Faith in Recovery Pt. 9: How to Connect Faith to Recovery
An Exclusive Interview with Scott Weeman of Catholic in Recovery.
“It’s really excellent finding people who are just opening the door to faith and recovery and just blowing the hinges off.”
Our experience can drive us to change and to help others that may be struggling with similar problems. WRN has written about different organizations that provide addiction recovery, both secular and faith-based. In this article, we are looking at a more personalized view of faith in recovery.
In an exclusive interview with WRN, we talked to Scott Weeman, an individual who founded Catholic in Recovery, an organization dedicated to helping individuals achieve sobriety by the incorporation of religious tenets of the Catholic Church. A noted speaker, writer, and humanitarian, his new book, The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments: A Catholic Journey Through Recovery, is due out in November.
WRN: What is Catholic in Recovery?
SW: Catholic in Recovery is a Catholic nonprofit organization that seeks to bridge the gap between 12 step recovery and the Catholic Church. So, it serves primarily two missions. The first is to introduce those who are in recovery to the Catholic Church by providing the overlap between the principles of the 12 steps and the healing traditions of the Catholic Church, the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
The second is to provide healing opportunities, where Catholics can find healing for addiction, substance abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, food-related addictions, pornography, and sex. And even a place where those who are affected by multiple addictions can find support, fellowship, and personal freedom.
WRN: How would you define what addiction is and how someone can identify if they are addicted?
SW: I think that addiction is primarily the same. It will reveal itself with different types of addiction. For example, someone with a sex addiction will be a little bit different than someone with a drug addiction. But primarily the solution will be the same, but I believe it’s an attempt to fill what theologians might say is a God-shaped hole in our hearts.
Addiction can be found when there are a couple of factors in place. First, when the behavior becomes part of a pattern and when that person cannot stop that behavior and when they cannot put it down for long periods of time. A pretty good witness test for someone is to ask them to abstain from that behavior or substance for 30 days. If that is a difficult thing or there are some physical effects, some emotional effects with the time away it’s an indication that they are addicted.“Ask them to abstain from that behavior or substance for 30 days. If that is a difficult thing…it’s an indication that they are addicted.”
WRN: What are some unique traits or some unique hardships for incorporating your faith into your recovery?
SW: In my experience faith is something that comes in conjunction with sobriety. I wasn’t a very religious man before I got sober. If I am honest my initial efforts were motivated by getting my ex-girlfriend back, who came from a very strong Catholic family.
However, what I found was a group of individuals my age with similar interests and who could provide a community and there was a little bit of difference from the 12 step recovery groups. It provided what I would call a little bit of a difference in moral standards and in regard to the things I was going to need to do. That was a really beneficial part of faith. The community is involved and there is a model what of love is. That model is through Jesus Christ and accessible through the sacrament of the Catholic Church.
There is a little bit of difficulty in a faith-based model in that it creates some false piety. There is a tendency in the church for a high moral code or standard that creates a difficulty in honesty where sharing in our weakness that can be difficult to do in a pious environment. “One obstacle to overcome in a faith-based recovery program is overcoming the tendency to be perfect and pure in the way we share ourselves.” One obstacle to overcome in a faith-based recovery program is overcoming the tendency to be perfect and pure in the way we share ourselves and experience that strength at home.
WRN: What strategies have you found to be effective in helping people open up?
SW: I think that there is an honesty with ourselves we generally have. As Catholics within the first five minutes of mass, we all profess we are sinners. That is easy to do in a general way. When we are not honest with a specific part of our particular behavior, the gap between us and God, it’s a little hard, to be honest.
That specific honesty is very important for change to take place. It’s when we have these general ideas in our head there is something wrong it is probably part of a problem, but there are always other factors in place, but I am not being specific with others and God that makes it hard to really leap into the necessary truth or work in recovery in one’s effort to be sober.
In my experience when I can set the tone for honesty if I am honest in a humble way people are willing to listen. When they hear someone else’s views it helps them be able to talk about their situation.
WRN: So, given the new research that youth are using substances less frequently, but they are using technology more, is the nature of addiction is changing with technological progress? Have you noticed any changes?
SW: Technology makes engaging our addictions easier, and more subtle. I think it creates a perception that we can get away with more under the protection of our technology and the perceived privacy it creates.
When I do see the glow of someone’s smartphone on their face as they are walking down the street and studies have also shown, the feeling we get text message that vibration in our pocket that someone is reaching out to us in some way that creates a psychological condition that stimulates us and triggers a small piece of happiness, which fills that addiction cycle, that stimulation of response. We continue to seek that stimulation even if the reward comes less and less.
In my experience too I have used my cell phone, my technology as a way to fuel my addictive behaviors. All the contacts that were on my phone if I needed drugs and if I needed to access pornographic material and I am certainly not the only one. People use it for shopping and gambling. These addictions are supported by technology.
WRN: What Catholic teaching works well with helping others and you generally think works well with faith-based treatment?
SW: The sacraments of the Catholic Church are one thing that makes the church unique in some ways and someone familiar who grew up in the Catholic Church and received Eucharist and Reconciliation as well as Confirmation has gone through with the basic principles of the 12 step program without even knowing that they received it. That baptism that we receive and we reunite every time we dip our fingers in the holy water the plunge we take the first second and third steps. We are being humble and saying “lord I am sinner and I can’t do this myself.”
That forms a vocabulary that we are pretty familiar with and when it comes to steps 4 and 5 where we take an honest moral inventory of ourselves and share it with somebody and ourselves that is very much in aligning what we do in sacrament and reconciliation for confession.
Take it a little bit further is to take a deeper look into our behavior how it has affected others and what role we have which is pretty basic 12 steps spiritual work when it comes to steps 8 and 9 which is a list of all the persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all when making those direct amends whenever possible when we have injured them or others. It is really that completion of that confession that we take. Having a contrite and repentant heart first, making progress to ratify our behavior and make amends for what we have done to those that love us.
From there maintaining a personal contact with God on a regular basis which is what we do when we receive the Eucharist on a regular basis and then when we receive the call when we have a new life to go share that message with others is what we do in 12 steps and what we do as Christians that we confirmed and asked to share the good news with the world.
So, the sacramental life of the church is really the 12 steps of recovery it’s just, the language we use is a little bit different, but it’s an easy way to show someone the progress of the steps and what the spiritual work will look like especially within the context of someone who is familiar with the traditions and teaching of the Catholic Church.“The sacramental life of the church is really the 12 steps of recovery it’s just, the language we use is a little bit different.
WRN: Given that the uniqueness that you mentioned how do you feel about inter-faith treatment programs?
SW: I certainly think that it can be done effectively and I think it’s necessary. When we stay within the silos of our own religion we are really giving ourselves a disservice. First, we not putting ourselves in a position where we can help others, we should help those not only of our own religious denomination. Second, it’s really important to get the message, the good news shared by all. I don’t think that the Catholic Church is exclusive of salvation or anything spiritual in that matter.
I got sober in a secular recovery group, but also supplemented that with my own growth and development as a Catholic. Doing both at the same time helped me purge my alcoholism, drug addiction, and other addictions. It also entered into a new life with meaning and purpose as a Christian.
I would add having that cross to carry, as addiction, as something to carry with us the rest of our lives by the grace of God really having that to sink our teeth into, in regard to our spiritual life, really makes practicing surrender for turning our lives to God in all of our affairs easier. Especially if we have that cross. We need to rely on God for it, makes relying on God for other things that much easier.
WRN: You have mentioned the 12-step program what other resources would you recommend for people that are trying to overcome addiction? What would you tell them to do immediately?
SW: The first and best resource is another alcoholic or addict that has been through similar circumstances and having them share their experience strength and hope.
The number one way to kick off that journey is with the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book. Walking them through that book is great. My sponsor and spiritual mentor walked me through the basics, literally. The first 164 pages have some great spiritual truth and I think can be helpful both to alcoholics and really any addict, it’s really the principle recovery literature.
WRN: What would you label success? There seems to be different metrics for it. What are the big milestones?
SW: I hate to put a timetable because the course of recovery is going to be different for everything. Each 24-hour period sober is a great success. Breaking it down into 24-hour increments, most people claim this brings long-term sobriety.
That was a difficulty for me at first, being a young man getting sober. Even at my wedding, I couldn’t imagine my wedding without a champagne toast. As a result of my drug and alcohol addiction, I was nowhere near marriage material. Thinking about it in advance I thought “I don’t know if I can start this thing.”
But when it comes to getting into recovery 30 days is a huge milestone. A full month of recovery and sobriety. In my case it took about 2 or 3 months before the mental obsession to drink and use drugs was lifted and that was completely by the grace of God, that wasn’t my own. But surrounding myself with individuals who had dedicated their lives to staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety aided in that process.
“This is a disease that has told me that I don’t have a disease and it is a disease that is progressive it doesn’t get better only worse.” Once the mental obsession or the constant thought of drugs and alcohol was lifted it made it easier to relax and it was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I looked forward to the completing of the 12th step. Working through the 12 steps is very exciting and the experience of people who have stayed sober for a very long time, their experience has told me that this is a disease that has told me that I don’t have a disease and it is a disease that is progressive it doesn’t get better only worse. As I grow in my recovery really protecting myself from that next drink, I don’t know where that will take me. I hope I never find that out.
WRN: How do you find someone? Is there anything else they should look for?
SW: You want a program that helps you after you leave. That is really important. Many programs keep people in a house for 15 days, 30 days, sometimes up to 90 days. There are some instances where God can work miracles and heal someone instantly. That is the exception, not the rule. In most cases continued care afterwards is quite important.
That is one thing that I would inquire about. Most programs will suggest or refer you to an individual health like a psychiatrist or a therapist. In some or in most cases will refer you to 12 steps or other recovery groups.
If getting in touch with spirituality is important to you then finding something that is not necessarily with a specific denomination affiliation, at least some spirituality within the program. Some secular programs will offer this in a bad way. Don’t let that be a deterrent. If you are a Christian that believes in Jesus Christ don’t let general displays get in the way of you finding God as you know him.
WRN: Are most of the people you help spiritual before recovery? Or do they find spirituality through their recovery?
SW: There is variety there. It is not hard to find someone who has something negative to say about the Catholic Church. This is something that we hear somewhat often in 12 step meetings. It’s frustrating to hear.
I don’t discredit anyone’s lived experience, what their perception is of another individual. They may have come across a Christian or a Catholic who did not display Christian ideals, but represented the faith and left a bad taste in someone’s mouth. So overcoming that and really emphasizing with that is really critical part of a faith-based recovery.
People have real, lived experience with faith and recovery that shouldn’t be discredited, it should be talked through with dialogue. It should happen where they can reconcile with the church and the church reconcile with those people. That is one aspect of a faith-based recovery, whether Catholic specifically or Christians generally that ought to be part of that discussion and dialogue
WRN: Do you have advice for someone who thinks someone they know is addicted? How can they open the dialogue?
SW: That is a difficult situation and one that many Americans go through. There is a real powerless that is apparent in those situations. Making it known and speaking to that person is the best place to begin. If that doesn’t work then speaking to others to become part of that dialogue is important. Many times, that looks like an intervention. In other times that is a communal gathering of people that love this person to share how much they love the person, not how much they need to change.
Outside of that, it’s important to realize that person can’t change the addict. It’s really important that the loved one of addict finds their own personal freedom. The individual that loves an addict that doesn’t seek help needs to find a way to love themselves. Often times a support group with those who are going through a similar situation and have tools to deal with them. It is creating healthy boundaries. Creating a network of people that can assist when they need to help themselves and of course, praying for the individual.
WRN: Are there specific passages or prayers you suggest or you use personally?
SW: The long poem of the Serenity Prayer is beautiful.
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.
One passage that is particularly special to me because my sponsor used to say it all the time. John 15:16 “For you have not chosen me but I have chosen you.” That is Christ speaking to the Disciples at the Last Supper and I think Christ is speaking to all of us. It is not anything I have done that earned the love of God but His grace has made sufficient in my weakness. I was at the lowest point in my life and He was there and was available like so many others and recovery efforts to help.
WRN: Anything else you would like to share?
SW: We have had some great scenarios: one gentleman had not been sober for 10 years and found himself at 52 years old without ever spending time in church and never exposed to any organized religion. He was invited to attend church with a friend. He used it to reflect and for meditation. He enjoyed the experience and keep coming back and got involved with our Catholics in Recovery group in Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in San Diego and joined our program for initiation receive the sacrament and has been attending 12 step meetings and found real meaning and purpose as a result.
It’s really excellent finding people who are just opening the door to faith and recovery and just blowing the hinges off. Most of us don’t come into recovery on a winning streak and getting to watch that change of attitude, behavior, and demeanor in someone’s life is such a gift and a gift that I hope everyone gets to experience at one point in their lives.
- Catholic In Recovery
- Psychology Today
- Papal Visit
- NY Daily News
- Psychology Today
- Catholics Come Home
- Addict Science
- Barefoot World
- Clearview Treatment
- Design For Change Recovery
- Dual Diagnosis
- SDS Cathedral