Should a Catholic attend AA meetings? I heard they’re bad…

I have long been meaning to write a post on the subject title; it was finally inspired by a question in a Traditional Latin Mass Group on Facebook. I deposited my two cents and the following is an edited copy-and-paste of my reply (along with some additional thoughts not included in the Facebook reply):

Attending AA meetings is fine as long as you remain strong in your Faith and study it and the resources the Church offers to strengthen you against temptations to drink (as well as other inordinate desires.) There are links in the sidebar which can direct to resources to help you learn more about the Faith.

Most people who bash AA are unaware of the Catholic assistance and influence that existed in early AA ; the 12 Steps were developed with the help of a Jesuit (when they were still Catholic 😉 ) and are similar to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Also, they are loosely written enough to be applicable to people of all religious and spiritual traditions, so that you can very easily Catholicize them and reinterpret any ambiguous spirituality they contain that you regard as disagreeable.

“But, they mention ‘Higher Power!!’ ‘God of my understanding’!!! That’s pagan! New Age!!!”

“No, it isn’t. Just generic terms for any power greater than you. My HP is Jesus. There are probably more non-Catholics and other Christians who are alcoholics than there are followers of Jesus, this accommodates them. Just switch it to Jesus and be kind. Everyone is on a spiritual journey; who knows how the Holy Spirit leads one to the Truth?”

My advice, and this comes from someone who is over 16 years sober, (and who also has written this blog for over 11 years) is if you have a problem with alcohol, go to AA. Do the “90 meetings in 90 days” routine (you’ll hear and be exposed to anything you’ll ever hear about alcoholism from AA’s perspective for pretty much every life situation that you once needed to drink over) and get the basic literature. Then decide whether you wish to continue. I advise sticking with it for a year, then go as needed or not at all. (I find online recovery works well, in addition to keeping you somewhat better insulated against non-Catholic spirituality. For that, I recommend In the Rooms. My profile: Paulcoholic on ITR.)

The “basic literature” that I suggest is the “Big Book,” aka “Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th edition,” and “12 and 12″” aka the “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” Also, get the book “Experience, Strength and Hope,” which contains classic personal stories from earlier editions of the Big Book no longer included in the current. “Daily Reflections” is a collection of 366 daily meditations written by alkies for alkies. “Living Sober” is another essential book, containing essays for ‘living sober;’ advice gleaned from AA meetings and other AA literature for keeping sober in many situations. I would also like to include “As Bill Sees It,” a collection of thoughts and excerpts from the writings of AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson. All of these can be ordered from aa.org

“But, some of the stories and stuff are written by people who are…”

“Oh, knock it off. Take what’s useful and leave the rest. ‘They’ just might say THAT ONE THING you need to hear that will keep you from the drink. Jesus dined with hookers and government types, are you better than Him?”

I wrote the following paragraph in that Facebook reply namely in anticipation of attacks on AA membership. While I no longer attend AA meetings, they are useful and helpful for those who need them. Anyway, I expected some attacks (none serious so far at the time of the drafting of this post) and added this:

Incidentally, and before I get flamed for speaking in defense of AA, the reason why I started the Sober Catholic blog is to help Catholics with addictions to discover what the Church offers to assist them and also to help “keep them Catholic.” For I have discovered many Catholics leaving the Church due to exposure to AA spirituality. (They weren’t strong Catholics to begin with: weak in their Faith, they drifted away affected by moral relativism. Sober Catholic hopes to stem the tide, even in a small way. Actually, I have found that the organization “Celebrate Recovery” to be a more insidious threat.)

A strong Catholic Faith, the basic AA lit for when you need something directly applied to alcoholism, meetings if and when you need them, and you can be free from the drink.

(I sobered up in the rooms of AA, but have NOT been a regular meeting goer since 2004. Since then it’s just been once in a while. But my last live, face-to-face meeting was in 2014. So, AA “isn’t needed,” but you do need to be deep in the Church and sacraments. But I did find that my own Catholic interpretation of AAs spirituality was essential and invaluable. Everything just gets filtered through my Catholic lens.)

Regarding attacks on AA: There is lots of misinformation out there from people with an axe to grind. Perhaps they (or someone they know) was hurt by AA (no organization of people is perfect, we’re all sinners and things can get out of control. Even the Church has hurt people. No reason to leave it. Although it’s understandable, at least for a while.)

But I’ve seen whacko sites accusing AA of being pagan, New Age, a cult, all sorts of things. It can be, but that might be just local conditions here and there. There was a document from Rome put out in the early 00s listing Twelve Step movements of being damaging; the writer knew zilch about AA, the work was poorly researched (at least as to including AA. Spot on about other things.)

But in general, AA (or any 12 Step Group) isn’t a threat to anyone’s Catholicism if their Faith is deep, and if not, like I said above, they should apply themselves to learning the Faith with the same dedication they apply themselves to learning the 12 Steps. After you’ve gotten them down and learn to live by them, they make a nice accompaniment to living by the Gospel and Beatitudes and taking part in the sacramental life of the Church. Subordinate to the tools of Faith, but still essential.

And that was the reply. So, that is it: try AA. Learn the basics of 12 Step living. Get the books I mentioned above and refer to them when needed. Keep increasing your knowledge of the Catholic Church at the same time; attend Mass (daily, if possible), study the Catechism, boost your prayer life and frequent the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession.) After you’ve done your “90 in 90,” then decide if it’s for you. It comes down to this:

“You shall know them by their fruits.” From the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 7 verse 16. Courtesy Sacred Bible: Catholic Public Domain Version.

Are you sober? This doesn’t mean “just not drinking.” Drinking was a crutch to help you cope. Many people drink to relieve the burdens of life, but those afflicted with alcoholism are different and the crutch becomes an instrument of pain and torture rather than a support. Take away the crutch, and what have you? The problems that afflicted you are still there; perhaps those directly attributable to drinking will vanish, but others still remain. How will you handle them? AA helps you cope with life without the crutch of the drink. If you won’t use AA, what will you use? Does that aid directly address drinking, as in ‘not doing it?’and how to live without it?

If you stop drinking without replacing the drink with another “life aid,” how are things going? If you’re irritable, restless, discontented, angry, bitter, resentful, mean-spirited and bad-tempered, whatever you’re doing isn’t working. If you need confirmation, ask your family, friends and co-workers. They’ll enjoy the opportunity to finally tell you…

Just “not drinking” isn’t enough, you have to find something that “reprograms” you, helps you react to things in a civil and socially-acceptable manner with resorting to the drink to help. Again, Matthew 7:16. What are the fruits of your “program” of recovery from alcoholism?

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics" and "The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts" (Thank you!!)

Go outside to get outside! Sometimes I hang out with this permaculture community.

9 Comments

  1. Great post! And thanks for this laugh; “… with the help of a Jesuit (when they were still Catholic 😉 )”

  2. Great article. Another good book is The Soul of Sponsorship. The friendship of Fr Ed Dowling & Bill Wilson in letters

  3. I am both Catholic and a big fan of twelve-step recovery–even though I am recovering from the affects of someone else’s drinking. I think that twelve-step groups help heal many peoples image of God. And, I have also learned a lot about Ignatian Spirituality. I am a fan.

Comments are closed.