It has been three years now since I have had a beer.
Or any other kind of alcoholic beverage.
To some I’ve said “I’m training for a marathon.”
To others I’ve simply said, “No thanks.”
And to a few I’ve told the rest of the story:
Hi, my name is Brad, and I am an alcoholic.
I’ve wondered for some time how I might ever write this post. How in the world do you tell people – some who know you well, some not at all – that you have little to no control over how and when you drink? And people assume the worst. “Geez, how bad was it Padre?”
Well, I’ve never slept under a bridge.
I’ve never gotten a DUI.
I’ve never done a lot of things that people typically think of when they think “alcoholic.”
But that doesn’t mean I’m not one.
The truth is, I didn’t know how not to drink. Being a priest and a parent, I did most of my drinking socially, and then of course at home. If we were heading out to eat, you better believe I had a drink or three before we got there. Slowly, and pretty much without me noticing, alcohol was the only way I knew how to relax, deal with stress, or numb the pain.
A little over three years ago, during a short retreat with my clergy colleague group, a wise priest shared his story of addiction and recovery. His vulnerability was moving. I was afraid he was speaking directly to me. And I knew I had a problem.
This wasn’t the first time I had worried I was drinking too much too often. But it was a rare moment of clarity when I knew the game was up. I could see clearly what the next years of my life would look like, because alcoholism is a progressive disease. I did not want to miss those years with my kids. I did not want to lose my wife. I did not want to hurt or betray the church I so dearly love.
I knew I had a problem, but I had absolutely no idea what to do about it. So, I called my best friend. I poured my heart out to my spiritual director. Neither of them could look at me in the eye and tell me I was wrong. “Damn,” I thought, “maybe I am an alcoholic.” The next day my spiritual director accompanied me to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This isn’t a post to explain my entire journey to sobriety. I may post bits and pieces from time to time, but if you’d ever like to hear more about it, or if you or someone you care about seems to be struggling with addiction, I’d be glad to have a cup of coffee and further conversation with you.
Even though (perhaps especially because) I am a priest the Twelve Steps have not always come easy to me. Intellectuals are particularly notorious, because we try to think ourselves out of addiction. This is almost always a disaster. In the realm of recovery I have been a slow learner.
I am simply, yet confoundedly, learning that I am not in control. Not of my drinking and not of a lot of other things in life. I am learning to accept my own limitations. I am learning to be more kind and gentle with my own worst enemy, myself.
So, today I am grateful to be able to write these words. I am not embarrassed, and I am not ashamed. I am thankful that God hasn’t given up on me yet. Deo gratias.