It Still Outranks Them All Part 1: Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency

By Fr. Bogdan Djurdjulov

Alcoholism may begin in numerous ways and develop as part of a persons total life system and style. Alcoholism erodes an individual’s ability to function, physically, emotionally, and spirituality. Alcoholism is not only a major medical problem, it is also a spiritual one. However we may view alcoholism, we in good conscience cannot pass by on the other side as did the Levite but must, like the Good Samaritan, be ready to help heal the wounds of anyone who is suffering. Spirituality has to do with meaning and purpose and integrates all other aspects of life. To understand spirituality more clearly, a look at the word itself is necessary. It comes from the word “spirit” which means “breath of life.” In the Hebrew and Greek, the wont holds two meanings and stand for both “wind” and “spirit.” This is more than an appropriate description for the breath of God. When God made man He breathed into him and made him a living soul (Gen. 2:7). We were then invited to share the “spirit,” to have it within ourselves.

Each of us has this spirit within us, this very power of life. Each of us has the capacity (sometimes more and sometimes less), ability, and even a responsibility to project sour of our own life and energy into others. Each of us is gifted with the power to literally “inspire” or “breathe into” others. Spirituality has to do with becoming a person in the fullest sense of the word, a journey very much a part of any person’s spirituality quest. St. Irenaeus said that the “glory of God is a man who is fully alive.” For the active alcoholic, being fully alive is in too many cages a distant dream. Such a person’s inner resources and sense of well-being have degenerated to a dangerously low level.

Spiritually Bankrupt?

Some in the field of alcoholism describe alcoholics as being “spiritually bankrupt.” I don’t see it so much as a bankruptcy, as a temporary inability to “see’ a way out by one’s self. Spirituality has to do with “seeing.” Alcoholism, by its very nature blinds a person from seeing reality. It’s a disease of denial. The alcoholic is taken over by fear, self-pity, guilt, shame, depression, and other destructive and self-defeating behavior. The fact that an alcoholic has become dependent on a mood- and mind-altering drug like alcohol leaves little room for trust, faith, and reliance on God and other people. The “bankruptcy exists in the mind of the alcoholic, All around are people who are trying to help alcoholics see what they can’t see on their own. Hope, in my opinion, is one of the last things to go before people abandon ship. The Scriptures catty the theme that where there is no vision the people perish. Where there is no vision there is also no hope. We have to look beyond ourselves. Alone, we are limited.

Spirituality has to do with relationships. Each of us has many relationships. I would like to draw your attention to four broad areas.

1. A relationship with myself (self), me with me.

2. A relationship with others, me with others.

3. A relationship with nature (environment), the world I live in.

4. A relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the most important one.

We live in a spiritual system of sorts; each relationship affects the other. A person achieves spiritual growth and wholeness through relationship; each relationship affecting another. Growth and action in one area will very likely assimilate growth in another area. Likewise inactivity or apathy in one will probably constrict growth in others. Nothing we do is done in isolation. It discs have an effect on other areas of our lives whether we know it or not.

In the alcoholic’s world, relationships are at best ‘dysfunctional.’ Alcoholics are persons with sizable life problems. Their lives are unpredictable and unstable. Active alcoholics are not clearly aware of what they air doing and how it affects others. There is a general tendency towards self-deception, and often this disease has been called a disease of ‘delusion.” At one time professionals said that alcoholics were ‘sincerely deluded” - that they really believed that what they were doing was all right and everything was under control. Others, however, could see the real picture of the chronic and destructive nature of the disease of alcoholism. Whenever alcoholics drink, they have given up the freedom of choice.

Blocks to Spiritual Growth.

Spirituality sits at the heart around which all other aspects of our lives center. All other values revolve around a spiritual manner of living. Spirituality transcends the physical and material world.

Alcoholism encircles and controls an individual and often leads to a lifestyle of self-centeredness. A false pride sets in that prevents a recognition of the fact that they are powerless over alcohol, that their life is dominated by alcohol. A ‘non-spiritual” lifestyle develops, one that is characterized by a movement away front what is moral and ethical. It robs a person’s ability and the capacity for values and beliefs. Because the alcoholic is not able to control what is going on around him or her, fear, worry, and anxiety set in; and hope slowly but surely dwindles...

Healthful and productive ways of thinking are replaced by fear, anger, resentment, dishonest thinking, shame, and guilt Self-worth is greatly replaced by suspicion and fear. The belief that there is meaning and purpose to life becomes a mast daydream.

A corollary seems to exist that the more a person ía feeling shameful and guilty, the more difficulty it is to approach God because of what has happened. Shame has to do with what kind of person the alcoholic has become. Shame is a difficult area to deal with because of its deep moss. Reconciliation is much needed.

Spiritual Growth.

‘Spiritual growth is the key to human growth,’ says Dr. Howard Clinebell, a nosed professor of pastoral psychology and counseling, This is not a new concept, but it needs to be said again and again. John Macquarne, a nosed theologian, says that “the whole creation is the domain of the spirit.” Our Christian spirituality would be virtually empty without Jesus Christ at the bead. It would be like a sail fluffing haphazardly in the wind as if it west lost and looking for some direction.

The alcoholic, for whatever reason, has become powerless over alcohol, yes tries ever so hard to keep it under control, not wanting to admit that he or she is truly powerless over its grip. The Alcoholic’s Anonymous Program, which began in the l930s, understood that first there must be an admission of powerlessness over the drug, This is Step One and the second step is that a “power greaser than ourselves could restore us so sanity’ (see Appendix for the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA). It was very clear to the early founders of AA that there was a way that worked, and it meant having a power greater than ourselves. The philosophy of Alcoholic’s Anonymous and the 12 Suggested Steps of AA are deeply spiritual and have helped thousands upon thousands into a recovery program. The 12 Steps arc equally important so family members and other concerned persons. The spiritual dimension is as important to them as it is to the alcoholic. They, too, arc in need of healing,

While the 12-Step Program is not a religious program, it is a program that draws from Judeo-­Christian teaching. Individuals are left to choose and decide who their God is. Often people involved in the 12-Step Program refer to God or a greater power as their Higher Power or H.P. It is meant with the deepest of respect.

The Twelve Steps and Relationships

Integration of the 12 Steps is a “process.” It is “both/and’ rather than “either/or.’ Each aspect of the 12 Steps overlaps other steps. Each day is a new learning, and the familiar jargon in AA circles clearly identifies that is “One day at a time.” Slogans like, “Easy does it,’ “Let go, Let God,’ “rum it over,’ ‘Keep it simple” and others point so a positive philosophy of living. It is a philosophy that involves others. It is nix something to be done alone. Listed below are what steps relate to which relational aspects.

Steps related to God. 2,3,5,6,7,11 (Notice 6 of the 12 Steps use the word God.)

Steps related to others: 5,8,9,12

Steps related to self: 1,4,5,10

All of the 12 steps are either directly or indirectly related to the world we live in, our environment, the community we live in.

The need for a moral inventory as found in Step 4 and the expressed need of Step 5 “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs,” are

Spirituality is Unlimited

One of the things that profoundly influenced me and caused me to learn more about what it meant to be spiritual was my early involvement in the 12-Step Program. As a professional, I have been in the alcoholism field for 15 years. Alcoholism, like other serious illnesses, confronts us with looking at our total existence. Those caught in its grips ask a lot of questions. ‘Why’ is probably the most often asked? It asks us to look at ourselves, and it tests the limits of our faith. One of the things that is clear to me in the “recovering community’ is that the nature of spirituality it seen as unlimited in its scope and breadth. Perhaps it is not stated in those terms, but it is clearly evident Spirituality is at the same time very clear and yet very obscure, it is always present. Sometimes it is takes for granted; yet without it, we are left with a hollow. Spirituality is a paradox. The AA Program echoes some similarities, (See in the appendix an excerpt from the chapter in the Alcoholic’s Anonymous, Big Book, Second Edition, “The Professor and the Paradox.”)


The magnitude that one’s spiritual life plays in the recovery from alcoholism is hard to measure. Yet without it, recovery is often no more than just putting the cork in the bottle with little lasting effect. There it no cure for alcoholism, but the disease is treatable. These is hope A “spiritual awakening” as suggested in the 12th step of Alcoholics Anonymous takes time.

The most hopeful message that can be given is that our Lord is continually present whether you are the alcoholic or a person concerned about him or her. Restructuring lives is not an easy job, but can stars as easily as it did in the beginning of A.A. with one alcoholic sitting with another alcoholic over a cup of coffee and talking.

Accepting alcoholism as a disease may not be that easy. Accepting another human being with a serious problem who needs help may be less difficult, We are asked to love others as we love ourselves and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are asked to love God, The Bible explains it very simply and clearly.

Suggestions for the Priest and Parish Community.

I) Start a study group on alcoholism and other drugs. Explore what it means to have a disease. Read and discuss books on the subject Rent a film from your local Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and discuss your impressions,

2) Visit your nearest Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. If these is not one in your area, contact the National Council on Alcoholism at 12 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10010 or call (212) 260-6770.

3) Volunteer to help your local Council on Alcoholism. They are always in need of help.

See #2 for further information.

4) Attend a number of “open” Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Any interested person is welcome to attend the open meetings.

5) Attend an Alanon meeting. Alanon is a self-help group that serves families and friends of the alcoholic. Insights are shared freely.

6) Attend an Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting. This group serves people who have grown up in an alcoholic or drug-dependent family or system.

7) Many AA and Alanon groups meeting churches. Consider opening your doors so these groups. Contact AA World Services at (212)686-1100 or Alanon Family Group Headquarters at (212) 683-1771 for information.

8) Sponsor a workshop on alcoholism. The Department of Lay Ministries has a Task Force on Alcoholism and other Drug Dependence. Contact them for a group leader or suggestions.

9) Discuss how the 4th and 5th Steps of AA and Alanon are similar to our own sacrament of reconciliation. Seven of the twelve steps of AA are devoted to a restoration of the alcoholic’s ethical and moral life.

10) Give moral support and encouragement to programs addressing alcoholism and other drug

Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries