Posted April 28, 2011
St. Luke’s Institute’s website [http://www.sli.org/] contains valuable information on addictions, psychological, physical and spiritual disorders, and a number of other afflictions that bombard us daily. We highly recommend this website be used as a means of personal help, in understanding those with whom we have daily contact, and in understanding the myriad of afflictions that consume the human spirit and deplete the body of its energies. Below is an example of its work.
"Brother Bill" • The 12-Steps and Ignatian Spirituality
K. Elizabeth Oakes, Ph.D. is a Therapist at Saint Luke Institute
Br. Bill is a 57 year-old religious brother who has been with his community for 35 years. Until recently, Br. Bill was a secret alcoholic; thinking that his heavy drinking was a problem only for him. Br. Bill never did drink "socially." Beginning with his first drink of beer, Br. Bill drank until he was drunk. This pattern worsened over the years, and twelve years ago, when he was put in charge of keeping the house bar supplied, this responsibility gave him almost unlimited access to beer and vodka.
The other brothers in the house eventually became alarmed about Br. Bill's drinking patterns and related behavior. He was frequently rising late, coming to dinner already drunk, being irritable and argumentative in the house, sometimes staying in his room all weekend, and had lost two jobs due to chronic absenteeism. His personal hygiene and housekeeping responsibilities had also begun to deteriorate dramatically. The event that prompted his community to request an intervention by the Provincial was when Br. Bill, while driving in an alcoholic "blackout" (when the alcoholic is awake but doesn't remember his behavior), crashed one of the house cars into a tree and "totaled" it. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
After the intervention, Br. Bill voluntarily agreed to enter a 90-day alcoholism treatment facility. While there, he was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the 12-Steps. Br. Bill initially resisted going to the AA meetings, claiming that he could not identify with the AA fellowship ("I never had drinking problems like those guys describe!"), and that he could not relate to AA's "12-Step" spirituality ("They don't talk about God; they talk about a 'higher power.").
Fortunately for Br. Bill, not long after attending a few of these meetings, he met an AA "old-timer" named John who was also a priest and had 18 years of sobriety in AA. Fr. John became his AA sponsor (peer counselor) and in the course of their work together Fr. John was able to broaden Br. Bill's understanding of the 12-Step process and to enable him to participate more fully in the AA fellowship.
The 12 - Steps and Ignatian Spirituality
Br. Bill came to understand that the founders of AA actually adapted their 12-Step principles from the work of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises, and that they put heavy emphasis on the daily practice of examining one's consciousness and spending time each day in prayer and meditation. The Ignatian spirituality inherent in the practice of the 12-Steps has been said to be singularly responsible for the "spiritual awakening" or conversion process that many sober AA members report experiencing and to which they attribute their continuing sobriety. Once Br. Bill became aware of the Christian roots of the 12-Steps, he began to apply sincerely the Steps to his recovery from alcohol, and he experienced a renewal in his personal faith practice as well.
Psychotheological Themes in the 12-Steps
Fr. John also helped Br. Bill to identify several familiar psychotheological themes in 12-Step work: self-liberation, the triumph of hope over suffering, sharing personal stories, acceptance of limitations, and living in the present moment. After some time passed in his 12-Step practice and meeting attendance, Br. Bill personally experienced self-liberation through his involvement with the community (fellowship) of AA, through working the Steps, and through his service work with other alcoholics. Once he identified with the AA fellowship, he admitted to Fr. John that he was able to hope again, after feeling so destitute for so long. Br. Bill said the example of other sober AA members helped him to believe he could have a different life, an alcohol-free life.
Many AA members see the sharing of their drinking stories at meetings as the "cornerstone" of their alcoholism recovery program. Br. Bill learned that by telling his own story and listening to the stories of others he was helped in his process of emotional healing and self-integration. Fr. John attributed it to the power of the spoken word. Br. Bill also was able to surrender the unmanageability of alcohol in his life, in part, by accepting his limitations and trusting in God's grace. Because it was difficult for him to live in the present and to stop catastrophizing about the future, Fr. John recommended that Br. Bill use several popular AA sayings that address the problem of the experience of time. Sayings such as "This too shall pass", "First things first", and the ever-popular, "One day at a time" helped him to bring his attention and his thinking back to the present moment and provided a source of emotional comfort.
"Trudging the Path of Happy Destiny"
In addition to his regular work with a professional psychotherapist, Br. Bill also gained distinct psychotherapeutic benefits from participating in the AA fellowship. One benefit was his acquisition of new social skills as a result of his meeting attendance and doing service work for other alcoholics. The changes in Br. Bill's thinking and feeling, known as "cognitive reframing", were another important psychotherapeutic benefit. Br. Bill acknowledges that his continuing recovery from alcoholism will not be easy. He knows, however, that alcoholics can go through three conversions if they seriously commit to working the 12-Steps: a spiritual conversion, a characterological conversion, and a lifestyle conversion. When Br. Bill, now sober for two years, welcomes newcomers to the 12-Steps, he often uses the invocation that conveys both the struggle and the reward in AA membership: "Come, trudge the path of happy destiny."