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Why Being Sober Wasn’t Enough to Keep Me From Being Miserable

After I first became sober I thought that I’m better now. I can handle it. I had been in AA for years and attended hundreds, maybe thousands, of meetings. I had volunteered, read the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and worked through the Twelve Steps with a sponsor.

I had learned to forgive and be forgiven. I valued and loved my wife, kids, and my entire family. I had a good job and made good money. I was busy, really busy. My wife is a professional, and she was busy too. Our kids were in school and they had baseball, softball, soccer practice, school events, doctors’ appointments, and so on. Sure it was hard. And sometimes we dropped a ball or two, but it was manageable.

God performed many miracles in my life. His grace had changed me. But then I got too busy. I started to attend Mass only rarely and became “spiritual, not religious.” I was still attending meetings daily but some people there really annoyed me. I know, I know. If I have a problem, I have a problem… 

Walking Away from Meetings and the Church

Still, one day I thought, “Do I really want to go to the meeting and hear that person talk about their cat again? I’ll just get a hamburger instead.” 

That decision began a five-year dry period. I attended only three to six meetings a year. No more church, sponsor, or steps. I can still hear that guy at a meeting say: “If you’re too busy to go to your AA meeting, you’re too busy.”

I should have tattooed that on the back of my hand.

During this time I was laid off, used up all the money from my retirement account, owed the IRS more money than I could ever pay, and went bankrupt. My wife changed careers so we could get by and I broke her heart while I curled up on the couch for years. Our kids started calling me “Mom.” I gained weight. I was ashamed of and hated myself, wishing I could die. 

I didn’t drink but I wrapped myself in a blanket of self-loathing, watching the defects of my character increase, flourish, and run riot.

When I first got sober I desperately whispered the one prayer all alcoholics know, that short, powerful prayer etched in the soul of the broken and hopeless: “God, please help me.” Well, God did help me. 

Turning Back to God and Receiving His Grace

An old-timer once told me God doesn’t move, we move. And that’s exactly what I had done—I moved. I disconnected from God and church and created a world of misery for myself and my family. I finally came to the point where I again had to pray, “God, please help me,” even though I didn’t deserve it or even trust that God would. I was afraid and ashamed.

I eventually found a job, making a third of what I previously made. I was embarrassed at first, but I couldn’t disappoint my wife anymore by not working. My father died, whom I adored. I became heartsick, but I also became, slowly, more willing again. I began attending a different AA group, got a sponsor, worked the Steps. I still couldn’t let go of some of my character defects, though, and the journey was slow. I grew tired of going to confession, saying the same things over again like a broken record.

A couple of years ago, while attending an AA retreat at a Jesuit retreat house, I went to confession to recite the same sins. I explained to the priest that I don’t attend Mass because I’m clearly defective in so many ways. The priest responded, “That’s right. This is exactly what Satan wants you to do: give up. You’re not good enough, you shouldn’t go to Mass or confession. You’re wasting your time, and the priest is bored of hearing the same thing.” 

God, Not Us, Is the Only One Who Can Handle Our Lives

What I heard was, “You can’t handle this. God handles it. Keep going to confession, especially if you don’t feel like it. Keep going. God handles it. Keep going to Mass. Don’t believe Satan, believe our loving and merciful God who adores you. You are forgiven.” 

This was an epiphany for me. The truth is I can’t handle it, but God can and does.

Since then, my sins and character defects have been, and continue to be, removed. It’s laughable, really. I’ve read in the Big Book a million times that lack of power is our dilemma. It took me a long time to really understand that I simply don’t have the power. Now that I know and believe God is the power, I’ve lost 100 pounds, begun a new career, paid back the IRS, and paid off our home. This is God at work, not me. 

I’ve also learned that being sober is not enough. Yes, I need AA and its guidance and direction. AA isn’t about drinking, though, not really. It provides instruction on how to live. Being spiritual is not enough, either. I need my church and all it offers. 

For me, following the directions of the Catholic Church is not about being good or bad or following rules. It’s about being one of God’s children. I need my Father and I rely on His grace. The church is about freedom, most especially from myself. I don’t have to pretend anymore. I can be willing, vulnerable, and courageous. In doing so, I’m free to love others and to accept the greatest love of all.

 Now that I don’t handle my life anymore, I’m not all that busy.

 

Tom has been sober since May 20, 2002. He attends 12-step meetings regularly, has a sponsor, and sponsors other men. He loves the Catholic Church and regularly attends Mass. He has been given the priceless gift of God’s grace, and he knows it.

5 Comments

  1. Sebastian Percival on April 28, 2020 at 6:46 am

    Thanks Tom. I read your article, and something moved me to write a bit of my journey…

    I recently discovered this site. I am a practising Catholic. I live in Australia. I am in the other Fellowship, Narcotics Anonymous. I have a professional job and always have – functioning addict is what I think I would have been called. I am 56 years old. 7 months and 17 days ago, I received the ‘twitch upon the thread’ and I finally handed back my will to God. I recognised that I was powerless over my addiction and my life was powerless. Walking into the first NA Meetings was like coming home, and my Recovery has been like the Return of the Prodigal Son into the unconditional, loving arms of the Father. I wanted Recovery, and God has made me wake up by using the deviously strong gift of desperation. Of course, God purifies our intentions. He got me into the rooms, let me settle in, start the Steps and stop using drugs…and once I was ready, He gently murmured to me, “It’s time to really come home.” The NA Program, like the AA Program is an action program. Now, I was also a regular attendee at Mass, confession (more of that later) and I said my prayers. Even during my Active Addiction which plagued me for 20 years, I firmly believed that God loved me, that he created me and that I was throwing that gift of life down the drain. I never felt good enough. I hated myself. And I was wasting that perfect gift of life and faith that God had given me. Or was I? God’s ways are not our ways and His times is not our time. My faith life, up until entering the Program was very intellectual and knowledgeable. I could quote scripture and the doctrine of Holy Mother Church. I was kind, even very kind and considerate in my using days. I was a nice guy. But I wasn’t a child of God. I had no real and personal relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. I never knew how to give my will entirely over to the Love of God and His Blessed Mother. Well, that was until the Program made my Recovery conditional on letting go, and to quote the ultimate cliche, and ‘letting God’. But it’s true, I need God to drive the bus and I just need to enjoy the view. From the first days of entering the rooms, I finally gave in to His will and the I was forced into this very personal and very real relationship with God for the first time in my entire life.

    I started to ‘live’ my faith. Why? Big the Big Book talks of being a Spiritual Program, a program based on what we would call, Gospel Values. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I was brought up and knew the Gospel Values from a young age and so practising humility, surrendering, having absolute faith, being open to the quiet voice of God in the wind and loving myself as God loves me suddenly became integral to saving my life. I knew that believing absolutely in God’s power to heal, save and guide and following the principles set out in the Gospels were the tenants for my Recovery. The Big Book and the Steps always lead me back to reflecting on and reading the Scriptures, the hymns and the ancient prayers, all of which I grew up with, but now, I truly lived them as if my last breath relied on them. Living clean, just for today, is practising the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. Steps 4, 5 and 6 are regular attendance at Confession. I seem to be rather alone (and I say humbly as a Catholic) that these Steps do not frighten me because it is a sacramental reality that we make a regular inquiry into our defects and hand them over to God AND are given absolution. Step 10 is the examination of conscience that we, as Catholics do before the liturgy of the Eucharist and pray regularly at Compline before we go to bed. And the Lord’s Prayer in the Third Step Prayer. I am rambling, but what I mean to say is that nothing has made me live my faith as much as I have had to do in the NA Program. We are asked to practise the Steps in all our affairs, just as Catholics, we are reminded to heed the Gospel and its message in all our affairs. The Program and ultimately God in His own time, has ‘reborn’ me!

    As a post-script: Australia, where I live is a very secular country and most people has a common distrust of the Church, its priests, its teachings and God is most certainly an after thought. Now, I love the Fellowship and the members have loved me back to God. Curious, huh? I soon learnt to concentrate on the similarities and not the differences as the Holy Father, Francis, often says when dealing with dialogue with other denominations and faith. At first, I was rejoicing in just being clean, but as I journeyed further, my thirst for my Godly things in the Program grew. I am the only practising Catholic in the NA Program in my city of Brisbane, I am certain of and sad about that. I yearn to share my Recovery Journey with a like-minded priest, religious or lay person. My Confessor is great, but there is nothing like one addict helping another. I would travel far and wide in Australia just to have some Catholic Fellowship with another Recovery Addict in the NA Program. I am jealous and envious that there is a Catholic Recovery narrative and discourse in the USA. Mind you, this is hardly surprising since I have often found North Americans to be openly Godly. God willing, if anyone is reading this, and knows of such a Recovering Addict in the NA Program in Australia, please point me in the right direction. Having said all this, I love my fellow addicts in Recovery here in Brisbane. I have found my niche and they respect the fact that I ground, centre and live my Recovery through the Creator God, His Son who died for me, in His loving Mother who is the Patroness of All Addicts, through the prayers of St Maximillian and in the Holy Mother Church who is the Mystical Body of Christ. On my journey, I will act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with my God.

    God Bless,
    Hello, My name is Sebastian, and I’m an addict.

    • Scott Weeman Scott Weeman on April 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm

      Sebastian, thank you for sharing this and introducing yourself to our community! Praise God for the wonderful ways He is working in your life. You are a beloved son of God, with whom He is well pleased. We would love to have you (and anyone reading this) join us for a virtual meeting. You will have to translate the time difference yourself, but we have various meetings throughout the week. You’ll find our full virtual meeting schedule here: https://catholicinrecovery.com/virtual-meeting-schedule/.

      Moreover, we have had a few inquiries from Australia to get a Catholic in Recovery fellowship started, but nothing has panned out yet. I believe it’s only a matter of time, and we look forward to have a presence down under! Peace and many blessings to you and your family!

  2. Nick M. on April 28, 2020 at 11:52 am

    Tom, thanks for sharing your story! There was much there I could relate to. I’ve been sober in AA for 29 years, and as a product of sobriety have been back in the Catholic Church since 2006. Was that Jesuit Retreat center in St Louis? I attend an annual AA Men’s retreat there, and the results have truly been miraculous in so many ways. God bless you on your continued journey of sobriety and recovery!

    Nick M.

    • Tom Mastrogiovanni on May 21, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Nike, The retreat I go to is just outside Dallas at Montserrat Retreat House. Is usually held the first weekend of the year. Men from all over come. Father Tom Watson will be the next retreat master. Fr. Tom does recovery retreats all over the world. http://www.montserratretreat.org/

  3. Nick Morgan on May 22, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    Hi Tom, thanks for getting back with me. We have a Jesuit Retreat House in St Louis called the “Whitehouse Jesuit Retreat Center”. My guess is that the two retreat centers are probably very similar. Is the Priest that you mentioned possibly Fr Tom Weston? He was just here in January at our men’s retreat and was phenomenal! He gives recovery retreats all around the Country. If so and if you haven’t heard him before, you are in for a special retreat. May God continue to bless you with the gift of sobriety my friend.

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