from an alcoholic family, had my own problems with alcohol, married an alcoholic.
i believe God helped me to no longer desire alcohol. i have been told by
counselor that i am codependent and should go to al-anon. have been for awhile
but cant seem to stick with it. what do you think of aa and al-anon? i was
born and raised catholic and know it is the true church. i have been trying
to do Gods will for years and years now. some of the aa and alanon seem catholic,
and some of it seems anti-christian. i very much agree with what you say
though i havent read it all, i think God led me to it. my husband is drinking
again and is physically addicted but not violent. his daughter has a lot
of problems. i just want to help people. do you think al-anon is okay? the
catholic church seems to say aa and alanon are okay but i still dont
lcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups
(and Al-Anon groups for the family of an alcoholic) can be useful to a large
extent. The problem is that these groups simply offer a watered-down, secular
version of Christianity, and many people who don’t really know what
religion is make such groups into their own
“religion.” Therefore, as you have seen, some meetings are as far
from Christianity as hell is from
The truth is, if people lived
the Catholic faith as it is
supposed to be lived (that is, with as much conviction
as AA members have for their groups), there wouldn’t be any problems
with addictions in the first place.
Core and Strength
core of any addiction involving intoxication
or euphoria is your feeling so deprived of your primal
desire—real love from your
especially through the lack of your father—and
so angry about it, that you use the addiction to
hide (i.e., deny) the “stain” of the anger. Thus you settle for
any satisfaction of intense excitement—and then, because the intensity
of the satisfaction is, according to its own materialism, short-lived, you
crave it more and more, over and over. And all of this is an unconscious
way to avoid giving to others the real love that, despite your craving
for it, you secretly fear.
If a father fails
in his role as a proper father, then he will also fail
in his duty to separate the child from its infantile dependence on the mother. In
distress and anger at this loss, the child can then return to the mother unconsciously,
thus setting up the dynamic of an addiction.
a substance (e.g., alcohol, drugs, food) can therefore serve the unconscious
purpose of numbing the pain of the loss of the father’s guidance and
draw their strength from your lack of
trust in God. When you lack trust in God, and when despair is therefore the
unconscious essence of your life, then nothing in you can stand up to the
overwhelming urge for momentary pleasure and say, “Wait! This isn’t
Therefore, any addiction is in
itself proof that you are preoccupied with the immediate sensory gratification
of your own body—desiring to escape the demands
of personal responsibilities and return to an idyllic
infantile feeling of care-free bliss—as a
psychological defense against your lack
of belief in something greater than your own
And what could this “something greater than your own body” be?
Simple. It’s the Body and Blood of Christ. When you have the Body of
Christ—which is faith—and the Blood of
Christ—which is love—there is nothing
you lack. The entire meaning of life is mystically embodied in the
Nevertheless, AA offers something in
which the Catholic Church often fails: intense social support in avoiding specific
behaviors. People go to AA meetings because each meeting focuses on doing whatever
it takes to avoid alcohol. If bishops and priests could preach about living a
genuine holy lifestyle the way AA “preaches”
about day-to-day life without alcohol, the Church wouldn’t be in the
mess it’s in today.
that some persons have a predisposition (a) to craving alcohol as
a defense against emotional vulnerability or
(b) to becoming addicted to alcohol once it is used as such a defense. And
once addicted, such persons can be subjected to changes in body chemistry
that are beyond their control.
Still, if alcoholism is a disease, it’s an unusual one. A person with
cancer, for example, can’t just wake up one morning and say, “You
know, I’m sick of this illness. Today I’m going to stop having
cancer.” And yet an alcoholic has to do almost precisely that. He or
she has to say, “Today I’m going to stop drinking. And if I can’t
do it myself, I will get into a treatment program that will force me to stop
drinking.” In other words, treatment for alcoholism is behavioral. If
you’re an alcoholic, your behavior has to change. You have to stop drinking.
And, once you get clean and sober, you might have to refrain from drinking
thereafter. It’s all a matter of your personal
responsibility, regardless of genetics or brain
As much as the AA emphasis on changing
unhealthy behavior is a critical step (or 12 steps) in overcoming an addiction,
another step is even more important: the step of purging disordered desire.
That is, for spiritual healing, we must not only stop disordered behaviors, we must
purge the desires that underly the disordered behavior. Essentially, our
entire attitude to the disordered behavior must change—and this is true in regard to
any sinful behavior, not just in regard to alcoholism.
For example, to be free of alcoholism,
the attitude of thinking of alcohol as a means to avoid responsibility must be purged.
To be free of an eating dirorder, the attitude of thinking of food as a means of
comforting oneself when under emotional strain must be purged. To be free of sexual
sins, the attitude of thinking of sexuality merely as a physical pleasure must be
purged. In short, even though we stop committing a particular sin, we are not spiritually
free of that sin until we purge from ourselves the desire to commit that sin. We can’t
“get over” a sin just by not doing it because we have to go down “underneath it”—that
is, deep inside ourselves—to see the dark desire to sin
that lurks in the depths of our unconscious.
In Canto I of Book I (Hell) of Dante’s
Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself lost in a dark woods (symbolizing the
spiritual blindness of a heart hardened by sin). He tries to escape by climbing up
a beautiful mountain, but he is driven back to the woods by three animals, a leopard
(symbolizing lust), a lion (symbolizing violence) and a wolf (symbolizing malice).
Back in the woods he meets the shade of Virgil, an ancient Roman poet, who proposes to
guide Dante down through Hell to get to Purgatory and ultimately
The Mountain, which on
the mystical level is the image of the Soul’s Ascent to God, is thus on the moral
level the image of Repentance, by which the sinner returns to God. It can be ascended
directly from the “right road” but not from the Dark Wood because there the soul’s
cherished sins have become, as it were, externalized, and appear to it like demons
or “beasts” with a will and power of their own, blocking all progress. Once lost in
the Dark Wood, a man can only escape by so descending into himself that he sees his
sin, not as an external obstacle, but as the will to chaos and death within him (Hell).
Only when he has “died to sin” can he repent and purge it. Mount Purgatory and the
Mountain of Canto I are, therefore, really one and the same mountain as seen on the
far side, and on this side, of the “death unto sin.”
Sadly, most persons resist this process of
purging. They cling to the comforting belief that changing behavior is all that matters.
But it’s not.
The True Catholic
To approach your problem from
a true Catholic perspective, then, it will be necessary to confront the fact
that unless you thirst for Christ—and the living water He offers—more
than any pleasure in this world, you can never be
healed from your childhood emotional
Overcoming an addiction to any
substance, therefore, is not a matter of constantly resisting the
substance, it’s a matter of understanding that, compared to Christ,
any substance (when used as a psychological defense) is about as
desirable as putrid, muddy water.
My love so delights
the soul that it destroys every other joy which can be expressed by man here
below. The taste of Me extinguishes every other taste . . .
—as told to Saint Catherine
Spiritual Doctrine, Part III, Chapter VII
is a matter of someone enabling (e.g., making excuses for, or lying
for) someone whose social life is crumbling because of an addiction. The
sad truth is that whenever you have “too much to lose” to take
up the cross and be honest about the addict’s behavior, then you are
essentially as dependent on the addiction as the addict.
You can overcome your tendency
to co-dependence by placing your dependence totally on Christ, not on the
affection or attention of another person.
father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son
or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up
his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Therefore, if you are truly willing
to overcome the fear of taking up your cross and
dying to yourself, and if you live this truth
in your heart, you will have all the strength you need to cope with an addict
in your midst. Remember, Christ will never abandon you: I will not leave
you orphans (John 14:18). Secure in this knowledge, you can
witness the truth to others without being paralyzed
by the fear that they might abandon you. And bye-bye co-dependency.
1. True love is not just a matter of food and
shelter. True love is a process of giving—not the giving of material
things that merely bribe others to like us, but the giving of qualities such
as patience, kindness, compassion, understanding, mercy, forbearance, and
forgiveness, qualities whose ultimate purpose is the salvation of other souls.
If your childhood was not grounded in these noble values, such that you grew
up with a pure and humble faith in God, then—sad to say—your parents
did not love you.
2. Here we can see the role that a
father’s lack plays in an addiction. Trust
requires that the child grow to depend on and respect the father as a teacher
and protector, through his being different from the mother from whom the
child originated; that is, the father is a different body and a
different gender from the mother. The father—and only a
father—can therefore teach the child to enter the world and encounter
difference safely and confidently. But if your father is lacking,
you will grow up lacking trust in anything other than your own immediate
And if your father failed in his duty and left you
emotionally crippled, then how do you remedy the mess you’re in now?
Well, you surrender to the spiritual healing process
and pray earnestly for Christ to lead you to God the Father.
3. From her commentary on Canto I of Cantica I: Hell
(L’Inferno) in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, trans. Dorothy Sayers
(Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1949).