The Irreplaceable Role of a Priest in Recovery

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When I first came to a recovery program I was brought to it by a very caring woman who saw the pain I was going through. She stressed the need for having a sponsor and suggested that I listen and find someone with a length of sobriety whom I respected. 

There was an old-timer, named Gene S., who had over 20 years of sobriety. He was a straight-talking man of simple wisdom, not caught up in all of the psycho-babble you often hear in a college town 12-step meeting. 

I approached him. He was cordial and inviting. We had coffee and talked. He agreed to be my sponsor and encouraged me to contact him. But I was not the only one who appreciated his straight-talking wisdom. He sponsored many people and his time was limited. Most often, not wanting to intrude on him, I enjoyed his insight from a distance by hearing him speak at meetings.

The woman who introduced me to this 12-step program saw that my sponsorship with Gene S. was not active and advised me to find someone closer to my own age. She suggested John Z.

I knew John Z. for a time and we were friends. John Z. had only been sober for a few months longer than me, but we got along well and I contacted him frequently about the program and working the Twelve Steps. Soon after, John Z. confessed to me and others that he had been drinking and using for the past several months.

The act of trusting brought forth the gut-wrenching pain and the sting from cheating and lying: when you shake his hand on the deal and then you come to the realization that the words were only empty lies.

Everyone’s circumstances are different. And no one escapes the heartache of deception. But it leaves its mark. Even later in life, there is a wariness in taking the hand of someone who reaches out to help.

I know well how relapses go and have no ill feelings or judgments toward John Z. And it wasn’t long after that that I too readily picked up my first bottle of beer, ending months of sobriety.

Then I was in and out of meetings many times after that, never lasting long enough to build relationships and work the program.

And now in meetings, once again, there remain trust issues.

Bill is a friend in the program. He is there to call upon when temptations and urges are strong. He accepted my request to be my sponsor and has shared what has worked for him. He has helped with advice on the Twelve Steps. We embrace different Christian denominations and have shared our experiences and feelings about our faith traditions. 

We have shared a lot.

And yet there are things I do not feel comfortable discussing with Bill. Though I consider Bill a friend and more than that since he is there to rescue me when the throes of the temptation to drink are the strongest, he is not the one I choose to reveal my many shortcomings.

It is not a matter of confidentiality. It is that Bill cannot offer the grace that I am seeking. Surely there would be a relief for unburdening deep and dark secrets. But to whom am I unburdening them?

The meetings and all those who attend are so necessary for my sobriety. We share a similar journey.

But it’s my faith that leads me. And when I need someone to confess my failings and wrongdoings and shortcomings, I seek a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s then when I feel cleansed and full of hope.

I thank Bill and all of my previous sponsors for their help. And I thank God for my Catholic faith, and for the priests that can offer Christ’s healing and forgiveness.

Bob lives on the high plains of Wyoming. He is a cradle Catholic, a geologist by training, and consummate wanderer of the backroads with camera and guitar. And with an ongoing struggle with alcohol, he has found relief in a 12-step program and his Catholic faith.