The Furrow, January, 1952
GRACE IS SUFFICIENT – WHY ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS?
REVEREND SEAN O’RIORDAN, C.S.S.R., D.D.
Maynooth College, Dublin, Ireland
I should like to draw the attention of readers of The Furrow to an article entitled “Science, Religion, and Alcoholism” which appeared in the American Catholic monthly magazine Integrity in September, 1951. In it “John Doe”, himself a victim of alcoholism, discussed the problem of self-conquest in this difficult sphere, which date from his own experience.
For more years than he has “stomach to look back on” John Doe was an alcoholic. Yet it was not for want of trying to do better.
“I tried the Sacraments. Between drinking bouts I made frequent and intensive use of the channels of grace available to me. They did not seem to help.
“When not drinking, I was a daily communicant; I did a lot of spiritual reading; I made frequent retreats; I have knelt far into the night saying the rosary with arms outstretched in penance and petition.
“I have come from a private closed retreat with the utmost fervor and devotion – and walked into the first saloon I met. I have frequently been at Holy Communion in the morning and drunk the same night….”
“Then, a few months ago, on the advice of friends and with their assistance, I quite suddenly broke the pattern and stopped drinking. I did it by the combined use of two of the techniques recently evolved for the rehabilitation of alcoholics….
“It is now an established fact that I have gone without alcohol for a much longer period than ever since the drinking started. My drinking has been arrested. I have not been cured of alcoholism. I am still an alcoholic, and a moment of carelessness or overconfidence could start me back on the old cycle within a hour of writing these words. But I am not drinking. I am doing my best to fulfill my duty to myself, to my fellowman, and to God. I am, within the limitations of human nature and my own temperament, at peace.”
NATURAL VS. SUPERNATURAL MEANS
There we have a concrete case of a man who overcame the grip of his fatal habit by natural means of physical and psychological readjustment, when he had failed to do so by supernatural means directed at overcoming temptation. This is certainly a fact of considerable interest to anyone who has to deal with the problem of recidivism, whether in the matter of alcoholism or in any other sphere. As John Doe himself puts it, “If a man can stop drinking because another man convinces him he is an alcoholic and one drink means disaster, why can he not stop when a priest tells him that he has a chronic weakness and is bound under pain of mortal sin to avoid the occasion of sin?”
Later in his article the writer enumerates the Twelve Steps toward lasting sobriety laid down by Alcoholics Anonymous, the rehabilitation movement that has had such a striking record of success in different countries (including Ireland) in recent times. They deserve to be repeated here in full before we go on, with the help of John Doe, to consider the bearing of such remedial techniques on the spiritual life of the recidivist.
THE TWELVE STEPS OF A.A.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
And so we return to John Doe’s questions: “If a man can stop drinking by following twelve rules of conduct laid down by two drunks, why can he not stop by following the ten commandments and the moral and ascetic teaching of his faith?” A superficial answer might be: “A man will stop when he really wants to stop. He promises his confessor that he will avoid the occasion of sin, but deep down in himself he doesn’t mean it sincerely. Then one day he promises A.A. never to touch a single drink again, and this time he does mean it; so of course he stops. The result would have been the same if his promise to his confessor had been equally sincere in the first instance. But the question remains: “Granted that the fundamental sincerity and firmness of the purpose of amendment are of capital importance, how is it that A.A. can elicit such a purpose from a habitual drinker when a priest cannot?” Moreover, in many cases the fundamental sincerity is there all the time; but while it fails to secure a victory over habit under a strictly spiritual course of guidance, it achieves signal and lasting results under the guidance of A.A. This is fairly clear in the case of John Doe himself. His good will was constant and genuine for years, but he did not get the better of drink until he used techniques of rehabilitation. Is it, then, that such techniques form, as John Doe suggests, “necessary concomitants to the ordinary channels through which spiritual and supernatural aid reach the ordinary Catholic?”
DISTINGUISH ALCOHOLISM FROM DRUNKENNESS
The inquiry must begin farther back. Actually John Doe begins it with the help of a study of alcoholism made by Father John C. Ford, S.J., a well-known American moral theologian. He is glad to find Father Ford accepting, for a start, the difference between drunkenness and alcoholism. “The first important point established by Father Ford is the distinction between mere drunkenness and its morality and the morality of alcoholism. He says: alcoholism is not the same thing as drunkenness; not even the same thing as excessive drinking; not even the same thing as excessive drinking over a period of time. ‘ For, as he points out, there are people who can do all these things without becoming alcoholics. They can stop if they want to, much as a man with a long habit of smoking can give it up.”
Alcoholism is therefore an abnormal phenomenon. As Father Ford points out,” the alcoholic is not a normal individual where responsibility for his drinking is concerned. He is across the line on the abnormal side and his drinking is correctly termed pathological.”
COMPULSION – POWERLESSNESS
This does not mean at all that the alcoholic is necessarily insane. “But,” says Father Ford, “when we say alcoholism is a disease or disorder, or sickness of a mental kind, we mean that the drinking itself is to a greater or lesser degree compulsive… On this point – the compulsive character of the alcoholic’s drinking- I believe there is a great unanimity among all the psychiatrists and other specialists in the field.”
John Doe agrees absolutely. He comments; “In the course of discussing this compulsion, Father Ford makes a statement which I, as an alcoholic, would beg you, a non-alcoholic, to accept, even if you do not understand how it can be so. He writes: “There are times when an alcoholic reaches for a drink blindly and compulsively even when he has had nothing to drink for a considerable period. I was not ready to believe this at first. But after listening to hundreds of alcoholics tell their stories, and after questioning many of them on that very point, I am convinced that not only after having had some drinks but even after a considerable period of sobriety the alcoholic reaches out compulsively and blindly for the first drink.” That statement is stark truth….
In other words, the alcoholic is, as the first of the twelve steps says, “powerless over alcohol.” His powerlessness is, of course, a moral, not an absolute one, but it is terribly real for all that. He is not a sinner in the ordinary sense, that is, a man who “cannot because he will not.” “The unfortunate fact of experience,’ says John Doe, “is that the man doesn’t, and he doesn’t because he can’t. That is neither theory nor excuse. It is a cold fact of experience to which I and thousands like me can attest.”
SIN AND NEUROSIS
Not that the element of freedom and therefore of sin is absent from alcoholism. It is present, but in a complex and obscure way. There is a mental element in alcoholism; there is probably a physical element in it in many cases; but a third element, the spiritual one, must also be considered. Father Ford writes; “Psychiatrists who do not believe in sin will class all these persons as neurotics. Religious -minded people who know nothing of neurosis will class all these people as sinners. But I see no inherent difficulty in admitting that the same person can be both a neurotic and a sinner. In the case of the alcoholic, he can be both a compulsive drinker and a sinner, his misconduct being at times the product of his compulsion and at other times of his willfulness.”
John Doe comments; “The alcoholic will agree to that. In fact, he will be glad about it as a just and clarifying judgment.”
Now we come to what this sincere and enlightening writer regards as the crucial point in the cure of alcoholics. The alcoholic must accept his status, before God and man, as an alcoholic. He must realize the difference between his position and that of the simple drunkard who does not suffer the compulsive factor in drinking. “From my own experience, and the experience and knowledge of others, I know that acceptance of this distinction and an attitude based on such acceptance form the all-important first step that must be taken both by the victim of alcoholism and by anyone who would aid in his rehabilitation. It is a hard step for both parties to take. The first is extremely unwilling to admit that he is not as other men- that he is an alcoholic. The second, if he is a non-alcoholic, cannot for the life of him see why the other cannot pull himself together and put an end to this bad habit.” A.A.’s are fully aware of the necessity of building everything on this initial acceptance of the true nature of alcoholism; hence their success. But confessors are often ignorant of the matter (as are alcoholic penitents themselves); hence there failure to effect a cure, in spite of the excellence of the spiritual means of grace which the church places at the disposal of all us. The fact is that grace does not then get a chance of working fully and freely in the soul of the alcoholic. He lacks adequate self-knowledge.
I AM NOT ONE OF THE BOYS
This lack can have disastrous and long-term results for the sufferer. If he looks on himself as a normal fellow in every way, with nothing but a moral defect to overcome, he is in for serious trouble. After a brief recovery from a drinking bout he will again “drop in for a couple of beers with the boys,” on the supposition that if they can have a couple of drinks and go home, so can he.
John Doe again speaks from experience, “In my own experience, after having ‘dropped in for a couple of beers with the boys’ and finished up by drinking to drunkenness, not once or twice or ten or eleven times, but time after time for years, I have again gone in to have a drink with the boys and felt absolutely certain and clear in my conscience that I was just going to have that couple of drinks and go home.. ..am.. . fully aware that it is against all reason and common sense that I could possibly have felt like that. . .I am also aware that it is the common excuse of any moral coward to say, ‘I couldn’t help it.’ But neither the shame of being accused of that, nor the fear of ridicule, alters the fact that I was quite certain I was going to have only a couple of beers.
“In my case I had not yet fully admitted that I was an alcoholic. But whatever the reason, the fact stands and it demands recognition.
“So there, I think, we have the basic first step in the rehabilitation of the alcoholic; the non-alcoholic accepting authoritative opinion that there is, as distinct from common drunkenness, such a thing as a disease called alcoholism; the alcoholic accepting authoritative opinion that he is subject to that disease.
FINALITY OF ACCEPTANCE
“The fundamental reason for the success of A.A. is the absolute finality with which the first step is taken by both sides. For both ‘doctor’ and ‘patient’ are alcoholics who have made the admission that ‘I am powerless over alcohol.’ There is not lack of understanding on the one side, no feeling of being unjustly despised on the other.”
This acceptance prevents another misfortune which lies in wait for the compulsive drinker who continues to think of himself as a quite normal man; the “ever-descending spiral of his despair,” as John Doe calls it. Once he knows himself as he really is and knows that his deliverance must come from God, he will stop reckoning his failures in terms of what is “normal” (as the word is commonly understood). He will not worry because he cannot drink at all without drinking madly, whereas “the boys” can take a drink and leave it at that. He will simply stop thinking of himself as one of “the boys,” will leave them to go their way while he goes his, and so will escape the tendency to take chances on the one hand or to grow despondent over repeated failures on the other.
Applying the conclusions of his own experience to the relationship of priest and penitent in the Church’s sacramental life, John Doe maintains that both priest and penitent must be quite clear about “the distinction between mere drunkenness and alcoholism as a disease. Berating an alcoholic for being a no-good drunk, or whining at him for ‘doing this to me and the children,’ does nothing but drive him back to drink. The alcoholic may or may not be a reprobate. He is certainly a sick man.
So much for the starting point. But what about the process of rehabilitation itself? Here again, says John Doe, A.A. with their twelve steps have something solid to offer which is, unfortunately, not often proposed to the penitent in confession. As he expresses it himself; “The second reason I give for the success of A.A. is a rather shocking one. I offer it in humility and with all due respect. A.A. insists more vigorously on the practice of those principles of Christian ascetics and the spiritual life than do priests of the Church of Christ.”
Such is an experienced Catholic’s judgment on the twelve steps – and he has been through the alcoholic mill himself. They “bring about conversion of life,” he insists, “where sacramental confession has failed. Now, the Grace of God never fails. So there must have been something blocking the channel. That failure can only be man’s failure to co-operate with the grace. The failure, in turn, must essentially lie in the understanding or in the will of the penitent. Granting that the penitent alcoholic really wants to stop, and allowing for the weakness of will born of habitual indulgence, we must put a large part of the blame on the penitent’s understanding. He does not understand the nature of his soul-sickness and he does not understand the absolute necessity of specific remedial action.
“This is where the priest should come in as a physician of souls. And this is where the priest so often fails. He fails to enlighten the penitent’s understanding. He fails to prescribe a regime for the strengthening of his will. A.A. does both. It not only tells the man what is wrong with him but it adds, “Here’s what you have to do if you want to get better.”
COMPLETE NEW WAY OF LIFE
Moreover, John Doe points out, A.A. aims at building up a new way of life for the alcoholic on a positive, over-all basis. Alcohol is mentioned only once, in the first step. A recognition, humble and unflinching, of its deadly power over the victim is made a point of departure for a completely new way of life where alcohol loses its power because another Power takes over. But the humble acceptance of the victim’s personal frailty is always maintained. “I am still an alcoholic,” says John Doe, “and a moment of carelessness or overconfidence could start me back on the old cycle within an hour of writing these words.”
CO-OPERATION WITH A.A.
At the end of his article he quotes Father Ford to the effect that “cooperation with A.A. is essential to the successful pastoral care of alcoholics.” He seems to think, for his own part, that such cooperation is very desirable but will not ordinarily be essential, provided that the priest as physician of souls is able to appreciate and apply in practice the principles of rehabilitation so well understood by A.A.
DEGREE OF RESPONSIBILITY
As to the precise degree of responsibility which the confessor should attach to an alcoholic’s acts of drunkenness, John Doe agrees with Father Ford’s opinion: “His responsibility for his drinking is generally diminished to a considerable extent, and sometimes eliminated, but each alcoholic, each drinking episode, and even each act of drinking must be judged separately. . .and in the final analysis the judgment must be left to a merciful God.”
COMPULSIVE PROBLEMS IN GENERAL
Apart from the light which this article throws on the problem of compulsive drinking from a layman’s experience, “on the outside of the confessional grill,” as he says himself, it helps also, I think, to clarify a number of points relating to “compulsive” acts as a class. The compulsive factors is one that arises in connection with many other types of sinful or spiritually disturbing acts besides drinking to excess. Indeed a certain degree of compulsiveness asserts itself in some acts of most people who are, by all standards, quite normally constituted. A familiar example of this, in the religious sphere, is compulsive distraction at prayer. It is one thing to be distracted in a casual or accidental way, say by stray thoughts running through the mind from time to time; it is quite another matter to be internally driven to distraction, as if by a mechanical force, under pressure from some preoccupying thought, pleasant or painful, which sticks inextricably in one’s mind like a piece of barbed wire. Yet there are few, even among the most recollected people, who do not have that distressing experience from time to time. Similarly one can suffer from compulsive impatience talkativeness (or taciturnity), laziness, insubordination, and so on.
FRONTAL ATTACK USELESS
Ascetical writers have much to say of these spiritual “trials,” and it is a noteworthy fact that the Church’s ascetical tradition deals with them in substantially the same way as A.A. deals with alcoholism. Thus we are recommended not to try to combat persistent (i.e., compulsive) distractions at prayer by a frontal attack or obstinate self-assertive efforts at recollection. That will get us nowhere, since our efforts, however dogged and well-intentioned, will be vitiated from within by the deep-seated inner “cleavage” of attention from which we are suffering and over which we have, at least for the moment, no direct control. One might as well try to eliminate an infection from one’s lungs by violent coughing. The only thing for a man with lung trouble to do is acknowledge that he cannot cure himself and to put himself unreservedly in the hands of the doctors. In the same way, when we are the victims of compulsive distraction, impatience and the like, or of compulsive temptation in thought against the Christian virtues (say against faith or chastity), we always get the same advice from the saints: “Do not try to get rid of these things directly. Rather take advantage of them to confess your powerlessness before God; surrender your-self into His keeping, with all readiness to accept whatever sacrifices He may ask of you, whatever duties He may lay on you; commit yourself entirely to the care of your loving and merciful Father in heaven -and all will be well.” The analogy between such counsels and the first three of the twelve steps (from which the other nine logically derive) is obvious.
These considerations suggest the possibility of broadening our approach to the whole body of moral and spiritual deadlocks that involve, and are created by, the compulsive factor in human conduct. The priest as physician of souls encounters this factor repeatedly, not only in the sphere of alcoholism but also in such serious moral entanglements as scrupulosity on the one hand and autoeroticism on the other. In such cases the victim is powerless over his troubles in just the same sense as the alcoholic is powerless over alcohol. Here too, the confessor may fail to help the sufferer as much as he might, if he persists in treating him as though his psychological make-up were, here and now, fully normal -telling him not to be a fool, to pull himself together, to behave just like everybody else, and so on. This may be a quite effective way of dealing with a mild case of compulsive aberration – that is, where the element of compulsiveness is slight or momentary (it is momentary, for example, in most cases of individual or mass panic) but it does not work with serious and permanent cases. The program of rehabilitation from alcoholism outlined by John Doe would seem to offer a better nucleus of general principles capable of being applied, with the necessary adaptations, to similar situations in other fields.
SURRENDER TO GOD’S PROVIDENCE
In the last sentence of his article this writer says that when the Catholic alcoholic makes use of the right remedial techniques “with the blessing and understanding of his Church” his alcoholism “is transformed from a soul eating monster to a felix culpa which turns him towards the practice of Christian perfection.” Here, surely, in the recognition of an overruling Providence behind all human weaknesses and sins we have a basic outlook of incomparable value for the proper handling of compulsive difficulties as a class. If God allows evil, it is only in order that He may draw greater good from itf that is as true of psychological snags and cleavages as of physical sickness, poverty, war, and all the other misfortunes of human existence. Man’s extremity is, in fact, God’s supreme opportunity. Driven back on his ultimate defenses, man finds himself alone with God and sees that there is only one way out; Humility of heart, unconditional surrender to God, absolute self-abandonment into His hands, obedience to His will. To take that way out of one’s troubles is to set one’s feet, as John Doe says, on a road leading “towards the practice of Christian perfection.” The fault is indeed happy which has so happy an ending.
Confidence in God’s loving providence, then, both priest and penitent need not fear to recognize a compulsive trouble for what it is – not a straightforward case of mere “nonsense” or “sin” or “lack of purpose of amendment,” but of “soul sickness,” as John Doe terms it. (we may take that term as covering both the mental and the spiritual elements in compulsive acts, leaving room also, of course, for the possibility of contributory physical factors). Thus the penitent is asked to begin by accepting his personal powerlessness over something which he would very much like to overcome – and may be, in fact, trying hard to overcome – by self-reliant exertions of one kind or other.
PREPARING THE GROUND FOR GRACE
The breakdown of these exertions then becomes intelligible to him. He has no alternative except, in a human sense, to despair of himself (“I am powerless over alcohol”), since all his self-assertive efforts are sabotaged from the start by a profound inner snag which he bears willy-nilly within himself. This is, inevitably, an extremely disconcerting realization – but also a liberating one. The victim gives up trying to discover and apply rules of rehabilitation based on the supposition that he has only to want to be normal. He knows now that normality is not for him; he is powerless, except for his power to turn to God.
The second and third steps can now be taken (“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”). The grace of the sacraments and of prayer can then function in a properly prepared environment of subjective life, and the time may come when, for example, the apparently incurable autoerotic may be able to say, in words that echo those of Integrity’s thought-provoking contributor: “I have not been cured of autoeroticism. I am still an autoerotic and a moment of carelessness or overconfidence could start me back on the old cycle within an hour of writing these words. But I am not sinning. I am doing my best to fulfill my duty to myself, to my fellow man and to God. I am, within the limitations of human nature and my own temperament, at peace….”
Integrity deserves the thanks of theologians and the pastoral clergy alike for publishing “Science, Religion, and Alcoholism.” Based as it is on a fact finding course pursued in the unique academic institution, the “university of hard knocks,” it is a valuable contribution towards the progress of our knowledge in our obscure but important department of human conduct.
Q.: That was an excellent paper. Doesn’t it touch the question of the old problem, namely, recognition by the alcoholic of his own state? What I ask is this: Is that a perfectly natural act or does it in turn imply some kind of a special, actual grace? A.A. offers a fine opportunity for this self-recognition as an alcoholic. Does it bring into play a special, actual grace for the occasion? If so, then, I can still see that it is quite properly handled in the confessional. But, if not, isn’t it true that the confessor would have an obligation to outline this to the penitent, and have him promise that he is taking steps accordingly? That in turn would lead the priest to taking the case out of the confessional, and to suggesting that he go to A.A., in obedience to what the confessor knows would be the prosecution of a perfectly natural act, rather than surrounding it with the supernatural aura which in turn might delay the recognition.
Fr. Pfau: I think we have all had that experience in the confessional. Especially those of us in A.A. The procedure is to ask the man if it is all right to talk about this outside the confessional. Now, most priests I have talked to who are members of A.A. approach the man in some way similar to this: “If you are honest, and sincere in wanting to do something about your problem, you will naturally be willing to give a hearing to men who, as we know by their results, have the answers for your problem. Would you be willing to speak to a member or two members of A.A.” Then, usually, if the man is sincere, he goes to A.A. In a few weeks or so he comes back to you ready for all the spiritual advice that you want to give him. The penitent’s mind is pretty confused in the confessional. The emphasis there is on moral degeneracy that he is trying to fight against in himself. The main thing is to help him recognize it for what it really is, and that he is not a moral degenerate. I think that is the main reason, and it is psychological more than anything else.
Father A.: With regard to the confessional, I am experienced as both confessor and alcoholic, and I would defy any of the confessors to know I am an alcoholic. They may have learned it from someone else, but I didn’t confess it myself. I did confess I had had too much to drink. I think our sphere of activity here’ is more often in the field of pastoral theology or pastoral care than directly in the confessional. You may be aware from someone coming in, a wife or friend, or from your own observation, that a man very definitely has this problem of alcoholism. My way of handling it is this: If someone comes in and tells me that a brother or husband is an alcoholic, I don’t say, “Bring him in.” But when I am taking census in that area I find’ it easy to get on the topic of alcoholism. I try to convey to the man first of all that alcoholism is a disease, and to get him to accept that knowledge. Now, the acceptance of that knowledge on his part, as having personal application, definitely requires an actual grace because of pride. Another thing in regard to the confessional, Father Ford points out that we must distinguish between the drunkard and the alcoholic; but it works the other way around, too. Not everyone who confesses his sins of drunkenness is an alcoholic; so to advise everyone who comes and confesses drunkenness to go to A.A. is as incorrect as to advise no one to go to A.A. Your knowledge of the particular case will be more complete in the things you know from outside of the confessional, than by what your penitent actually says. I think the most important thing that the pastor can do, especially the non-alcoholic pastor, is first of all to inform himself on the nature of alcoholism. Then, when he sees the symptoms of alcoholism present in one of his parishioners he tries to convey his knowledge of alcoholism as a disease to that person. Then he can try to guide him to those who have personal knowledge of the disease, within A.A. After you do that, continue to give encouragement, but let go of the ball! Don’t try to do it yourself. Give him the knowledge of the fact that alcoholism is a disease; then “let go and let God” step in. That’s a phrase you often hear in A.A. I think that’s the best help a pastor can give. First of all, knowledge, then guidance to where he can get the therapy of A.A., and then constant encouragement. Of course, too, I think that we should bear in mind that an alcoholic priest in confession can more quickly recognize the problem of alcoholism than the non-alcoholic priest. There is something there we can sense while the non-alcoholic priest might be debating in his mind whether this man is or isn’t an alcoholic. On the average, the ordinary excessive drinker does not minimize his drinking, whereas the alcoholic will always minimize it. If he says, “I only had one beer,” you suspect him; if he says, “I had two beers,” you know he is an alcoholic. The excessive drinker is not particularly ashamed of it. The alcoholic is ashamed of it.
Father B.: I think there is one point that Father brought up that is important. He asked the question whether or not the recognition by the alcoholic of the fact that he is an alcoholic and the admission and acceptance of it was a natural act. I’d like to say this: It is hard for a person who is not an alcoholic to understand how an alcoholic can be so blind to his condition. An alcoholic is suffering terribly from alcohol. Everybody else is aware of the fact that he is alcoholic and that he should never drink, but the alcoholic himself is the last one to become aware of what alcohol is doing to him. I don’t think it is a natural act for an alcoholic to be able to see and accept the fact that he is an alcoholic. He is blind to that, and somebody has to help him, and I think that is the work of A.A. The phenomenal success of A.A. is attributed by A.A. to the grace of God which works through this fellowship of A.A. It is the act of charity performed by the members of A.A. in trying to help other alcoholics that brings the grace to the alcoholic to enable him to see that he is a person who never should drink. The members of A.A. become the instruments of God’s grace to alcoholics to enable them to open their eyes and become aware of the fact that they are suffering from the sickness of alcoholism.
Father C.: I think the incidence of members of A.A. who did not realize that they were alcoholics is large. We have to keep that in mind. There are a lot of fellows who go along with the program a long time before they admit that they are alcoholic. In my own experience, for a year and a half I had no recognition of the program. I was told I was alcoholic. I couldn’t drink. It was a year and a half before I suddenly had the realization. That is the reason we should never push it. The most important thing in the initial period of sobriety, going back to the sacraments and all the other things will follow. Undoubtedly it is an actual grace, but we can’t prognosticate that either.
Father D.: Would you say this blindness is part of the clinical picture or part of the ascetical problem of alcoholism as a vice or as a disease?
Father E.: I would say it is fundamentally in the mind. It is the obsession of mind that an alcoholic has that he has to drink. Over the years, his drinking has built up that way of thinking about drinking, that obsession of mind that is necessary to living for him to drink. He can’t live without a drink.
Father D.: Would it be more clinical than ascetical?
Father E.: It is a combination of both. The contact with God grows dimmer and more and more you fall into alcoholism.
Father Pfau: I think that we should keep in mind that the neglect of the spiritual came first in some cases, and in many cases the alcohol came first and then neglect of the spiritual.