A LOOK AT ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
By a Catholic Member of the Eau Claire, Wis., Group of A.A.
What is an alcoholic, Catholic or otherwise? How does one know whether he is a victim of the disease of alcoholism? The simplest definition of an alcoholic is an uncontrolled drinker. A man knows well when he is an uncontrolled drinker, on the incontrovertible evidences of his own actions. And the voice of conscience speaking awesomely in the darkness of his remorse tells him clearly that he is a victim of a self-imposed madness. Alcoholism is not a matter of the amount one drinks, but of what that amount does to one's personality and character. Some alcoholics drink two quarts of liquor a day; some do not drink that in a month. Both are equally gripped by the disease and obsession. Then there are those who can drink every day without becoming alcoholic. An honest personal diagnosis will in errantly reveal the disease.
An alcoholic is a person who is allergic, physically and mentally, to alcohol. The allergy is manifested in a pattern of drinking opposed to one's experience and common sense and opposed to his deepest instincts of right. If a man can go into a bar, have two or three drinks, then willingly stop, and do this day after day; if he can willingly stop drinking any time he desires, he is not an alcoholic. But if, intending to take only two or three drinks, he usually remains to take a dozen, he is alcoholic. If he drinks for sociability and conviviality, he is not alcoholic. If he drinks to get drunk, he is.
To a large extent the motive, the reason why a man drinks, determines whether he is an actual or potential alcoholic. If a man drinks in the morning; if he drinks at any time when it is folly beyond question, he is alcoholic. If he shy, cunning and furtive about his drinking; if he lies to his wife, friends, employer about his drinking, he is obsessed. If he drinks because he feels the need of alcohol either to excite his brain or quiet his nerves; if he spends more than a nominal part of his income for booze which he drinks himself; if he loses any time from his employment, work or obligations because of liquor, definitely he is alcoholic.
A man's alcoholic obsession becomes manifest when he takes the first drink. Gone then is control, even desire for moderation. Because of his peculiar physical and psychical make-up, all of the defenses which the nonalcoholic drinker possesses are useless in him. That is so because he is different, physically, mentally, and emotionally, from the controlled drinker. Yet, despite his certain knowledge that he cannot stop after taking the first drink, the alcoholic, five minutes after giving his solemn word not to drink that day, is banging on a bar demanding whisky! Why does he do this in the very teeth of repeated disaster? Because he will not honestly face his problems and seek the only menu under heaven for its solution.
He says, "Not my will, but Thine be done." But does he mean it? He does not. Not so far as liquor is concerned. Not so long as he continues to drink. What he asks in effect when he prays is that in his behalf the laws of compensation be suspended; that God arrest the dicta of nature, and rescind the natural and spiritual law so that he may indulge in what he will not admit is defiance of God's will, for him.
But God is always deaf to the dumb. He made us all eloquent in the language of the heart, and He hears only its honest pleadings. Is the Catholic alcoholic who continues to drink while he petitions God for help conscious of the duality of his nature and the duplicity of his prayers? He is. He knows, where another may not, that he cannot touch the hand of God so long as his retains the bottle. He knows by spiritual instinct and by religious training that there is no compromise with God.
He will do anything, anything to solve his drinking problem, but stop drinking! He flatly refuses to accept the fact, for fact it is, that this and this alone is the price God demands for his release from the hell of alcoholism; for his restoration to physical, mental, and spiritual health; and for restoring to him his courage and self-respect.
This one simple act of unconditional surrender will spark into action all the surging power of the miracle of release. The very instant a man unconditionally surrenders his alcoholic problem to God, in that very moment, God puts into his hands the weapons of victory. How quickly he will experience the exhilaration of complete freedom depends, in my opinion, upon the degree of faith with which he makes his surrender. We of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that a man must crave a spiritual experience if he is to be rid of his obsession and disease. To the Catholic with his rich background of spirituality, religious heritage, and intimate knowledge of the love and mercy of Christ, this vitalizing, transforming experience should not be difficult to realize. It can be astoundingly easy. As for myself; first having admitted that I could not drink as others, that I could never again drink anything, I went to my knees in unconditional surrender, for the first time in my life. Then with instantaneous clarity I saw the almost incredibly simple method wherein I could find the power to convert my utter defeat to magnificent victory. This method, this technique is so utterly simple that many, I fear, will refuse to believe that anything so obvious can produce it. Yet it did for me. It did for many I know.
In our colossal conceit, many of us scornfully reject the simple. But God's law in the Ten Commandments and Christ's teachings in the Gospels, the profoundest truths under heaven, are expressed in the simplest of terms. One needs not an educated mind, but an uneducated heart, to comprehend the promises of God. The‘ greatest mind on earth cannot read into Christ's invitation and guarantee more than the most illiterate can take out of it. "Come to Me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you." This is Christ's promise.
The spiritual device which effected the transformation was this: a shift in the spiritual emphasis. Suddenly I realized that in all of my prayers for strength to drink normally, decently, I was in effect asking almighty God to come over on my side! Then I saw it. If only I would ask the grace to get on God's side, He would give it to me. I asked. He responded instantly! There it is. Too simple? Surely a Catholic freely acknowledges that God is the source of all power. Does it not follow that if we stand on His side, where all the power is, that we are invincible?
Yes, Alcoholics Anonymous went to religion for its spiritual concepts. It had to. There was nowhere else to go. Modern ethics are sterile. There is no power in today's so-called philosophy. The synthesis of Alcoholics Anonymous combines the best in religious practice, psychiatrical thought, and medical science. Through its program one can find his way back to buoyant sobriety by going forward in faith.
The highroad of A.A. accommodates all who turn on to it in honesty and sincerity. It is paved with the stones of spiritual truth dug out of the past for travel to the future by all who would cross the valley of drunkenness to the heights of sobriety in mutual help. All can read its signposts, for they are written in the universal language, but all Catholics should recognize them as familiar.
All this and more Alcoholics Anonymous is ready to offer the Catholic alcoholic who is prepared to go to any length to rid himself, through God's grace, of his alcoholic fetters.
CATHOLIC DIGEST©, Vol. 8(6): 43-45, APRIL, 1944.