Wednesday, August 21, 2013



My heart bleeds for the children, spouses and friends of alcoholics who are fascinated and compelled by the subject of alcohol, who want so badly to understand and forgive, and yet at bottom can't help seeing addiction as a "vice,"  a fundamentally moral issue.

You probably have to have experienced addiction yourself to know that once a person is in its grip, he or she no longer has free will. The addict is no longer able to choose NOT to drink, drug, gamble, binge and purge, smoke. That's what "normal" people simply can't grasp...

To say you didn't ask for the compulsion doesn't derogate the fact that you're still responsible for everything you do under its influence. I just watched an old video of Stone Phillips interviewing Jeffery Dahmer. In prison, Dahmer came to believe that Christ was his "Lord and Savior," and that he would be accountable to him.

He took full responsibility for his actions, refusing to blame them on his parents or anyone else.

He also talked about how after the first time he killed, and especially the second, he was in the grip of a compulsion. He couldn't have stopped if he wanted to.

When I try to imagine the craving to drink, which ruled my life for twenty years, as a craving to dominate, control, even kill...I can in a sense understand or at least sympathize with it.

Also, when asked about the cannibalism, Dahmer said, "I thought if I ate [his victims], they'd somehow become part of me...permanently"...Which is exactly the exchange that takes place in the Eucharist...

At the heart of the darkest evil--when passion has passed way, way over to pathology--still Christ resides, reigns, calls...

Like Thérèse, we can pray for the Jeffrey Dahmers and Ed Geins of the world. We can realize that what they had in them, we have the seeds of in us, too.


  1. If a compulsion or addiction can be overcome with great effort, doesn't that mean that the existence of free will has not, in fact, been negated?

  2. No, no, that's just the point: an addiction CAN'T be overcome by any amount of effort. If it could, people would "overcome" it before they lost their health, money, reputations, family, and soul, then died...

    Addicts of all stripes tend to have incredible willpower--around everything but their addiction. I can't tell you the number of times I made vows, resolutions, swore I would never again drink before five, drink hard liquor, drink before going to work, drink period--and within hours I'd be drinking again. Meanwhile I was able, in spite of hangovers that would have felled a stevedore and existential despair that would have driven a "normal" person to suicide, to graduate from law school with honors and pass the Massachusetts bar.

    So what comes in I can only describe as grace. No-one is more mystified than the alcoholic him- or herself as to how, why, and the exact moment, if there was one, when the mental obsession and physical craving to drink was lifted. THAT'S when free will is restored--though even then, the free will is not to much to refrain from taking another drink as to keep yourself in fit spiritual condition so that when and if the urge to drink comes, you can call upon a Higher Power...I know people in AA who have quietly, invisibly, anonymously gone to four or five meetings a week for decades, willing to go to any lengths to help another alcoholic. There is never a sense of Ha ha, I have OVERCOME my addiction. The sense is of mystery and abject gratitude--"I can't believe I've been given a second chance. I have no idea why I got to get sober and so many others who are better than me in every way have died in the gutter"...So you don't overcome, you surrender...

    Psychologist Gerald May wrote a wonderful book about this mystery, Addiction and Grace. Maybe I'll post on that soon...

  3. Great post! I just returned from California (SLO area) after driving with my beautiful niece to N.O., Tulane Univ. for her senior year. Her father, my brother, is an alcoholic, sober 6 years this month and oh, how many lives have changed because of his sobriety! I remembering him making an off-handed comment one time like "Best thing I ever did was stop drinking", but if he talks seriously about it, three meetings a week and a clear head, lots of sleep and a good life keep him sober. Each day is a gift and I can remember a time when each day was a nightmare for everyone else. I am convinced it was for him as well, he just didn't know how to process it all. I struggle daily with my own husband, and I was really impressed with your comment about how addicts can do everything else perfectly but stop drinking. My honey is just so very "good" at it all, but the alcohol is called everything but an addition, i.e., relaxing, helps him sleep, lets him have more fun, yada yada, you know of what I speak!! So, with all that said, thank you for your ever ongoing sense of hope, Heather. It always does give me hope.

    California is beautiful right now and as we drove through parts of LA on our way out I saw the Mexican Bird of Paradise growing wide everywhere. Here in Texas we call them Pride of Barbados and they are stunningly beautiful! I am so happy you had a good retreat. Been prayin' for you, girl!! Keep up the good work. You're on to something big!!!!

  4. You write: "The sense is of mystery and abject gratitude--"I can't believe I've been given a second chance. I have no idea why I got to get sober and so many others who are better than me in every way have died in the gutter"...So you don't overcome, you surrender..."

    Which is, in every way except sober, EXACTLY what I think every morning I wake up as a convert.

  5. Having gone 27 years without a cigarette, I believe I am every bit as much an addict in that respect as the day I quit... just give me a pack of cigarettes and I'll re-activate that addiction in a flash, compared to one who smokes a pack and has never been "addicted." I had to prove that to myself a number of times before I finally accepted it. My addicted brain doesn't seem to forget, in spite of the grace I was given to quit smoking. And even after 27 years... about once a year I see someone with a smoke and a cuppa coffee and I feel this little tug and think, "oh, but doesn't that look good."

  6. "Of course to say you didn't ask for the compulsion doesn't derogate the fact that you're still responsible" - and yet there can't really be responsibility if free will is abrogated. And you likely don't know you're an addict until you're already addicted.

  7. No, you don't know, or won't/can't admit that you're addicted. The addict, in fact, is often the LAST to know...But taking responsibility, once you're sober, seems to be the genius vehicle for removing guilt, shame, for giving thanks, for moving from victimhood to maturity. You've suffered terribly, but coming truly awake requires seeing that you've also caused great suffering to the people around you, and acknowledging and making amends, as best you can, for it. That's the proper use of the will and in my experience, puts the everything (body, mind, soul) back into balance.

  8. I stumbled on your blog for your post on St. Benedict's Chapel and it wasn't until I read the comments that I realized you're in recovery we well. I appreciate your open dialog about addiction. My road to recovery was thru being affected by the addictions of those around me. Recovery is not only for those who are addicts, but also for those who've been affected by addiction. I had to realize that other people weren't the problem, I was. Once I changed, things got better for me. The addicts still did what they did. I was able to have several years of a great relationship with my dad before he passed away (as a result of his addiction). If I hadn't changed, just accepted him and learned how to take care of myself thru recovery, that wouldn't have happened and we probably would have still been fighting when he passed.

    After 7 years in Al-Anon, I then discovered my own addictions. I've now been in recovery for a total of 16 years and I'm still trying to surrender, trudging the road of happy destiny. I look forward to reading more of your blog.


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