Saturday, January 31, 2009

Alcoholism, Addictions, and the Good Samaritan

It will probably be very rare for me to post two days in a row, but one of the things I know about my writing is if I don't get it down while it is fresh in my mind, I will probably lose it.  I think those who compose music could probably relate.  But, I'm also a little sick, so we'll see how coherent this post turns out. 
I thought it would be worth posting a small (and in no way exhaustive) blurb about addictions, since my community had a well-known Jesuit, Tom Weston, come and speak to us about it. Specifically, alcoholic addictions, but the material we learned relates to other addictions as well.  Since any one of us are affected by addictions, whether through our own or through those of loved ones, I thought it worthwhile to share some information relayed to the community. I've written about this before for those who received my mass e-mails 2 years ago, but I especially share this for those who don't know very much about alcoholism.     

Alcoholism- An allergy of the body, obsession of the mind.  (Not drinkin', not drinkin', not drinkin').  Like any allergy, he explained that once you're an alcoholic, you're always an alcoholic in the same way that those allergic to seafood will always be allergic to seafood. Alcoholics have an abnormal reaction when alcohol gets into their system.  So many in our prison systems are alcoholics.  Unfortunately, he said there is concern about alcoholism within the military as well.   That's a scary thought.  

It is important to remember, then, that alcoholism is a physical illness, not a mental one.   

Indicators- 1) Blackouts.  You don't remember anything after the first drink.  (Edit: It was relayed to me that blackouts actually mean that at some point after the first drink, you don't remember.  Not necessarily that you don't remember anything immediately after the 1st one)
                     2) Mood changes.  Your behavior radically changes.  You cannot guarantee your behavior after that first sip of alcohol.   
                     3) Abnormal tolerance capacity at an early age which doesn't last as you get older

Those who enable alcoholics, Tom mentions, aren't any better (codependents).  Alcoholics, he said, are "killed with kindness."  They need to be confronted, but in the right way.  Females are more ready to listen if they think they will lose their family.  Not so with males.  Tom argues males are more ready to listen if their job is on the line.  It involves getting more than one person involved in the confrontation--sometimes even someone's boss.  

So, I implore anyone who needs help, whether you are the alcoholic yourself or those affected by alcoholics--get help.  It's out there. You're not the only one.  

Now, on a different note, I was struck when Tom shared a story about a bishop who had been affected by alcoholism (no doubt I cannot tell this story as well as he).  He went to a house of recovery, but really wasn't responding.  He didn't really see his alcoholism as much of a problem. Around two weeks later, a new priest comes into treatment, and it's clear that he suffers from extreme alcoholism. The bishop notes this, thinking to himself that he was not like this priest.  

One day, this new priest is celebrating Mass, and as Tom recalls, you know the liturgy will be long and painful when the priest is holding the sacramentary upside down.  The Gospel reading for that day, though, was the parable of the Good Samaritan--one of those parables that, if you grew up Christian, you hear over and over again. It's the story of the man in a ditch who is left there both by a priest and a Levite, but it is the Good Samaritan--the outsider--who shows love and compassion to the man in the ditch.  Typically, preachers exhort the congregation to be like the Good Samaritan. 

The parable took on new meaning, however, when the priest began his homily by saying: "I am the man in that ditch."  

The bishop, hearing this, is struck by the power of such a statement.  He began to realize for the first time that he had something in common with the priest--he, also, was in the ditch. To admit that was a moment of grace.  He was powerless, and he needed help.  Such an insight does not relate only to something like alcoholism.  

In a culture that is very self-sufficient, it can be hard for us to admit that we are in the ditch. Just read recent news, where two fathers in the span of a few days went on a killing spree and killed their entire family. There's no hope--many of us are ashamed to reach out to others.  I'm not an alcoholic, but I've had some "ditch" experiences in my life.  I've also experienced denial about being in the ditch. But I've also experienced Good Samaritans who genuinely cared about my well being and helped me.  

In our real moments of brokenness, God can touch us in the profoundest of ways.  That is truly how I came to believe in God's work and love in my life for the first time through the hands of others.  Still, it is nice to be reminded of that.  And, in Jesuit life, I know I can be very much ashamed sometimes to be open and honest with my superiors.  But, there's a real experience of freedom that I've experienced, a huge sigh of relief, to that vulnerability.  Only by saying, "I need help" did the road to healing occur.  

Well, I need to promise that I will not post anymore until I get some homework done.  Whole chapters of Augustine's Confessions await.  Also, look forward to the next post.  I intend to educate some of those Jesuit Brothers who have only witnessed Filipino "stick dancing" on comedy shows and have not seen the real thing.  (No, it is not something we casually do at parties!) =)

No comments: