Suffering with Addiction

04-21-2024Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In 2012, I was blessed to be able to make a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. Although the road was most likely a trade route, the pilgrimage route suddenly became very popular among pilgrims in the Middle Ages. This popularity had everything to do with Saint James, an apostle who brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to Spain and whose body is buried in Santiago.

I was not sure what to expect on my pilgrimage, so I asked Our Lord to show ways I could better serve Him as a priest. Our Lord’s response didn’t take long. I felt called by Our Lord to join the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart. As a member, I devote part of my priesthood to the promotion of sobriety and temperance through faith and daily prayers for those suffering with addiction, self-denial leading to inner freedom by abstaining from alcohol for life; setting a beneficial example to others; presenting alternatives to the drinking scene, particularly to young people; advocating the ideals and values of temperance and sobriety in society.

Since becoming a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, Our Lord has enabled me to meet many wonderful people seeking sobriety, wholeness, and holiness. As I walk with those struggling with addictions of various sorts, I have learned that there is a genetic component to addiction and addictions come in all shapes and sizes. Personally, I have had to take a hard look at my tendencies to “self-medicate” and find convenient escapes. I don't consider my self-restraint to be virtuous as much as it is self-aware. I know I have an addictive personality: I could down tray of brownies in a matter of minutes on a hard day!

Sadly, I have witnessed friend’s lives deteriorate, families destroyed, and marriages suffer all because of the inability to escape the clutches of addiction. Most addicts I know are good people who struggle to cope with the complexities of life and make terrible decisions as a result. Many people start using alcohol, drugs, and pornography in the context of an altered value system where good is considered bad and bad is depicted as good. That is one of the tricks of the devil – to disguise evil as good and good as evil. This common confusion happens to teenagers, college students, young adults, and those who are dealing with stress, moral failures, health problems, or a tragedy of some sort that leads them to self-medicate. I also know that the stakes continue to grow higher due to the lethal nature of recreational drugs today. It is heartbreaking to see so many people suffering and without hope.

When a young person becomes an addict, they often fall victim to an illusion of invulnerability. They fall into the lie that they can dabble in drugs, alcohol, or a variety of other addictive behaviors and it will never catch up with them. They believe the lie that all will be well, and the answer is just around the next corner. Of course, that is a lie. All addictions eventually catch up with people, often ruining their lives and the lives of those around them.

When I minister to addicted people, following the advice of those in long term recovery, I stay in my own lane as they say. That is, I have no power to fix an addiction. It is the addict's task to get clean. I can only play a supportive role to the addict and his/her family. Research suggests that 12 step programs are an important step toward sobriety. I highly recommend the book, “The Catholic in Recovery Workbook” which serves as a guide to living the Twelve Steps as a Catholic. Of course, this book and all Twelve Step programs must be accompanied by clean, healthy living—prayer, exercise, service to others, and sacrifice. As it is not my role to “fix” an addict, I pray, listen, encourage 12 step meetings, regularly check in with addicts and remind them of God’s love and their human dignity. I discuss triggers that lead to relapse—most people can do these things incidentally.

I sometimes help addicts find counselors and inpatient programs with the help of sobriety coaches that vet programs to make sure the person in recovery has a fighting chance. I have participated in stressful interventions where I was grateful for the support of a professional interventionist. As I can’t fix an addict, I avoid phrases like, “You need to do this.” And I’ve learned that shaming an addict is counterproductive. Who would choose the life of an addict? I have seen the stress of shaming and it increases the chances of relapse.

I try to support families who find themselves living in a nightmare that they didn’t want, nor did they feel they would ever be in. It is a lonely place to be. Families are critical to the sobriety of an addict, but not in the ways that you might expect. Addiction is a family disease—good families like my family and yours. I have heard the addicted person described as a puzzle piece who, in their sickness, has made all the people around them trained puzzle pieces that fit nicely, allowing an addict to continue to use. It takes time, effort, humility, education, and support to change a puzzle piece—that is the addict and his/ her family and friends.

I believe that it is not possible for you to “manage” another person’s sobriety. If you have a struggling family member, attend an Al-anon meeting, get a copy of “The Catholic in Recovery Workbook”. Most importantly, spend time in Adoration of Our Eucharistic King and Divine Physician and find the healing you long for now.

I write this column promising prayer for families experiencing addiction and encourage them to bring these problems into the light. And of course, my door is open to you.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next. Amen.

God Bless,

Fr. Don Kline, V.F.