scheduled a follow-up appointment.
At the end of the semester, as I was cleaning to go home for Christmas break, I found the appointment reminder in my desk drawer. I tossed it in the wastebasket under my desk and cleared my answering machine with a request that I urgently reschedule my missed appointment.
Sunday, November 27, 2011—the First Sunday of Advent—would be the next time I saw a therapist at an inpatient facility. It marked the beginning of my sacred story.
The painful, abusive memories that had been jolted awake by my father’s death six years prior were no longer buried deep in my memory. I had started experiencing flashbacks of them almost every hour. Thanksgiving a few days before with my family had been my breaking point. By noon of the following Sunday, I wanted to end my life. I checked into an inpatient facility in a nearby town to salvage my 29-year-old life.
During intake, I gave the nurse my cell phone, shoestrings, a dishonest psychosocial history, and freedom in exchange for observation, a set of mental health diagnoses, three square meals, and a new beginning. A week before Christmas, I was released.
I spent most of the next year ordering self-help books from my wishlist and trying out new trauma-focused therapies. During my 200-mile round trip to Memphis, TN for therapy sessions, I started binging on the way home and purging as soon as I got home. I tried to restrict myself to one or two food groups with the “raw vegan” fad but that only caused me to lie in bed for weeks at a time with no energy.
On the PTSD front regarding my father, flashbacks did become less frequent and not as intense. But as I said goodbye to my intrusive past through trauma-focused therapy, I uncovered my deepest secret.
I was a bulimic.
Outside of one obscure therapy appointment back when I had control of Bulimia, I had never told another living soul that I lived with that kind of eating disorder. It was my sickest secret. Sure, I was overweight from stuffing my feelings of childhood abuse. But an eating disorder? Me? It couldn’t be.
In 2014, I went to graduate school because I wanted to help others struggling with a past similar to mine of abuse. But my last semester I was burnt out and met with a therapist. At the time, I told her I had a perfection problem.
Looking back, though, I was really telling her that I had bulimia, though I wasn’t saying it explicitly. Perfectionism had been a hallmark of my disease. I wanted to control my feelings, my body, and yet I never felt good enough. I was a hamster on a wheel, spinning. I continued to purge my way through graduate school, and it landed me an executive position on a state board of directors, three job offers, the best internships, academic honors, and exhaustion.
The summer I graduated, I went on my most restrictive diet yet. When I found out that my husband was addicted to pornography, I went deeper into my eating disorder. As I studied for my licensure exam, I damaged my gallbladder by severely restricting my caloric intake and had to have emergency surgery.
Strangely, it was my husband’s addiction that turned me more fully to my own recovery.
In 2015, I came clean to my husband about my bulimia and slowly built a treatment team with a dietitian, physician, therapist, and psychologist. I started the road of recovery, but I was still very hesitant that I could actually stop binging or purging.
Little by little, though, recovery started to happen. But it wasn’t until I found my primary 12-step fellowship group in October 2017 that I started to live life on life’s terms. That’s when I stopped hiding from the world and started living in it again.
I got sober that October after living in a cloak of denial for many years. During the completion of my first-step inventory, I realized that my purging began, ironically, after watching a made-for-TV movie promoting awareness for teens of eating disorders. I also learned that I had my first disordered eating thought when I was four years old.
I attended every meeting I could for the first year. Then, in April 2019, I joined the Catholic Church largely due to my journey in 12-step recovery and the Sacrament of Confession. Around the time I joined the Church, I picked up a copy of a book titled The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments. The book made a lot of sense to me and I used it to help me understand the sacraments as a new Catholic.
Over a year later, I joined a virtual Catholic conference on the topic of healing to hear my friend, Devanie, speak. I flipped through the other speakers and one of them, Scott Weeman, looked familiar. Then I realized why: he was the Catholic in Recovery guy from the book!
Since the Monday after that virtual healing conference I have been a member of Catholic in Recovery. I feel the same way about Catholic in Recovery as I do my primary fellowship group—it’s like water for my thirsty soul. I need to connect with other Catholics in recovery like I need to connect with those in my primary fellowship group—on a daily basis.
I have had many full-circle moments in recovery. I have also received many gifts as a result. I am hopeful because I know Jesus today. I am hopeful because I have a Mother in the Blessed Virgin who guides me through recovery one bead at a time. And I am hopeful because I have a family of saints who each pray for me.
I am hopeful because come the First Sunday of Advent these days, you will find me singing as a cantor at my parish during the evening service and, afterward, moderating a virtual meeting in my fellowship group.
Catholic in Recovery and the Serenelli Project
After many years of struggling with alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction, Stephanie found sobriety at the age of 33. It was during that first year of her recovery that she also returned to the faith of her childhood, joining RCIA and becoming a confirmed Catholic. That was in 2006, and she has been sober since.
In response to the gift of her sobriety, Stephanie has continued to serve others by becoming active in her church. It’s this deep desire to bring Christ and healing to others that recently placed on her heart a desire to serve those specifically struggling with addictions.
“I recently went through a divorce and moved in with a girlfriend,” Stephanie said. “She lived in a rough neighborhood in Cincinnati with lots of prostitution and drug sellers and I was hoping to buy the place from her and turn the back apartment into a women’s recovery house.”
Stephanie soon found out the house was selling for more than she anticipated and decided it wasn’t the right move to purchase it. However, the very next week God revealed to her what He had in mind for her instead.
“The next week at church this man named Marty, a member of our parish, gave a pulpit announcement about this project for men and women just released from prison who have nowhere else to go. I met with him after church and asked him if they would also be helping women. When he said yes, and that he had plans for both men’s and women’s houses, I told him I wanted to be involved,” Stephanie shared.
This would become the Serenelli Project. Scheduled to launch next year, the Serenelli Project will offer homes for men and women released from prison who are committed to growing in their faith and being part of a Christ-centered community.
The men who are accepted will help rebuild old and abandoned churches, rectories, and houses in the surrounding neighborhood to provide a space for them to live. They will also help manage these spaces so that they can be used for liturgies, retreats, wedding receptions, and community events for the local community. The women who are accepted will serve through their own unique work, which could include raising therapy animals, social services, cooking, catering, and more. They will create a space for daily prayer, work, and fellowship.
“The motto for the Serenelli Project is ‘Rebuild, Repair, Restore,’ both for the human person and the abandoned churches not in use anymore,” Stephanie said. “The homes will be modeled after a religious community.”
The ministry takes its name from Alessandro Serenelli, an Italian gardener who went to prison for stabbing to death St. Maria Goretti when she refused his attempts to seduce and molest her in spite of his threats of retaliation. In prison, St. Maria visited Alessandro in a vision and offered him 14 lilies for each stab wound, highlighting her forgiveness that she had already given him on her deathbed. He converted, and after being released from prison he lived out the rest of his life in a monastery.
Stephanie volunteered to lead the mentoring of Serenelli’s residents as well as manage recovery and small groups since many released from prison struggle with addictions and are especially susceptible to relapse. However, she was unsure exactly how to integrate the Catholic faith with recovery. She was discussing this over a Zoom call with Marty and two others involved in the project who were recently released from prison, a woman named Kathy and a man named Steven.
“We were discussing how we would handle the recovery meeting aspect and Kathy got her phone out during our Zoom meeting and found Catholic in Recovery. So we purchased the book and since I had volunteered to help formulate the recovery program, I got in touch with Scott and we basically just decided it was a no-brainer. We will still encourage members living in the Serenelli Project homes to attend 12-step and other meetings, but the one that we will facilitate on site every week will be our Catholic in Recovery meetings.”
While these meetings will be hosted at one of the Serenelli Project homes, they will be open to anyone in the Cincinnati area. In fact, Stephanie has already started facilitating a weekly Catholic in Recovery meeting at a church in preparation for when the building is done for the first Serenelli Project community.
“I have never had the opportunity to sponsor others and I have missed that. I’m looking forward to that opportunity now,” Stephanie said.
She is also grateful for the opportunity to serve those struggling with addictions and unhealthy attachments who have been imprisoned—something she admits could have very well happened to her.
“I have the gratitude of knowing that I very well could have ended up in prison,” Stephanie said. “I sold marijuana and drove around with cocaine and LSD. At any point, it could have been me.”
She also understands this opportunity to serve as a chance for her to embrace forgiveness for her past and the harm it caused her and others.
“I think one of my biggest stumbling blocks in recovery has been forgiving myself. I hope through the Serenelli Project homes I can mentor others and we can help each other toward that forgiveness,” Stephanie said.
Lastly, she remains grateful for having found Catholic in Recovery.
“I love the Catholic in Recovery take on recovery because you don’t have to only be addicted to gambling or alcohol. I love that it’s open to anyone, including people who might be suffering from a family member or friend who is struggling with an addiction,” Stephanie shared. “If we’re honest, we all have unhealthy attachments of some kind, which we call sin. Our Catholic faith allows us to relieve our defects through the sacraments, and Catholic in Recovery can help us grow in our relationship with God and others.”
The most vivid childhood memory for me is traumatic. I was four, my sister was three. My sister Rita and I went to Marion, Ohio, to stay with my mother’s only sibling, her older brother and his wife. While there, my uncle raped me. At the time, I didn’t know what was happening to me or how to explain to my little sister why I was hurting.
The trauma would remain locked in my memory until I was 33 years old.
My ever-growing family (I am the eldest of nine children) moved to a suburb in Columbus. Through the prodding of neighborhood children, we started to attend the local Catholic church and school.
I remember walking to daily Mass by myself in the morning (I must have been about nine), attending Mass, and enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hot cocoa while sitting on the curb in the church parking lot. And I remember the loving calm that was bestowed on me, which I now know to have been the presence of the Holy Eucharist. I ran there daily. These are the fondly-held and sacred memories of a child unknowingly being subject to the threat of rape by an alcoholic uncle and the ranting and violence of a mentally-ill mother.
How sweet it was to escape to the realness of our loving God who gave me courage and strength to continue living. God fortified my soul from the sins against me and, I believe, nullified some of their harmful effects through His grace.
My life moving forward was confusing. I was 12 when a school friend urged me to tell my mother about the abuse of my uncle. We would go to my uncle’s house to help clean since his wife was crippled from polio. When I told my mother I was afraid to go to his house she excused me. But everything soon came out a few days later when he tried to abuse my sister, Rita. My dad found out and we were kept safe from our uncle from then on.
I longed for a normal life. I sought answers. Everything was a struggle as I grew older. I worked and went to university—all while dealing with the demons of my abuse. I sought relationships with men that always ended with my sexual adventures and, ultimately, in tears. Alcohol became a big additive to my woes.
Finally, in 1978, while attending Ohio State, I met a lapsed-Catholic who changed my life. She introduced me to Jesus. The miracle of His peaceful presence filled me. I would notice His presence in my life from that point onward. But the theme of my life continued to be that of my “self-will running riot.”
In 1979 I joined Overeaters Anonymous (OA) trying to lose weight. I made it through the Twelve Steps and a priest at the Josephinum Seminary gave me the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My life began to improve and I moved to New York City. I continued with OA while being helped by the Paulists priests, their church community, and great therapists who began to unravel my sexual abuse history.
I finally graduated from Hunter College in 1985 with a degree in Italian Literature and Modern Dance. I then pursued a master’s degree in Florence, Italy, but failed miserably because of my focus only on finding a husband. I eventually became pregnant and the father and I began raising our daughter in Italy.
When my daughter Daphne was in middle school her father and I split up. Through intensive psychotherapy with loving Italian therapists, Daphne and I were able to function during this difficult time. I was able to control my drinking at that point since my main focus was my daughter.
In 2014, I returned from Italy to Columbus, Ohio. With no job and my daughter now grown-up, my drinking habit started to worsen. It took about six months for me to go from drinking a half bottle of wine every night to a full one. I was sad, depressed, tired of life, and a drain on family and friends. At this time, a friend introduced me to marijuana. I sought divine help by joining a neighborhood church but I was still drinking and smoking, which now would lead to blackouts.
My mom told me eventually to try Al-Anon (only because I claimed I wasn’t an alcoholic!). I attended 120 meetings in 120 days and I found a lovely sponsor who led me through the Twelve Steps, including a very rigorous Step Four. Still, controlled drinking and marijuana use continued as I became more involved in my church. I became a sacristan, lector, server, and also regularly cleaned and decorated the church.
I loved being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and I was willing to do anything for God to heal me except admit to my own alcoholism. I had promised Jesus while still in Italy that once I had returned to the United States I would become a faithful Catholic. Little did I know that He would bless me so.
Through the gentle teachings of holy priests at my little church and missionaries who ended up living with me, I fell more in love with Jesus and the Catholic Church. I continued to attend 12-step meetings and, finally, with clenched fists was able to admit to my alcoholism.
Yet, since I was still using marijuana I eventually stopped attending meetings. In September of 2019, I taught Bible Study to four adults while high on marijuana in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. One of the ladies told the pastor who gently confronted me on my behavior. The pastor relieved me of my duties at the church but suggested I look into Catholic in Recovery (CIR) meetings that had started at a nearby church.
Patrick’s drinking started in the late 1960s and continued for nearly fifty years. He was part of a family of drinkers: his father, both grandfathers, and all of his siblings drank. Patrick often drank during social outings, where one or two drinks would turn into ten or twelve. While he did experience weeks or months without drinking, they were never spurred by a decision to permanently abstain. As a result, he would pick up another drink sooner or later.
But unlike his siblings who visibly struggled due to their drinking, he has been married since 1977, has two children and six grandchildren, and retired from a long career as a high school teacher preceded by a successful military career.
“I completed college degrees, owned three homes, and had a happy marriage. I had all of those criteria of success and so I felt that I didn’t have a problem,” Patrick shared.
The event that began his trajectory toward recovery was when his oldest brother (who had been sober for many years) was run over and killed by an intoxicated illegal alien. The young man who killed his brother eventually fled the country and avoided justice. As a result, Patrick became heavily involved in politics to work to reform illegal immigration policies. Years later in November of 2018, disappointed and frustrated with the implications of the congressional elections, Patrick began drinking heavily one night.
“I was drinking heavily and decided to go downstairs to get more alcohol but ended up going head first. It was a serious fall and I separated my shoulder. I haven’t had a drink since,” Patrick said.
Patrick explained that he easily could have been killed from the fall. And that it woke him up. He has been sober and in recovery for nearly two years. What Patrick would only realize after he started recovery was that there were other areas of his life that, though less visible and hidden by his outward successes, had been severely affected by his drinking.
“What has happened during these 21 months of recovery is having revelations of my failures or sins,” Patrick said. “And one of the biggest revelations is my failure as a husband and father and that is difficult to come to terms with and I think about it a lot. I was a maintenance husband and father and made sure the kids went to college and the bills were paid but when it came to being a loving human being there were shortcomings and I have to work through that.”
12-step meetings have been part of his recovery journey along with the Catholic Mass. While his involvement in the church fluctuated over the years, he never stopped having faith.
“I’m a cradle Catholic and married a devout Catholic. Many of my Baby Boomer peers kind of abandoned the faith when we were younger and only came back later. But I always knew there was something really meaningful and felt the church should be a part of my life. I never really lost the faith and so when I started AA that didn’t change. I resolved to engage the Catholic faith on a deeper level,” Patrick said.
Patrick committed going to either a meeting or Mass seven days a week as part of his recovery.
“I would do a seven-day recovery and do seven events, either Mass or a meeting,” Patrick said. “And so what I was doing up until March is I would go Mass three times a week and meetings four times or the reverse.”
Yet, when the lockdown struck in the spring of 2020 he knew that he needed to continue attending meetings. Searching for online meetings brought him to Catholic in Recovery. He also began listening to Mass at 12 pm (CST) with Father Rocky Hoffman on Relevant Radio.
“The people in my Catholic in Recovery meetings see faith as just as vital as I do if not more. They are very devoted,” Patrick said.
Patrick has been consistently attending weekly Catholic in Recovery meetings since.
“Thank God Scott and everyone else related to Catholic in Recovery is doing God’s work,” Patrick shared. “We alcoholic Catholics ain’t gonna be able to turn our will over to God by just saying it. We gotta live it and think about it and so the investment of our time in the faith is crucial. I don’t think I would have survived 21 months without frequenting the Catholic Mass and confession.”
In 1999, Tina was sitting in an Al-anon meeting because of a brother struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. It was during that first meeting when, reading over indicators for co-dependency behavior, she initially realized she might have an issue herself with co-dependency.
According to Mental Health American, co-dependency is “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”
Tina would bury this realization for another few years, living in denial of this unhealthy form of “relationship addiction.”
“I didn’t really know what a boundary was and didn’t know what a healthy relationship was because my mom and dad, as loving and caring as they were and as much as they did for me and my brother, had a dysfunctional relationship,” Tina said.
Tina married the man who introduced her to Al-anon a couple of years later. Three years later they were separated.
“My ex-husband was sick and mentally ill,” Tina shared. “I thought I could save him and make him better and ended up marrying my mother and brother combined.”
Her codependency led her into an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with others, causing her to try to fix and help them in ways that proved massively detrimental to herself.
“In 2004 I separated from what was a sick marriage. This is what eventually brought things to a head and while I had kept going every day to Al-anon meetings it wasn’t until I finally sat down in a family meeting in 2006 that the light bulb went on,” Tina shared. “It just crystallized at that moment and I knew there was something horribly wrong. I realized how much my codependency played a very negative role in my marriage. It’s what served as the grounds for my marriage annulment.”
It was in 2006 where she first admitted she truly had a problem with co-dependency, and in 2007 she began attending Co-dependency Anonymous (CoDA) meetings.
Progress can be difficult to measure, though, since it depends on being extremely honest with oneself and others as well as being willing to ask for the help of trusted sponsors.
“It really depends on how honest you can be and how much feedback you can take from others,” Tina said. “I still sometimes do some caretaking and might feel sorry for someone if they seem to be overworked but I’m much better than I was. Also asking for help has been huge because in the past I would blame everyone else and not ask for help. Today, I’m much better at saying I’m feeling overwhelmed and identifying my feelings and expressing what I need much more readily.”
It was a few years after working the Steps in CoDA that Tina began to realize she had another problem. Her spending habits had caused her to be in thousands of dollars of debt. Prompted by one of her sponsors, she began also attending Debtors Annonymous (DA) meetings.
“I got into DA-HOW, which is a very strict program where you have to report your financial numbers to a sponsor every day as well as do fifteen minutes of writing on the Steps and share that with a sponsor every day also,” Tina said.
Her commitment to working the Steps in DA has been tremendously fruitful. As a result, she has gone from having several thousands of dollars of unsecured debt to be being completed debt-free.
As a secular Carmelite, Tina is also very serious about her Catholic faith. She had been looking for a more Christ-centered approach to her recovery when she came across an episode of EWTN’s “Women of Grace” featuring Catholic in Recovery founder Scott Weeman.
She immediately looked into getting involved with Catholic in Recovery. Since she was in Canada and there were no local meetings at the time, she began joining virtual meetings. She had been attending virtual meetings every week since.
“Catholic in Recovery has been amazing and it has been really such a blessing to be able to incorporate the sacraments and the Gospel into my recovery,” Tina shared. “It has boosted my morale and taken my recovery to a different level. It’s so nice to hear people say things about praying the Rosary during meetings! I would say if you want a fuller spiritual experience, get the Steps and Catholic faith together.”
Despite being able to only attend meetings virtually, Tina has still felt connected to others during her Catholic in Recovery meetings.
“I was surprised how real it is virtually, and it’s like people are right there and they are being themselves in their own environment and it’s been very real,” Tina said. “It is almost like being there.”
When Frank was 13 years old, he began secretly watching sexually explicit videos. But growing up in a religious family in Southeast Asia, he hid this growing addiction. Instead, he would watch, rewind, and rewatch “sexy” scenes in secret—successfully keeping his behavior hidden. It was the start of an addiction to pornography and masturbation that would last for over 14 years.
Throughout these years, Frank carefully hid this from not only his family but also his friends and, eventually, even his wife.
“I lied about it even when directly asked and even scolded my classmates who were publicly watching porn,” Frank said.
His behavior continued until earlier this year when the Coronavirus struck and forced him—like many all over the world—into quarantine. During the lockdown, Frank got into an argument with his wife about his tendency at times to be dishonest with her.
He had seen a therapist about this tendency in the past as well. His therapist told Frank that his habit of pornography—and the dishonesty required to keep it hidden—had helped formed this more general habit of lying. Frank had not shared this with anyone. But things changed during this recent argument when he finally admitted to his wife that his tendency to be dishonest stemmed from his addiction to pornography and masturbation.
“I admitted my pornography and masturbation addiction to my wife during the quarantine,” Frank said. “When I opened up to my spouse about it she experienced betrayal trauma as I had been maintaining this holy and good-guy image. It shattered the image of the person she thought she married. She realized she was married to someone more sinful than the person she thought she married.”
Yet, the confession to his wife has proved to be healing. Since April 9th of this year, Frank has been free from pornography and masturbation. He is over 60 days into his recovery. While he is still in the early stages of recovery, hitting two months of sobriety from a sexual addiction is a tremendous accomplishment—and a great testament to God’s grace.
And one major example of God’s grace has been his wife’s love and support.
“When my wife found out she told me about an article she read that if a husband has a porn addiction there’s a big chance that the marriage will fail,” Frank said. “Yet, she also encouraged me that with God’s help, anything is possible. This has motivated the two of us to work together to overcome the addiction that I have.”
Frank also points to the healing he has received through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“The sacrament has been very important with my recovery as it has helped my heart and soul feel less heavy,” Frank shared. “I am dealing with this addiction and understanding more and more about the pain that I have caused, especially to my wife.”
Another example of God’s grace in Frank’s recovery journey has been attending virtual Catholic in Recovery meetings. His wife came across these virtual meetings by Google searching Catholic support and resources for overcoming pornography and masturbation. Fifteen days after Frank became sober he began attending meetings—he hasn’t looked back since.
“I specifically like the specialized recovery sessions, for me those are sessions particular to lust addictions, because it’s very comfortable for me to hear someone else share about their struggles and for me to be able to say, ‘I’ve had a similar experience as that person.’ Or to be able to share and hear someone else in the group say that he is also experiencing similar feelings of stress that I am,” Frank shared.
Living in Southeast Asia, Frank is grateful that he’s able to still be a part of Catholic in Recovery meetings through virtual connection.
“My experience being in another country while attending these sessions has been great, especially since the Monday evening 10pm (EST) meetings occur at 10am for me,” Frank said. “The sessions have been handled very well due to Scott’s moderation and everyone has been respectful and supportive of one another.”
He is quick to point out that for anyone who lives somewhere without in-person Catholic in Recovery meetings—be that in the U.S. or another country—that virtual meetings can be a real source of grace and fellowship.
“Since I have only been attending Catholic in Recovery meetings online, I would easily recommend them to anyone dealing with the struggle of pornography and masturbation. The meetings provide an open and understanding environment that makes it easier to share and heal together.”
Anne Marie's Testimonial
Ann Marie’s eating disorder of anorexia first reared its head when she was in high school. This unhealthy relationship with food caused her to lose so much weight before her senior year that she ended up at an outpatient treatment center. However, since this was back when anorexia was poorly understood, the treatment was ineffective.
“I think part of what caused my unhealthy relationship with food was that I was tall and kind of lanky and my friends tended to be short and petite,” Ann Marie shared. “Since I’m tall, whenever I heard I was bigger what I heard was that I was heavier.”
She continued to struggle with anorexia after high school and well into adulthood, which caused her to avoid social functions where she knew there would be food, tell people she had already eaten when she hadn’t, and hide the resulting feelings of depression, fear and shame. During this time she also grew distant from her Catholic upbringing and angry with God. She would fluctuate between seasons where she managed it alright and others where it became overwhelming for years.
“When the struggle would re-emerge I became angry with God and wondered why I had to struggle with this affliction,” Ann Marie said.
For a time in her youth she even drank heavily to combat the feelings of anger and helplessness, though she eventually gave up drinking for many years and chooses not to drink today. The reason? It was too many calories.
Around her mid-20s she started to have health issues due to her unhealthy eating habits. She was married at the time, and this became a concern because it could have major implications on her ability to have children. She admitted she had a problem and began seeking help.
“During that time, I started attending support group meetings and felt very at home in Overeaters Anonymous,” Ann Marie said. “I was terrified of these individuals but I also understood what they were talking about. There weren’t any other options available at the time. I was lucky to feel both at home and accepted by them. I had to work really hard to establish a program that encompassed many aspects. I worked with a counselor, attended a class on eating illness, worked with a nutritionist, participated in family/group counseling, and worked closely and intensely with my program sponsor. It took a team of individuals and perseverance to establish a new self-concept and healthier body image.”
While her issue wasn’t overeating—it was “under” eating—she understood that they all shared the same affliction and problem. In other words, her anorexia and her meeting members’ unhealthy addiction to food were two sides of the same coin. Like any addiction, it stemmed from an unhealthy relationship with a created good—alcohol, food, physical image, emotional relationships, etc.—that ultimately kept her feeling trapped and unhappy.
“The whole thing was very private and shameful. I really kept it out of my personal life and didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family,” Ann Marie said. “Even today I share this aspect of my life with very few people. I have had numerous people who disappeared or distanced themselves from me once I shared my eating disorder due to the stereotype associated with anorexia. I am fortunate to have a loving and supportive spouse.”
While her OA group was helpful, and it did spur her to return to Church and get involved in her parish, it didn’t stick.
“I went back to church and got involved but it didn’t last. I did stay in OA and had a sense of recovery but my spirituality was lacking. I started going to meetings less frequently,” Ann Marie said.
She continued to try and manage it by working with her doctor, nutritionist, and sponsor and by attending meetings sporadically. By working closely with her nutritionist she was eventually able to have two children. But after a while this too also trailed off and she found herself muddling through life, suffering very much from her affliction and resentment toward God.
“I was really angry with God at some points. This resurfaced again in my thirties and when I was raising my children,” Ann Marie said. “I knew all about surrendering from working the Steps but it hadn’t really set in because of the condition of my heart at that time. I was spiritually bankrupt.”
However, a few years ago something happened. The affliction emerged again and this time she reconnected with her spiritual director and, along with her long-time sponsor, began yet again to work the Steps in an intensive and spiritual manner.
“It became very apparent that the spiritual piece was not intact and I had to really work hard to create my sense of God and to build an active prayer life and rejoin a church. I started to take on roles and activities in my parish and became very active in OA. And with the help of my spiritual director I began doing a lot of spiritual reading, reflection and retreats and learned how to pray differently, to meditate and to discern the word of God,” Ann Marie shared.
A grace-filled milestone occurred when, after many decades, she finally returned to confession.
“About two years ago I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which I had not done since seventh grade. I was working on Step Five again. I had owned my mistakes and made all of my amends previously but this time I did it with a priest, my spiritual director to be exact. I used the 12-step format combined with the examination of conscience. It was very exposing to sit down for confession after 41 years,” Ann Marie said. “It was difficult and emotional but he led me through it and my spirituality, first slowly but then quickly, began to take off from there.”
Spurred by this moment of healing, she continued to expand her prayer life and deepened her relationship with God through spiritual retreats. And it was during one retreat that she came across Scott Weeman’s book The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments.
“I was on a retreat and Scott’s book was at the bookstore. I purchased it and started reading it. It dawned on me that I had also been trying to link the sacraments and the Steps and I started to really look at what the connection of the sacraments meant to my Catholic upbringing. I got in touch with Scott, met him, and started attending Catholic in Recovery leaders’ meetings,” Ann Marie said.
She now leads a Catholic in Recovery group in her area. After many years of struggling with her affliction of anorexia as well as feelings of helplessness and anger, she now has a deep and abiding relationship with the church and God.
“I have been blessed to have a daily reprieve from this illness and to become spiritually fit. I’ve learned that I’m at my best when I am God-centered and conform my will to God’s will. That comes through working the Steps but also through being still and discerning God’s will and purpose for my life. In Catholic in Recovery, we reflect on prayers, Scripture, and the sacraments and we are there for one another. I’m learning to align my faith and the sacraments with the Steps and how to surrender myself to Catholic fellowship,” Ann Marie shared. “I am a very service-oriented person so I am working to find the balance in that as well.”
And while she has received a tremendous amount of grace and healing, she understands that her affliction is a cross the Lord is asking her to carry in faith.
“My eating affliction is my wound, and it’s the cross I’m called to embrace and the message I’m called to share with others,” Ann Marie said. “I’m called to live with that wound but embrace the Lord. This wound is what brought me to my knees, to the Lord, and helped me learn to surrender to Him. Today, I do His will and I have a beautiful, close, and loving relationship with God for which I will be eternally grateful.”
Ever since Ben was young, he always wanted to be the best at what he did. And so it’s not surprising that when he started to drink in high school, he applied that very same mindset.
“I wanted to be the best drinker and drink only the strongest drinks, to drink faster and more than everybody else,” Ben said.
Although he acknowledged that he tended to get more drunk than his peers, he figured his drinking was simply a product of being in high school. After he graduated, he went to the Naval Academy and then to Naval flight school in Florida, where he continued to drink.
“In Florida, I’m living at the beach on my own and getting a paycheck, and so I would go out and drink too much,” Ben shared.
He then moved to Texas and got married. While his drinking hadn’t seriously affected his life or career yet, there were still signs that it was starting to take a toll. In fact, on the morning of his wedding day, he remembers waking up completely naked and covered in his own urine. And others in his life had started to notice his drinking habits as well.
“I found out later that my roommate and best friend in college told my wife before we got married that I had a drinking problem,” Ben shared.
Over time, things would worsen. Once when he was at home with his young daughter, he drank so much that he couldn’t remember the last time he changed her when his wife asked him. He realized he needed to take some action to curb his drinking.
“We tried putting in a limit that I couldn’t have any more than five drinks in a day,” Ben said. “That was the limit. It seemed great at the time, but now that I’m looking back I’m like, five drinks, my goodness gracious!”
They were then stationed in Japan, where despite the five-drink limit, Ben was found one night drunk and passed out in a neighbor’s driveway. The incident was marked on his Naval record (though it would only result in consequences years later when he was back in the U.S.). At that point, he decided to quit drinking cold turkey, which he did for a few years.
“I didn’t drink for almost three years,” Ben shared. “I knew that God didn’t bless me with this family to ruin it with my drinking. But what I found with not drinking without recovery is that I got angry. I became an angry person and was angry all of the time and so it was good that I quit drinking but I didn’t actually recover.”
But when they came back to the States and settled in Nevada, the drinking once again crept back into Ben’s life.
“I remember I was going out on a brewery tour with friends, and when my wife dropped me off she told me not to get drunk. But four breweries later, I was pretty drunk and afterward I was pushing my youngest daughter on her three-wheeler and pushed her too hard. She bumped into the curb and it knocked her off of her bike. She barely got scraped and she was OK, but when you say, “drunk Dad pushes kid off of their bike” it changes things,” Ben said. “The next day my wife said this has to stop, but that she didn’t trust that I would be able to stop.”
At that point, he started to Google “What’s an alcoholic?” and to look into local 12-step meetings. He went to a couple of meetings here and there, but it wasn’t until October 2017 when he got a call to see his Naval doctor that things started to change for good.
“I decided to pray a rosary on my way to the doctor and I knew that Mary was there with me, and I sensed her say to me, ‘The doctor is going to tell you that you can’t fly anymore and you’re going to have to do the three years of Navy treatment but it’s OK because I’m going to be with you and it’s going to be good for you and your family,’” Ben shared.
Due to the issue in Japan that had not originally been flagged along with some other factors, a board of Naval medical professionals decided that Ben needed to enter into a recovery program. In January of the following year (2018), Ben began treatment with the Navy.
When Ben returned home in Nevada, he began searching for 12-step programs to help with his continued recovery.
“I started Googling what was out there and found Catholic in Recovery. As soon as I found it I signed up for an account and knew that I had to take action right away,” Ben said. “I sent Scott an email about starting a new group where I was and that opened up the conversation and we chatted and I became part of the Monday morning leadership calls. I realized this was everything I had been looking for.”
Ben has been leading a general recovery group for about a year and a half now. He is happy with the group but is committed to widening Catholic in Recovery’s reach within his diocese. He is also quick to encourage those who are looking for a faith-based recovery group to consider Catholic in Recovery.
“I understand that the Church hasn’t done the best for its members or been as supportive as it could have been. I mean, the Church has been around for 2,000 years and something like Catholic in Recovery has only been around a couple of years. But we need faith to really overcome the demons of addiction and to go against them on your own is almost impossible. Having faith is incredibly important and Catholic in Recovery has brought something that is not judgemental or pushy when it comes to the Catholic faith,” Ben said.
“The things we do in Catholic in Recovery could be applied to everyone’s life in some way, shape, or form,” Ben said.
For Joe, alcoholism had always been a part of his life since both of his parents were alcoholics.
“I grew up with an alcoholic family,” Joe said. “Growing up was chaotic and as a kid, it gave me a predisposition to the disease of alcoholism.”
Joe grew up a Catholic, though his involvement in the church and the youth group at the time was often in response to his desire to be out of the house. While he is grateful for a couple of memorable, “Mother Angelica”-like nuns for teaching him the basics of the faith, his introduction to the faith lacked substance.
“I got involved in church because I wanted to be out of the house. I thank God for that, but the church at the time was so watered down and I was craving some guidance and leadership,” Joe shared. “Looking back, I might have actually become a priest if I was mentored at the time.”
He was friends with some older members of his church’s youth group. In fact, it was at one of these group hang-outs where he had his first drink. And as he entered the last third of his teenage years he began working in the restaurant industry, which exposed him to an intense drinking lifestyle.
“In the restaurant industry, it’s all about sex and alcohol and I got involved with those people after high school and kind of drifted away from the faith,” Joe said. “I also became a firefighter and EMT at 18, so I had a lot of responsibilities. I was tall and had a goatee and I could get into bars as a teenager.”
While he continued to drink as a young man, Joe did so in the ways many other people do at that age. At that point, he justified his drinking simply as something young people did. However, on September 11, 2001, things started to change.
“In 2001, I was at Ground Zero running ambulances,” he said, sharing that he saw terrible and disturbing things. “I would say at that point my alcoholism turned from being a social and fun thing to a habit and form of self-medication.”
He turned 21 a month after those tragic events in New York City, and with full access now to alcohol, continued to drink. He got married around this time as well, though the relationship ended in divorce a handful of years later. After the divorce, now in his late twenties, Joe turned fully to a bachelor’s life of heavy drinking, promiscuity, and partying.
“I was living with a younger roommate in a bachelor pad with a liquor store right below us on the first floor. That is not a good thing for an alcoholic!” Joe said.
In his early thirties, he met a woman named Kris, who is now his fiancée. They got pregnant with their first son.
“Kris had about a month before our son was born and we got into a fight and I went on a bender and started saying things about hurting myself,” Joe said. “She called the police and I was hospitalized in a 72-hour hold and was put on some medication.”
Joe’s commitment to sobriety at this point was merely to please Kris and prove that he was ready to be a father. Yet, he continued to struggle with drinking. Eventually, they got pregnant with their second child.
“She got pregnant again and we moved to West Jersey, a much more rural area, where we didn’t know a damned soul,” Joe said.
However, this would be a providential change. Joe ended up doing an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) at the local hospital there. And unlike other settings he had been in, many of the people in this program actually wanted to get sober, which made an impact on him. He was also attending 12-step meetings.
“Around this time, now that my body and mind were clear from the alcohol, I started to have light bulbs go off during meetings and to realize I’m not the only one in the world who has gone through this,” Joe said. “My problems are the same as many other people’s and there are a lot of people out there who are a lot worse off than me. It put my life in perspective.”
Eventually, September 11th became another important date for Joe. But unlike the first in 2001, this second one in 2017 marked an event worth celebrating: his sobriety date.
At this time, as a stay-at-home Dad, he found himself with more time to watch TV. One day, for no apparent reason, he turned on the Catholic network EWTN. He began watching televised Masses and other programs about the Catholic faith. Then one night he did something he had not done in a long time.
“One night I just wound up praying. I had my eyes closed and I had a vision of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and I was down on my knees and asking God to take this disease from me. I asked him, ‘Can you take this cup from me?’ And that is the point where I realized the power of prayer and slowly but surely I started getting more comfortable with my faith,” Joe shared. “I finally found the courage to go to Mass with my son, little Joey. My first Mass was on Saint Joseph’s Day.”
He started to grow close to his pastor and realized he was one of the priests on a show he watched on EWTN.
“Of all the churches in this country, I wound up at this parish with this priest from EWTN! I had my first confession after 25 years or so and it was just amazing,” Joe said. “I cried after to have heard the priest give me absolution and tell me that all of my sins before that point were forgiven.”
EWTN would come through again for Joe in a powerful way. Joe first heard about Scott Weeman, the founder of Catholic in Recovery, on the EWTN show Journey Home. Eventually, Joe purchased Scott’s book The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments and sent an email to Scott about starting a Catholic in Recovery group in his parish. Scott returned Joe’s call and left a voicemail when Joe was in Eucharistic adoration, reading Scott’s very book.
The effect of this fortuitous call from Scott wasn’t lost on Joe. It has marked the beginning of Joe’s journey of bringing Catholic in Recovery to his parish and, ultimately, of helping spread the mercy of God to those struggling with addictions and unhealthy attachments.
It wasn’t until Susan was older that she realized alcoholism ran in her family. This is because, though a functioning alcoholic, her father provided well for their family and she had a stable home life. This made it difficult to see that there were problems growing up.
Yet, aside from an occasional event of drinking, Susan didn’t follow her family’s path. That is, until fourteen years ago when her sister died unexpectedly and tragically from a rare medical illness.
“I was off and running and was drunk almost every night for ten years after she died. It was my way of coping with this tragic loss. Yet during this time I really didn’t have any concept that I was actually an alcoholic,” Susan said.
This event started a downward trajectory for her. It was exacerbated by a personal family and legal crisis, followed by the news that a friend had become gravely ill from a rare form of colon cancer. Susan decided to move in and help her friend as she was going through chemotherapy. But Susan’s drinking escalated. She was drinking one to two bottles of wine almost every night, sometimes blacking out. Eventually, her friend asked her to leave. Having moved to San Diego to help her friend with little money and nowhere else to live, she was homeless.
“I got asked to leave and checked into a hotel. I just wanted to die. I did not want to live the way I was living anymore. I wanted to commit suicide, but deep down I didn’t want to die. I just wanted all the pain to stop,” Susan shared. “I ended up calling someone to take me to the ER and admitted I was suicidal. There I was asked if I had a problem with alcohol and for the first time ever I said, ‘yes.’”
It would be on that day, September 17, 2015, that Susan had her last drink of alcohol. Her journey of recovery would not be an easy one, though. She ended up in a crisis house where she received supportive services. Following this, she entered a four-month treatment program for women. Though familiar with the Twelve Steps, she wanted nothing to do with them.
But then she had an epiphany. Shortly after arriving at the treatment facility, Susan attended an H&I speakers’ meeting at her treatment facility. Susan stayed after the meeting and noticed the large posters of the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions.
“I read the posters very slowly, and suddenly I saw the blending of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church and the Ten Commandments with the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was off and running with the Twelve Steps,” Susan said.
Susan converted to Catholicism in 2010 and it was from her sponsor that she heard about Catholic in Recovery. She has been attending Catholic in Recovery meetings at St. Joseph Cathedral in San Diego for more than two years now.
“In my Catholic in Recovery meetings, I get to talk about the Twelve Steps and I get to talk about Jesus Christ. There is always something in the Gospel readings or our reflections that is helpful, and I wish I could attend my Catholic in Recovery meeting every day,” Susan said.
Susan sees Catholic in Recovery as a great aid to her 12-step meetings. For her, Catholic in Recovery is not a replacement, since both work together to help her with her recovery.
“Catholic in Recovery is a wonderful addition to my recovery program and to my religion and I would encourage others to check it out,” Susan said.
While Catholic in Recovery offers her spiritual help with her recovery, it also has offered her a source of comfort as she’s had to mourn the death of loved ones. From April to August of 2018, she suffered three deaths. One of the individuals who passed away was her cousin Lynn, a woman with whom she was extremely close.
“My cousin Lynn was very close to me,” Susan shared. “Parkinsons ravaged her, but she was a great advocate in my recovery. On the 17th of every month, she would send me an online card for my sobriety and we spoke almost daily.”
When she passed away, she found love and comfort from those in her Catholic in Recovery group.
“I can freely express my grief in Catholic in Recovery meetings, and group members were praying for me throughout my cousin’s death and supporting me, “ Susan said, and then explained why these meetings have been so powerful for her. “God’s grace is just so present when I’m in a Catholic in Recovery meeting and there is such love there. We’re able to express love and I get the beauty of God’s grace in action.”
Emily started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol when she was only 12 years old. This led her into trouble with the police and, eventually, juvenile detention. Yet, as punishment, she was forced to do community service and ended up doing it at a Catholic Church.
“When I got home, I was on probation and had to do community service and was sent to a Catholic church,” Emily shared. “That brought me back into my faith. I stopped using drugs, completed my hours, and the pastor ended up hiring me to work at the parish.”
But like many, she continued to use alcohol since it doesn’t have the same social stigma that drugs have. As she entered adulthood, she became a high functioning alcoholic, successfully graduating from college, managing her jobs, getting married, and having children.
“I started to drink more and very quickly I became addicted to alcohol,” Emily said. “But I was high functioning and my life was going smoothly and I was successful so no one bothered me about my drinking. This kind of just progressed for 15 years or so.”
She notes that there are certain cultural expectations that make the excessive drinking of alcohol seem somewhat acceptable and normal.
“There is this, ‘Mommy drinks wine’ culture, which has been normalized for the suburban stay-at-home mom. That and Xanax for anxiety. For a long time, I just had people validating my drinking even though I knew I was an alcoholic.”
However, she then moved to a new community, where people started to take notice.
“People started to see that it was a problem, mainly people at my church, including my pastor,” Emily said.
Around this time she had also become critically ill, and as a result, was given opioids to help manage her pain. She quickly became addicted and was now combining alcohol with drugs.
“It just spiraled out of control, drinking around the clock and snorting pills and manipulating doctors for more pills,” Emily shared.
At one point she even received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick after she ended up in the ER. It was then that her priest encouraged her to go to detox and rehab. But rehab wouldn’t be enough.
“When I came home from rehab I just wouldn’t accept the fact that I needed to surrender, and I would go back to drinking and would reach another bottom before trying to get sober again,” Emily said.
But things would change on June 18th, 2018.
“I don’t remember anything about that night in June at all. I came to and it was pouring rain and I was drenched. I didn’t know where I was or how I got there,” Emily said. “I was looking at my phone to try and figure out what happened. My texts were incoherent and I was embarrassed by things I had texted to people who were trying to help me.”
That next morning she walked into daily Mass, having not slept, feeling shame for her drinking and previous behavior. Yet, the people within her church community responded with love and concern.
“They all welcomed me back with open arms. And I thought, ‘Why do these people care about me so much when they don’t have to?’ They cared about me until I was finally able to care about myself. That night was going to be my last bottom,” Emily said.
Five days later she went to St. Patrick’s in New York City to see a friend become ordained a deacon. She hadn’t had a drink in five days, and she was experiencing terrible withdrawal.
“I was in withdrawal and I was sweating, shaking, and in pain. We go to St. Patrick’s and the Mass is beautiful, despite how miserable I feel. But then, during communion, I am horribly triggered by the scent of alcohol from the chalice of the Precious Blood. It seemed so intrinsically evil that my Lord would be used to tempt me. At that moment I realized I was faced with two choices: I can march out of the cathedral and go right back to where I left off or I can truly surrender it completely, which was something I had never done,” Emily said.
By the grace of God she surrendered. And she hasn’t had a drink since.
“I got on my knees and prayed like I never have before. I truly believe I experienced a miracle that day,” Emily said.
Not too long after that miraculous moment, she was introduced to Catholic in Recovery through her friend’s husband. She wanted to pour out the same healing she had received to others in her parish and community.
“We are now starting a Catholic in Recovery group at the parish where I was the one everyone was concerned about. Now, they are all supporting me in starting this group. It is nice to rejoice in my recovery with them after having brought them through the fires of hell in my active addiction,” Emily shared.
Having attended other recovery programs in the community, Emily was drawn to more Christ-centered recovery groups and found that there weren’t any in the area that were Catholic.
“I felt that something was lacking with recovery programs outside of the Catholic sacraments. There was something so powerful about doing my Fifth Step with a priest and bringing that into the sacrament of reconciliation rather than just telling someone over coffee,” Emily said. “The sacraments have been intertwined in my recovery and to have a more concrete way to do that, through Catholic in Recovery, has been really wonderful.”
Emily believes that the sacraments and community of the Catholic Church are what can ultimately bring the greatest level of healing to those struggling with addictions and unhealthy attachments.
“I have learned that sobriety is not a punishment. It is a grace and a gift that I received from God when I couldn’t do it on my own,” Emily shared.
Daniel and Samantha's Testimonial
While Daniel was first exposed to porn in high school, when he would steal looks on his father’s computer from time to time when alone in the house, it wasn’t until college when his addiction to pornography and masturbation would fully emerge.
“All my friends were all as inundated as I was with sex and they readily supported the idea of casual sex for fun, whether through sharing stories of sexual exploits and encounters or pornography usage. I wanted to fit in, so I discarded my faith and put it on the backburner. I skipped Mass often and never mentioned I was Catholic. I doubted the existence of God,” Daniel shared.
That general attitude coupled with the stress and struggle of doing well in college caused Daniel to turn to masturbation and pornography.
“That’s when I found the rush of fake power that comes from viewing porn. The power it gave me was an on-demand escape from reality,” Daniel said. “A lot of my friends used drugs and alcohol, but I was fearful of becoming addicted to them. But no one told me porn was addictive also.”
Daniel continued in his addiction throughout and after college, rationalizing that it was fine because he was single and that he would stop once he got married. But nine months into his marriage and still struggling with porn, he started to realize he had been lying to himself. And when his wife Samantha found out it put an incredible strain on their relationship.
“Because of my addiction to porn and masturbation, she worried about me masturbating and/or looking at pornography when I was left alone or stressed out,” Daniel shared.
Daniel turned to God for help but he harbored frustration toward Him because of His seeming unwillingness to help him find freedom from this addiction.
“I was trying to build my faith but had a jaded and resentful view of God due to my struggles with addiction and his seeming unwillingness to help,” Daniel said. “This also strained my relationship with my wife further, since she wants me to set a good example for our future children as a strong spiritual figure.”
Daniel began working hard to maintain sobriety through a support group and other resources, and had success when he reached 60 days of sobriety from pornography and masturbation. However, he relapsed, started again, but then relapsed again shortly afterward.
“When my wife asked me if I relapsed I denied it, and I immediately realized I had done a horrible thing. I confessed an hour later to her but the damage was done. I gave up my house key for three weeks and did not allow myself to be home unless my wife was already home,” Daniel said. “I had broken my bond of trust with my wife by lying to her. It took a lot of work, work that I continue to do, to regain her trust and to help repair much of the damage I had done to create a divide between us.”
He began redoubling his efforts with recovery: he joined a second addiction support group, began seeing a therapist, downloaded the app Covenant Eyes, and started listening to a couples addiction therapy called “The Betrayed, The Addicted, The Expert.” He also continued to be open with Samantha, who had experienced grace throughout this entire process in supporting her husband with his recovery.
“I was listening to a Catholic podcast discussing porn addiction,” Samantha said. “I had known Daniel struggled with masturbation but did not know that he had an issue with porn. I brought up the podcast to him to see what he thought, and it was the perfect opening for him to come clean to me. I reacted really well I think, partly because I still didn’t realize the gravity of the situation and partly because it was so much better for him to come clean to me than if I had discovered him hiding it from me. Part of me felt that now that we had named the problem, we could start to work on solving it.”
His wife Samantha is also the one who told Daniel about Catholic in Recovery.
“At that point I really wanted to try a support group similar to a 12-step group because I heard they were good for keeping you accountable and are safe spaces to be vulnerable about your addiction without fear of rejection. I contacted Scott, the leader of the group, and the rest is history. I went to my first meeting and I have only missed a couple since then,” Daniel explained.
Daniel began to realize his desire for the false power of porn came from self-confidence issues he had due to struggling academically in college and a general doubt of his self-worth. He continued to work hard to develop healthy and proactive habits to channel these desires in good ways.
“I did not realize the extent that I had to change my life: my daily habits and activities, my daily routine, and how I reacted to stress and work. I had to change my brain, to build up discipline, and to become less compulsive. I had to learn to slow down my thinking, to become reflective and stoic, to pause and instead of letting myself get swept away by emotion, to look around and poignantly ask myself how I got here and figure out what I could do to feel better.”
Daniel relies on God through the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist as well as several other tools (therapy, accountability partnerships and groups, etc.) to journey toward healing. He also relies on a Catholic in Recovery men’s group held weekly.
“Going to Catholic in Recovery has been a staple for my recovery regimen. It gives me exposure to a group of brothers who love and support me. I know they all care about me and are rooting for me, because I feel the same way for them. Each guy has their own story and reflections to share, and I have learned so much just by listening,” Daniel said.
The grace and healing that he has personally experienced has also poured into his marriage.
“I have become much better at expressing myself and sharing my emotions with my wife. I can now be honest when I am struggling with chastity and can share with her,” Daniel shared.
Samantha notes the fruit of Daniel’s continued work toward healing from his addiction in their marriage as well.
“Since knowing about his addiction, there have been a lot more difficult moments, since addiction doesn’t just go away in a few months,” Samantha shared. “However, over time, as Daniel has grown in his recovery, there has been a noticeable positive effect on our relationship. It took time, but he is now able to listen to me sharing my pain and insecurities without retreating into shame and silence. He is also able to apologize for the ways he has hurt me. He has shown a whole new level of empathy that I never saw before, and he is taking responsibility for his actions. I can see him becoming a better man than the man I married, and I feel really blessed.”
Daniel has received much healing and grace, but he continues to work hard to maintain his recovery, acknowledging that there hasn’t been some magic bullet, but that it takes trust in God and a commitment to doing the work.
“When I first sought out recovery from porn and sex addiction, I thought I would be granted some miracle. That didn’t happen. There is a path though. It is a hard, difficult path and I will be on it for the rest of my life, but I will grow accustomed to it over the years. God’s power lies in bringing forth good from what is bad. Through the path of recovery, I have regained my sense of worth and my self-esteem, both as a man and as a Christian.”
It was after Jill graduated from nursing school and began working night shifts when it all started. She was having trouble sleeping and so she started taking NyQuil. It helped, but it came at a cost.
“One day I looked under my bed and there were hundreds of bottles of NyQuil,” Jill said, recognizing that there was an easier and more common way of acquiring that same result. “And so that led me to drinking wine. I started drinking wine on the rocks at the bar.”
Yet, it was when she moved to Bend, Oregon, a place where she didn’t have any friends or family and therefore felt lonely, that she turned to drinking more heavily.
“In Bend I got my first nursing job and the wine took me down in about a year. I remember walking out of the bar one day and realizing I didn’t need anyone anymore since I had my bottle. I decided I wouldn’t trust people, only my bottle,” Jill said.
Eventually, her roommate intervened and Jill ended up at a treatment center. She began a 12-step program and also became a Christian. Amazingly, she would remain sober for the next 16 years. During that time she went through a failed marriage and had two kids. Still, she was able to manage life without drinking until she moved to Wisconsin.
“Even after sixteen years of sobriety that twist of thinking can happen. I went to Wisconsin because my father had bought a farm there. And there was nothing to do in this town but drink,” Jill explained. “I stayed sober for a while but then one night my dad suggested that maybe I could just drink beer and sure enough I tried it with some “tallboy” cans and was feeling pretty high. And that began my journey the second time around.”
Jill ended up moving to Wyoming with her kids afterward. Since her drinking prevented her from securing and maintaining nursing jobs, she had to do menial labor in the form of painting. It was during one particular painting gig where she met a Christian who was insistent about her coming to church.
“God put a Christian on my job site and this was in 1996 and every day he preached to me about Jesus. I couldn’t stand the guy and the pain of hearing about what I had lost. I just wanted to drink,” Jill said.
On the last day of the job, she told him she would go to his church on Sunday (really just to get him to leave her alone). But something happened.
“I got beer that Friday after work but I told my daughter that I was going to church on Sunday. On that Friday I heard the Lord speak that it was over and that he was coming for my beer. I knew it was jail, insanity, or death if I kept drinking. And so I drank that Friday and Saturday night and then blacked out and woke up to my little girl telling me that I had promised to take her to church on Sunday. And we went to church and the Holy Spirit touched me and it was like being restored to sanity. I went home and the desire to drink was gone. That was October 10th of 1996. I haven’t had a drink since.”
She started the work of recovery again and continued to work it. Then in 2013 she met a Catholic man who invited her to Mass.
“I was an AA member and a nominal church member and God gave me this gift of sobriety but I had other sins and problems,” Jill said. “I met this man seven years ago and he invited me into the Catholic Church.”
She went to Mass and was struck by the deacon’s parting words: “Glorify the Lord by the way you live your life.” She began learning more about the faith, eventually joining RCIA, having an amazing healing experience at the Sacrament of Confession, coming to know of the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and eventually becoming confirmed in the Church.
She ended up marrying that man as well. Afterward, they began doing a Celebrate Recovery program to merge their faith with recovery. However, they felt something was missing.
“We couldn’t talk about Mary or be open about our faith, and so I just gave up. But then my husband found Scott Weeman and Catholic in Recovery,” Jill said.
One thing led to another, and they eventually started two Catholic in Recovery groups at their Cincinnati parish. Her husband leads the Friends and Family Group and Jill heads up the General Recovery Group.
“I’m really on fire for this Catholic in Recovery program. The Church and this program are helping me grow in holiness. I started to understand the overlap of the sacraments with the steps,” Jill said, explaining how her involvement has helped her find healing and grace. “Christ is the answer and the Catholic Church is a place of health and healing.”
It was several decades ago while sitting around a campfire as a teengager when Jon realized what alcohol could do for him. After a few beers he could become someone else — someone funny, good with girls, charming, self-confident — the type of person he had always wanted to be.
“I remember being out camping with some friends and girls and we were having beers and sitting around a campfire,” Jon said. “I was flirting with the girls and they were flirting with me and I became the person that I always wanted to be. I was shy and self-conscious and had low esteem when not drinking back then. For the 20 years that I drank after I chased after that experience from that night. That’s what drinking did for me.”
Jon explained that he would drink until he was black-out drunk, but that no one could see how drunk he actually was — even his own wife didn’t know when he was drunk because of his ability to carry on a conversation like normal.
“I was one of those people who could be blacked-out drunk and have a conversation with you and you would have no idea. I drank during the first eight years of my marriage and my wife had no idea that I was blacked-out drunk most of the time,” Jon said.
However, in 1999, after nearly 20 years of drinking, things started to unravel. He began drinking every day in the morning, and for the last month of the year he failed to report to work.
“I worked within the architectural design community and my drinking really affected my life at this point.” Jon said. “They would have fired me if I would have shown up to work to allow them to fire me, but I drank in my basement the entire last month of that year. It was then that I realized I needed help and entered a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Columbus where I spent five days detoxing.”
But then something amazing happened.
“I got on my knees at that facility and asked God to please help me and I heard him say to me, ‘All you had to do was ask.’ These are the words I actually heard on that day in that room. And from then on my drive to drink was lifted from me. I believe that God had a direct hand in my recovery,” Jon shared.
He is grateful that before that grace-filled moment he had already faith in God. When he got married, he converted to Catholicism and attended Mass regularly with his wife despite being a practicing alcoholic.
“I was very blessed with having a relationship with God and I see a lot of guys in recovery now that don’t have one,” Jon shared. “And if you don’t have one then finding recovery is much more difficult. The truth is that I was blessed with having a relationship with God and it was an easy choice to make because I was tired of living a life of a drunk.”
After detoxing, he began attending 12-step meetings regularly. In fact, the group he attended met seven days a week at 6:15am in the morning, and he didn’t miss a single session for an entire year and a half. He hasn’t had a drink since he entered that detox facility, which was almost 20 years ago.
While he remains grateful to the 12-step community, he has noticed that groups are more and more hesitant to talk about God.
“I started to struggle with how some recovery programs are becoming more separated from God,” Jon said. “So I started seeking out a place where I could feel comfortable talking about being a Christian and a Catholic and that is how I found Scott from Catholic in Recovery.”
Jon and his wife helped start and now lead a Catholic in Recovery group in Columbus.
“I feel that God called my wife and I to really bring this program to Columbus, Ohio. And it is an excellent recovery program, whether you are Catholic or not. It is awesome to have a program that uses the sacraments,” Jon said. “It is also great to be able to feel comfortable talking openly about the sacraments and my faith and to find so many people with such a strong faith at both the leadership meetings on Monday and with the people attending our meetings here in Columbus. We are so grateful to have a place to feel safe in our recovery and Catholic faith.”
Jon hopes that others will give Catholic in Recovery a try, especially those who have negative feelings toward Catholicism.
“When we were practicing our addiction we had a tendency not to be sensitive to other people and to hurt others,” Jon said. “And so I would ask them to give the church a chance just like they needed others to give them a chance because of their addiction. I think they would be pleasantly surprised with what they see today.”
Ultimately, Jon has found tremendous healing from the Church’s sacraments — especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation — and can’t say enough about blending recovery with the sacramental life of the church, which is exactly what Catholic in Recovery seeks to do.
“When I started looking for a program, I found a few Christian-based programs but none of them spoke to me as a Catholic like Catholic in Recovery did. It’s a really great program and it’s really hard to walk into a Catholic in Recovery meeting and find yourself offended,” Jon said. “It’s genuine and gentle and doesn’t knock you upside the head with recovery. The people and the program are genuine.”
When Chantal was in the 9th grade she had her first drink: her father’s peppermint schnapps. For her, it was the response to the turmoil brewing within her family, her father’s controlling and suffocating strictness and his drinking. She would move onto smoking when she was 15, then experimented with marijuana (though she didn’t like it), until finally she became addicted to methamphetamines her senior year of high school. Her use of meth would last for roughly 20 years, living as, what she would call, a “functioning user.”
“I managed okay as a young person using. I was able to hold onto great jobs, and raised a child, though things with my child’s father were chaotic. I maintained a job and would work to care for my child during the week and it was only when my son would leave with his father that I would get high on the weekends,” Chantal said.
Later on, she reconnected with her junior high school sweetheart and they started to use together. Being there for each other was not enough, though, and they both knew that there was something more to take away their pain and suffering that no drug could provide. This man would eventually lead her to Catholic In Recovery. He invited her to the first meeting at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in San Diego.
“He found Catholic in Recovery and I began attending with him at St. Joseph’s. And I found this to be a place of home. This was the something that I was talking about…the something that was more. It was the place I had been looking for, practically for all my life,” Chantal said.
Chantal was raised Catholic and maintained her relationship with God over the years. Yet, God would call her to healing from her drug use as well as a deeper trust in Him. And he called her on the very steps of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which have come to represent a sacred space for Chantal.
“I was going through a custody battle with my child’s father and I did not know what else to do. I thought I did everything I was supposed to do to be a good mother. My child’s father said cruel, awful, and untrue things about me in order to take control of my child’s welfare and attempt to take full custody,” Chantal explained.
After praying tearfully on those steps, she went to court and God answered her cries. All of the accusations were dropped and she was able to keep her child.
“I had to stand up for myself and praying to God on those very steps in front of the Church restored my faith, as it has time and time again. That staircase is where I found refuge from the world and all the not so positive events in my life. It was there where my love for God grew stronger and trusting Him made me His biggest advocate to help others,” Chantal said.
“God has bestowed his grace and mercy on me, even when I didn’t feel worthy of it. I love Him with all my heart. My blessings help me to be a light to others. We are all God’s children and, when possible, I try to extend a helping hand, even if it’s just a smile,” Chantal said.
Chantal has had great success with her recovery since attending Catholic in Recovery meetings for roughly three years.
“I have only fallen twice with using after using for twenty years thanks to this community,” Chantal said. “I know I am not alone when I attend those meetings, and when you feel alone and like the only one going through something you just clam up. But at these meetings, I feel the presence of others, others like me. It’s something not to fear and my fears just disappear as we start praying.”
Chantal also helps out as the meeting secretary, getting to meetings early to create a safe and comforting space to welcome members as they grow closer to Christ and strive toward recovery from addictions and unhealthy attachments.
“I make sure I’m at least an hour early to set up and get everything ready. I am setting the table as if it were dinner with family. Prayer cards and Reflection materials are set before each seat, like silverware and plates. We have a table to share our stories to support and encourage each other’s journey and to provide a safe and loving environment. It’s like breaking bread together. We all have something to contribute and to nourish one another in our recovery,” Chantal said.
For those who are considering attending but afraid or hesitant, she can’t say enough about the benefits of Catholic In Recovery.
“Come anyway! You won’t know until you go of the benefits from just sitting there. You’re not obligated to speak; you can just listen. And while you don’t have to share, I can guarantee when you are sitting there and listening you will want to share your story anyway. When you hear others share their pain and share their love your heart will just melt. And the Good Lord will help you to open up,” Chantal said.
Ultimately, Catholic In Recovery has transformed her life in incredible ways, all thanks to God’s grace.
“Other than my loved ones, Catholic In Recovery has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Chantal shared. “I have been truly blessed by the group. I consider them family and I look forward to it every Tuesday night.”
Eight years ago, Julie discovered her son was using drugs. This discovery spurred tremendous grief and suffering, leaving her and her husband feeling helpless and unable to help him recover and find healing.
“I literally had no plan of action for helping him, or me, except to try to talk him out of it. I did also engage in a campaign of desperate prayer and managed to get to sleep at night after exhausting myself by reading books of all kinds—novels, spiritual reading, biographies about inspiring people like Mother Teresa, whatever offered some relief from or perspective about the trajectory of grief I was experiencing,” Julie said.
Julie and her husband engaged in a number of lengthy discussions to try to get at the root of her son’s descent into drug use, but these often provided little fruit.
“As a person who is typically driven to get to the bottom of a problem, I was 100 percent engaged in this one, and what I lacked in understanding and tools I made up for with obsession,” Julie shared. “Undoubtedly, my availability to the rest of my family was severely compromised, and I had suddenly lost any desire to confide in or enjoy the company of almost everyone.”
An Invitation for Help
Eventually, someone suggested she attend an Al-Anon meeting to cope. She initially had no interest in attending, since her priority was to get her son off drugs as opposed to learning to accept his (and her) current situation. But eventually, as things continued, she changed her mind.
“As time marched grimly on there seemed to be no end to the terror of the situation; the disconcerting patterns of behavior were punctuated occasionally with different scary events, causing emotional chaos and a foreboding that we were completely outmatched with no hope of resolution. As this sunk in, my husband and I attended our first Al-Anon meeting,” Julie said.
After the meeting, one woman, sensing their desperation, approached and provided them with a list of Al-Anon “dos and don’ts” as well as some words of encouragement. Julie began attending Al-Anon meetings regularly, taking in the wisdom and insight about the steps and the recovery process.
“There was much to absorb and I am forever indebted to those who helped me face the reality of my situation with some tools (and permission!) to move ahead with living the life God intended for me to live,” Julie said.
Over time, Julie came to understand this “family disease” of her son’s addiction as a “family calling”: a God-given path to holiness gifted to her and her husband.
“I realized that the ‘offering it up’ that I had learned as a child had a perfect application to my current life,” Julie shared. “I resolved to take to heart Pope John Paul II’s reminder: ‘Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.’”
Integrating Catholic in Recovery
With a newfound understanding of the role her Catholic faith could play in her life, she began looking for Catholic-based recovery groups online. She stumbled upon Catholic in Recovery, and living somewhat close to San Diego was able to attend meetings in person. But circumstances in her life changed, making travel to San Diego too difficult. As a result, she started new groups in the Murrieta area and became a CIR leader.
“With the help of our parish and Catholic Charities, we currently have a general recovery meeting and a family and friends support meeting during the day and are exploring starting a general recovery meeting in the evening,” Julie shared.
Her involvement in Catholic in Recovery has produced tremendous fruit in her life.
“My involvement with Catholic in Recovery has given concrete meaning to things like what it means to live my baptismal call, what surrendering to God looks like, and what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ,” Julie shared. “It has given me a vehicle to give mercy in a concrete way to people who may feel very isolated in the addiction recovery world. Attending Catholic in Recovery meetings regularly helps to incorporate this Truth into how I conduct myself with the insight gleaned by listening to the experience, strength, and hope of the others who are there. I have grown from living in near constant dread that I might not be able to bear ‘Thy Will Be Done’ to a more peaceful path of acceptance and action based on knowledge and wisdom.”
Advice to Those with a Loved One Struggling with Addiction
For those with a loved one struggling with an addiction or unhealthy attachment, she suggests attending Al-Anon meetings for at least six months to a year, which can help one face the reality of a loved one’s addiction—that it’s, sadly, usually not just a phase.
“Attending Al-Anon meetings helped me understand the impact that addiction has on everyone in the family and that I could follow well-tested principles to experience healing,” Julie shared.
While certainly advocating the importance of Al-Anon meetings, she also highlights how it is necessary to incorporate the spiritual aspects to recovery that are not found at these meetings.
“I think every Catholic I have encountered at a CIR meeting has expressed relief at the ability to freely speak about incorporating their Catholic faith into their recovery,” Julie said. “My advice would be to attend both Al-Anon and Catholic in Recovery meetings, remembering, as they say, ‘to take what you like and leave the rest.’”
For Julie, her Catholic faith continues to shed light on and provide for what is a challenging situation with her son’s addiction.
“My faith tells me that God has a plan for both me and my son; that we are connected as mother and son requires me to engage with him in love and mercy, as modeled by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. The bottom line is that if I do not allow God to be in charge, the alternative is obsession and the futile attempt to take control,” Julie said, then pointing to the necessary role that forgiveness plays in every journey toward recovery. “I have learned that those with addiction suffer terribly. Today, I forgive. I forgive my son. I forgive everyone who may have contributed to his addiction. I forgive myself for parenting mistakes that may have left my son susceptible, for not knowing sooner, for not responding with wisdom.”
Sister Margaret's Testimonial
Like many who struggle with eating disorders of some kind, Sister Margaret can trace the start of her unhealthy relationship with food to being sexually abused at the age of three.
“In OA (Overeaters Anonymous) meetings, I hear the same story about sexual abuse. A friend of the family sexually abused me when I was three. I remember it very well and it was only recently that I found out that vomitting can be a sign of sexual abuse,” Sister Margaret said.
She remained extremely thin, often throwing up and not eating much, until the time she was around ten. Although in her late childhood she was able to eat and hold food down in a healthier manner, she continued to struggle in other ways with eating and food.
“At almost every age of my life I could tell you what I weighed,” Sister Margaret shared, pointing to her obsession with her relationship to food.
In her late thirties she became concerned about her father’s growing addiction to alcohol and started to attend Al-Anon meetings. This marked her first exposure to 12-step recovery, and as someone with a deep spirituality—after all, she is a Catholic nun—she was struck with the power and beauty of the Twelve Steps and how they related to her Catholic spiritual life.
“The Twelve Steps are like the skeleton to the spiritual life, something that gives it shape and keeps you on track in the right direction,” Sister Margaret said.
Al-Anon helped her learn how to talk with her father about his addiction to alcohol and provided her with a basic knowledge of the steps, preparing the way for addressing her own addiction to eating. It was in coming to understand the Twelve Steps and the nature of addiction that she was able to recognize the meaning of a friend’s (a recovering alcoholic) comment.
“My friend told me, ‘Marg, if I talked about alcohol as much as you talk about food, I would be drinking.’ When she said that, I realized I needed to get myself to an OA meeting,” Sister Margaret said. “I went to my first meeting and I was floored because I identified with so many who were there, both those who were very overweight and those dealing with anorexia. I had those same impulses. And on the way back home from the meeting all I could think about was the ice cream in the freezer!”
When she got home she threw the ice cream into the trash bin in what she considers her first act toward recovery. However, like many struggling with addictions know, the path to recovery can be fraught with setbacks.
“After a year I convinced myself I was cured and didn’t need the meetings anymore. But after two more years and with a change in ministry work, I started a new meeting to help a friend struggling with Bulimia,” Sister Margaret shared. “Of course, this also helped me since I was struggling again. Then, later, after another change in my ministry work, I didn’t like the idea of having to attend meetings for the rest of my life. So I stopped attending again, but within the next year or two I slid right back into my unhealthy habits with eating.”
After the regular starting and stopping, she eventually came to hold firm to the tenets of the Twelve Steps and now consistently attends meetings. At age 81, the life of recovery is as natural to her as her Catholic spirituality.
In fact, it’s her deep understanding of how the Twelve Steps relate to the sacramental life of the Catholic Church that led her to become involved in Catholic in Recovery, which began when she came across Scott Weeman’s book, The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments.
“I had been waiting for years for someone to have that insight about Catholicism and 12-step recovery. We need to reach out to our addicts as Catholics because Jesus gave his life for them and wants them in his Church. This understanding at CIR has been waiting to happen for a long time,” Sister Margaret shared.
She understands that these two communities have often had a strained relationship. Some Catholics in need of recovery refuse to engage in traditional 12-step programs because they are put off by talk of a “Higher Power” and the sometimes prevalent anti-Catholicism. And some members of traditional 12-step programs harbor deep resentments toward the Catholic Church and don’t want anything to do with it. While it’s certainly a complex and nuanced issue, Sister Margaret values CIR’s understanding that, in the right context, both the Catholic faith and traditional 12-step programs can offer the best form of recovery and healing when integrated.
Sister Margaret helped start a Catholic in Recovery group for those struggling with addictions and unhealthy attachments in Portland, Oregon, which just hit its one-year anniversary. They have been able to start a second General Recovery group and a Friends and Family of Addicts group as well. They also have plans to begin another Catholic in Recovery group for those struggling with sex-related addictions.
When encouraging those who are on the fence about joining a Catholic in Recovery meeting, Sister Margaret points to the ultimate model.
“Jesus gives us the perfect model in the Gospel of John. The disciples come up to him and ask, ‘Where are you staying?’ And instead of directly answering them, he tells them, ‘Come and see!’ And I would say the same thing to those thinking about joining a Catholic in Recovery group,” Sister Margaret continued. “You don’t have to stay or even talk if you come to one. Just come and see. People at CIR often do end up sharing at a very deep level because they feel safe in being able to talk openly about Jesus or about their anger toward the Church. So, ‘come and see’ what a Catholic in Recovery group can offer you in your own journey toward recovery and healing.”
Harry’s grandmother died of alcoholism in her 30s and his grandfather, on the other side, drank a fifth before noon every day. So, needless to say, alcoholism was deeply embedded in Harry’s Scotch-Irish blood. When he turned 19 he began what would be a 20-year bout with the bottle.
“I drank every day and would sometimes use speed to keep drinking at night. I lived my life as a functioning alcoholic and just drank as soon I got off of work,” Harry said.
He got involved in motorcycle clubs in Ventura County, and even for some of the guys in those clubs he was seen as too extreme and a liability because of his drinking habits. Because of this, during his 30s he went through phases of becoming sober, collecting tokens here and there, but always relapsed. At least until one morning, when he was 39, which changed everything.
“I’m 5’8, but when I drink I think I’m 6’8, and so I kept getting beat up. And I got beat up at the Red Cove bar and woke up the next day and I looked at myself in the mirror and my face looked like a football,” Harry said. “I remember the color of the bathroom and I remember how I felt inside, how worn out I was, and I knew that I was going to die because I was drinking every morning.”
When Memory Isn’t Enough for Recovery
Yet, Harry knew this memory—as terrible and painful as it was—wasn’t enough to keep him from drinking. He would need something else.
“Even though I could remember that morning so well I knew that the memory wouldn’t be enough,” Harry said. “It wouldn’t be strong enough to prevent me from drinking.”
After that morning he went to a men’s recovery meeting and as he was walking in an older man said something to him he would never forget.
“This guy said to me, ‘Let me tell you something, you never have to drink again.’ And when I heard that it went into my brain and fell down into my gut and fit inside just right like a puzzle piece. And I started thinking that maybe there was a way out,” Harry said.
So Harry, after losing everything but his motorcycle—his wife had left him, he had poor health, and he was broke—decided to stay close to these men who had somehow found freedom from alcohol. These men were part of a clean and sober biker group, and he was so adamant about staying close to them that they gave him the nickname “Hang-around Harry.” It was at this time he started to work the steps and became heavily involved in recovery with those guys, making that night of the brawl at the Red Cove the last time that he has had a drop of alcohol.
Journeying Back to God
This would pretty much continue for about 23 years until he started to become interested in mindfulness and Buddhism and its relationship to recovery. He started going on retreats and even travelled to northern India on a pilgrimage. Yet, during one retreat he met a Buddhist monk who was also a Christian and former priest named Young Brother, and this would set him on a path of discovering a deeper relationship with God. While he had given his life over to a Higher Power previously during his working of the steps, he began to understand what this Higher Power was all about.
“I remember that Young Brother had talked about this priest named Fr. Richard Rohr, and so I started reading about him and that got me to read about the Catholic mystics. This just launched me into a deep journey for three years. My heart really opened up and I met Christ because of my meeting with Young Brother and I could let go of all of these stories that I had to be tough, or that I wasn’t smart or good enough. I was able to stand in this naked, humble fashion before God for the first time,” Harry said.
Harry heard about Catholic in Recovery meetings that were going on at St. Joseph’s Cathedral and started to attend.
“When I talked to Scott he welcomed me and I started to attend the meetings. After the third or fourth meeting, he told us that we were going to go up stairs for Reconciliation for the second part of the meeting,” Harry said. “I said, ‘Wow,’ and then went upstairs and saw the priest. And I go up there and I said, ‘Forgive me Father, it has been 50 years since my last confession, and he just said to me, “Oh my!’” Harry said, laughing.
Harry would go on to find a spiritual director in another priest, one who was once an alcoholic and homeless but who was called by God to become a priest and has found tremendous healing. For Harry, life continues to become enriched by God as he continues this journey of discovery. He doesn’t hesitate to encourage others who need God’s grace as well, be that in a 12-step recovery program, a Catholic in Recovery meeting, or in the sacraments.
“There is a gift that is always available and that is the mercy of God. How great the mercy of God is,” Harry shared. “There is always a chair for us at a meeting and at the presence of God.”
Rita was 14 years old when she started drinking. Being the 6th youngest of 8 children, she realized that by drinking, where she became animated, funny, and charming, she could gain her parents’ attention. Through the bottle, she could shed her shy persona and became that outgoing girl who was no longer “lost” or “forgotten” within her family. However, her casual drinking habits would change drastically when she was kicked out of her strict Catholic parents’ house when she was 18 because of her decision to no longer attend mass on Sundays. It was at that point when her drinking took a turn for the worse.
“I was a blackout drinker and I was drinking all of the time. I was doing inappropriate things that women do and I had no regard for anything,” Rita shared.
This bout of rampant drinking lasted until she met a man when she was 28, whom she married and had four children with. Although she didn’t quit drinking altogether, she had a more controlled relationship with alcohol as she raised her kids. Things turned sour, however, seven years into their marriage. And during her 14th year of marriage, Rita and her husband got into an intense argument that resulted in him pushing her. She called Child Protective Services and their relationship was over.
“He left and I have these kids and I started binge drinking. I hit the bars. I’m drinking and smoking a lot of pot,” Rita said. “One day I fell asleep with pot and booze on the table in front of me and my kids find out what’s been going on. I had been away from the Church for about 12 years but after that I decided to go to church because I knew God could help me.”
Although she had a vague sense that God and the Church could help her, she admits that she had a poor understanding of God, one that held Him as a domineering and heartless judge. Yet, upon going to church she heard about a 12-step program and mustered the courage to attend. She would find sobriety there, yet wouldn’t find God fully until years later.
“When I got sober I had faith only in AA. I was desperate and didn’t have much faith in God. It came slowly at first only after I began listening to other people share at meetings about God and I started thinking, ‘Wow, I want to know more about this God thing,’” Rita said.
Her desire to know more about God led her to a spiritual director, and after uncovering who God truly was—a loving and merciful Father—she fell in love with him.
Struggling with a New Addiction
However, although Rita was not drinking or doing drugs and was growing closer to God, she had taken on another addiction: food. In fact, during her first year of sobriety she put on 60 pounds, eventually getting up to 300 pounds until she received the lap band in 2009. Although that helped her lose weight, she was still addicted: she would throw food up so she could eat ever more sugar and carbs.
She knew she had a problem, even if others in the recovery world didn’t necessarily see it that way. However, God’s grace was at work.
“While at my daughter’s wedding in Louisiana, I met a man who attends Monday’s Catholic in Recovery meetings and I started attending those meetings the very next month,” Rita shared.
It was at these meetings where Rita found another woman struggling with food addictions, and also where she was able to find support to face this addiction to food.
“I’m in a Catholic in Recovery meeting and I met another woman with a food addiction and I just felt really safe, comfortable, and able to share about my food addiction in those meetings. It was the first time I admitted I had a problem and once I admitted it I was ready to seek help,” Rita shared.
This would lead her to attend FAA (Food Addicts Anonymous) meetings. On June 1, 2017, she cut out all sugar and flour from her diet. She hasn’t eaten them since, maintaining a weight of 143 pounds since this last November.
God’s Grace and Catholic in Recovery
“In Catholic in Recovery there is no shame and there is joyfulness when I share about my experience with God,” Rita shared. “Some of the members of the group have a great relationship with God and have a lot of knowledge. I can go to meetings and ask them to pray for me. I really look forward to Mondays and don’t miss them.”
Rita appreciates that Catholic in Recovery creates the space to talk about all addictions and unhealthy attachments—not just alcohol and drugs—which can wreak just as much havoc in one’s life. Not only have these meetings encouraged her to seek recovery for her food addiction, but they provided a fellowship of Catholics to walk with her on her recovery journey.
Rita is grateful for her four daughters, all committed Catholics, who continued to pray for her throughout all of it and Catholic in Recovery, which has drawn her closer to her Catholic faith and Jesus Christ.
“Catholic in Recovery is the only place where I can go to share about my addictions and talk about my faith,” Rita shared. “I talk about God all of the time in those meetings because everything in my life has been God’s grace.”
Tony started drinking alcohol and using drugs when he was only 13 years old. Alcohol and drugs had always been a part of his family. His father was part of a motorcycle gang, which entailed regular occasions to use alcohol and drugs. And on his mother’s side drinking had caused the death of multiple great uncles due to alcoholic sclerosis. These habits that started when he was barely a teenager would continue as he became an adult, following him through his four-year stint in the marines during his early twenties and for three decades afterward. For Tony, drinking alcohol and using drugs had always been a part of life.
“There was so much of it around me and in my family, and because I always had a job I honestly didn’t think it was a problem,” Tony said. “I drank every day and got loaded on the weekends.”
Yet, when his children started drinking alcohol and using drugs he started to realize things were unravelling.
“I’m dropping my kids off at rehab and then I’m going to the park and I’d be drinking and popping my pills,” Tony shared. “And that’s when I started feeling there was a problem.”
He made half-hearted attempts to stop, joining a 12-step program and going through short seasons where he would stop using and drinking, but they never lasted.
“I would become clean for a little bit, just to please my wife,” Tony said. “But I always knew I was going to go back.”
This more or less continued until his mom passed away. Tony struggled to cope with the grief of losing her and began using methamphines, causing him to lose 80 pounds over the course of six months. Although the grief was certainly tough to handle, Tony admits that it was ultimately just an excuse to use drugs. He was on the brink of total destruction.
“That’s when everything got really bad; I was battling with the Devil. There was a day when I was going to start drinking again,” Tony said. “I was already popping pills and doing meth, and I knew I was going down and I didn’t care. But I came clean with my wife and called my sponsor and he took me to a detox facility. And right there I surrendered. I told God that I’m tired of this and that I need help.”
God heard his prayer, and after he was released from the detox facility he made an appointment to see his priest at his parish.
“I had only been to confession twice in my life, and I sat down with this priest and told him the whole story of what was going on. And the obsession with the alcohol and the drugs was honestly lifted. It was amazing grace. I remember being so at peace with God. That changed my life.”
After that grace-filled confession, Tony dove headfirst into a 12-step program. He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol or used a drug since November 20th, 2017.
However, six months ago Tony came across something that would take his Catholic faith and love for Christ to another level. He spotted information about a Catholic in Recovery meeting in his parish bulletin at St. Martha’s in Murrieta.
“I went to my first meeting, and we started with a reflection about the readings from Sunday and how our faith is tied in with our recovery,” Tony said. “These meetings have made my faith grow in leaps and bounds. They are about getting closer to God and sharing things that are going on in our lives. It’s a very special meeting.”
Tony has only missed one Catholic in Recovery meeting since his first one those six months ago. For Tony, those meetings are invaluable resources for him and his wife to grow closer to their Catholic faith and to each other, while remaining firmly rooted on the road to recovery. From Tony’s first meeting a few months ago where he was one of three members to a recent meeting where he was one of nine, the ministry is certainly growing in his area.
“Catholic in Recovery has allowed for a dramatic change in my life and my marriage. I have been married 33 years and it has brought us closer. My wife goes to the family Catholic in Recovery group meetings. My faith has grown a hundred times with Catholic in Recovery and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
Tony’s passion for the ministry has him working with others to expand Catholic in Recovery’s reach at St. Martha’s. In fact, a committed parish priest is in full support of their efforts to widen the reach of the ministry.
“There are so many people struggling with different addictions and we want to grow it in our parish and be there for the people who are struggling with alcohol, gambling, sex, food, and anything else,” Tony said. “Come to a meeting and just listen! The Spirit runs through our meetings and there is peace.”
Catholic in Recovery is a nonprofit ministry that seeks to serve those suffering from addiction and unhealthy attachments.