The Restorative Power of Community

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For the longest time I hid from everything. I would hide myself from the reality that my life was unmanageable and that drugs and alcohol had taken everything meaningful away from me. I hid from the outside world, from my responsibilities, and from human interaction. I hid myself from the Light that seemed to shine upon everyone but me. ‘Lonely’ only begins to describe the way that I felt. There was a darkness and separation that kept me from knowing anything other than self-pity and, as a result, the only solution I had was to return to the demons that were the cause of this darkness.

We were not made to live in isolation. Instead, God created us to live in community with one another. The most influential communities that I’ve found have a beautiful way of understanding my inadequacies and loving me even more because of them. Throughout the course of my recovery, I have been blessed to find two important groups that have nurtured me through difficult times and brought forth a new sense of purpose in turning my darkness into light: twelve step recovery groups and the Catholic Church.

In less than two weeks the Church will celebrate the sacrament of Baptism—both the newly baptized and the renewal of our baptismal promises. Plunging into the baptismal waters offers a sacramental grace and unity with the body (or church) of Christ. “We are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25) and, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). It is by this grace that the seeds of faith can grow, nurtured by the love and strength of the community of the church.

When I entered the life of the Church shortly after getting sober I found myself wrestling with the same inner-voices that I was at battle with when I entered my first twelve-step meeting: These people won’t be able to understand what I’ve been through. They’re all a bunch of people that “have it all figured out”. Has my life really come to this? Isn’t there a way that I can just do this on my own?!?

I walked into each environment with the lightest amount of faith that any positive change would be able to come to me as a result of my involvement. Based on years of trying to do it by myself, I didn’t think I had a chance to get sober. Based on my preconceived notions of what the church community was like, I did not think I would fit in nor did I feel like I was worthy of being accepted. Nothing else was working out for me and, as they say, these were the “last two houses on the block”. The faint amount of hope that I did have came from the fact that others had gotten sober through participation in twelve step groups and the members of the church seemed to have a sense of dignity about themselves that I lacked.

All of this ties into the rebirth offered by community. The faith and power of the twelve-step group I began to attend regularly held me accountable, shared the hope that they had for me, and told me, “You’ll never have to drink again!” For some strange reason I believed them, and as of this day, they were right! The same is true for the seeds of faith sown by the community of believers. “It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop.”[1]

It takes the faith of many to feed the faith of the individual, and our communities are a great gift to allow us the opportunity to participate in something greater than ourselves. There are rich, nurturing communities designed to aid our pursuit of virtue all around us. For me in particular, as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who was told I suffer from a spiritual malady, a group of recovering drunks and drug addicts paved the way for me to find hope for a brighter tomorrow. The love I found in the Catholic Church gave me a vision of what it took to lean on my Higher Power and build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through His living, breathing body here on earth.

It is with a great deal of gratitude that I continue to participate in each of these communities, and my hope is that others can find the same graces that God afforded me through the awkwardness of breaking out of my isolation. Lastly, to all of those that will be baptized during the Easter Vigil: Welcome Home!

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1253.