I am an Alcoholic, Lord
by Fr. Jack McArdle
God, Higher Power, Power greater than myself, I cry out to you. I feel like someone who has ventured out on a journey, and I have ended up in a swamp. The more I struggle to free myself, the more aware I am of sinking. I am caught in the nets of an addiction. I never set out to be this way. I never wanted to be an alcoholic. It just seems to have crept up on me, and caught me totally unawares. Oh, I know that I was warned, and reminded by others, but I thought that I was the one to know and to decide whether I was in control or not. I didn't know that part of the disease is its ability to deny its own existence. I admit that it has bothered me, and, indeed, burdened me for many years now, but I had every intention of taking control of the situation, and correcting what was amiss. My behaviour has brought misery to myself and to those around me. I have been riddled with guilt, filled with remorse, and very unhappy with what was happening. I would, of course, stop, but the right time just didn't seem to have arrived. I definitely would stop some day, but I wasn't ready just yet. This has been going on for some time now. Even when I stopped, I never felt stopped, and I was always waiting for the next slip, and off I went again.
In my head, I want to be sober, to be clean, but there is something deep down within the core of my being, and I often imagine getting a J.C.B., going down inside there, and shifting it, whatever it is. Sometimes I think of it as a demon, and, at other times, it is like some bottomless abyss, that is impossible to fill. There never seems to be enough alcohol. Even as I drink, my mind is planning how, where, and when the next drink is going to come from. I experience myself in a very frightening grip of something that I just cannot shake off, something that continues to dog my steps, to trip me up, to pull me down. There are times when I cry out for help, but I just cannot accept the help of those around me. They couldn't possibly understand what it's like. I'm afraid, genuinely afraid, of where all this may lead me. I know I should and must do something about it, and I dread that I'll hit skid row before I'm ready to move. My whole life is one long string of failures, of broken promises, of unfulfilled resolves.
Lord, I feel that something like alcohol, which had been a friend for so long, is now turning on me, and is out to destroy me. And I honestly believe that it has the power to destroy me, and all those I hold dear. It seems to have a grip on me that I cannot shake off. I am filled with anger whenever I reflect on what is happening to me. Those thoughts are too hurtful, so I drink again to block the thinking, or to numb the pain. At my better moments I see all of this as total insanity, where I keep repeating the same pattern, and continue to hope for a different result. I'm going around in circles, even when I'm not drinking, because I always seem to end up in the same place, in the same state as before. I experience a quiet desperation that is getting me nowhere, because my pattern of behaviour continues to be the same. My guilt causes me to be irritated by the complaints or the advice of others. In my better moments, I know they are right, and I intend taking care of this situation when I know the time is right. But not just yet......
Lord, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. Every waking day, after the previous night's indulgence, fills me with self-disgust, self-loathing, and a real stubborn resolve, that says 'Never again'. That resolve lasts until the first opportunity arises, and off I go again. I try desperately to hold this demon at bay. I compare myself to others I know, and they are so much worse than I am, which convinces me that I may not be so bad after all. I go for short periods without a drink, and I use this as evidence that I can stop when I want to. All my so-called 'narrow-scrapes' are seen as something that could have been worse, and, therefore, don't appear to be very serious. I continue to defend the indefensible, to justify the injustice, and to rationalise the insanity. There is a constant battle going on in my head, and sometimes I feel like I am totally defeated. The feeling doesn't last too long, once I get the glass back in my hand. Part of me actually hates alcohol for what I know and see it is doing to me, but my alcoholic mind takes over, and I am free to drink again. It is as if this demon is prepared to fight to the death for its own survival. I experience a restlessness within, and an inability to apply myself totally to any one task for any great length of time. It is as if I have some sort of runaway engine inside, and I am no longer at the controls. I pray sometimes, but, even then, my guilt drains the life out of my prayers. How can I ask you to remove something that I really don't want to surrender? This makes me feel even a greater hypocrite, so I stop praying. What's the point? In my saner and better moments, I know rightly what I ought to do, and, somehow, I feel that the first step towards recovery must begin from within myself.
I don't find it easy to admit to powerlessness. I have never found it easy to admit defeat. There is pride, stubborness, and some sort of a crazy independent streak within, that refuses to concede that I might be wrong, and that others might be right. I argue, rationalise, and justify, and, when that fails, I get angry. I feel isolated and misunderstood, which is often as good a reason as any for another drink. I have never been short of reasons for drinking, of course, but I have gone through some strange mental gymnastics to justify my actions. I have been so successful at this, at times, that I genuinely believed that I was right. I discovered a great reserve of cunning and guile, and I have used this to great advantage. This has lead me into all kinds of deviousness and deception. I had a sense of inner erosion, as one ideal, or one moral standard after another began to crumble in the dust. My conscience haunted me for a while, but, after sufficient alcohol, I noticed it bothered me less and less. It was as if I was giving up on myself, without being aware of it.
I was often conscious of being at full stretch within, trying to preserve my life style, to protect my supply. It was as if something within was about to snap. I knew I just couldn't keep going, that something had to give. I began to notice how family and friends began to change in their attitudes and in their dealings with me. I saw reflected in their looks the very feelings I was experiencing within. I saw that they had begun to realise what I myself had dreaded, and what, all along, I began to see in myself. I became uncomfortable in the company of those who held up that mirror to me, and I was driven more and more into isolation. With all the comraderie, and all the celebration that appears to go with drink, I began to feel very much alone. I even began to feel uncomfortable in my own company. I drank secretly to fill the empty moments, or to avoid dwelling on reality, as I feared it to be. I can never claim that anyone ever poured alcohol down my throat, and yet I could not see that my situation was entirely of my own making. I was surrounded by people and situations that would drive anyone to drink! Or so I thought. I might even be prepared to concede that alcohol was destroying me and my life, but I stopped short of holding myself responsible for drinking the alcohol in the first place.
Right here, right now, I am experiencing defeat, I feel that I'm beaten. I may not yet be ready to admit that to others, but, at least, I can do that to myself. As I speak, I am very conscious these words are being addressed to myself, because I am nor ready yet to turn completely in the direction of God. I'm afraid of what this might entail, of what I might be asked to do. My drinking has greatly damaged my awareness of God, or my relationship with him. Most of the times I just didn't want to know. Anything or anybody that might come between me and alcohol was pushed to one side. Right now, however, I feel desperately in need of a Higher Power, of a Power greater than myself. I'm afraid of my head, which has played such tricks on me in the past, so I want this cry for help to come from my heart. I don't know how best to do this. I only know how to get alcohol, how to drink alcohol, and how to ensure the next drink. I know very little about a Higher Power, beyond the fact that, somewhere within, I just know that you're there. (Now, at least, and at last, I'm speaking to you!). If you're not there, I'm really in trouble, because I would lose hope completely, and that terrifies me. That is why I cry out to you, asking you to show yourself, to reveal yourself, to let me know that you're there. I feel like someone sinking in quicksand, and I have both hands in the air, crying for someone to grab them, and stop me sinking any further.
I fall on my knees, in blind faith, and I pray : Higher Power, God, please please help me, please reach out a hand to rescue me. My situation is desperate, my life is out of control, and I can no longer manage it. I have gone into a nose-dive, into a tail-spin, and I'm headed for disaster. Please please help me, because I can no longer help myself. I'm 'bet', I've run out of steam, out of excuses, out of hiding places. I've had enough, and if there's any way back, please take me by the hand, and bring me back. I don't care what human resources you use, whether that be treatment, recovery programme, counselling, or whatever. I feel I have no choice but to surrender, and to hand over the steering wheel before I drive over the cliff. Somewhere within my being, I feel that I have called out just in time, and I believe that it's not too late for you. I ask you, please, to keep me out of my head, to keep me down in my heart. I don't want to understand, I don't want any explanations, I don't want any great insights. All I ask is the knowledge that you are taking over, and that I can experience your action in my life. I am quite happy to begin with the experience, and let the understanding come later. Once I can feel your presence, when I become aware that the nightmare is over, that I have made contact with a Power greater than myself, then, and only then, can I begin to relax, and breathe deeply once again. God, Higher Power, I'm riddled with fears because of the horrors of the past, but I have no choice now but to surrender, and hand everything over to you. I don't know how you can rescue me, and I don't want to know.
If you are the God who created me, then, I believe that you can re-create me. I feel that nothing less than total re-creation and rebirth can resolve my situation, can revive my life, can restore my sanity. Somewhere within my being, without understanding it, I feel that, in answer to my cry for help, you have thrown the door of my cell wide open, and you are inviting me to come out into freedom, into the light. I want to do that, right here, right now. I want to live this moment fully, because I'm afraid of the ghosts of the past, and the demons of the future. I step out, and place my hand in yours right now, and I feel your reassuring grip. Please don't ever let go of that grip, even when I try to pull away from you. I feel like someone who has had a miraculous escape from a shipwreck, and I have no desire to return to the wreck or to the raging storm. While I have graduated through the stages of loving alcohol, to hating alcohol, I am now at a stage where I am terrified of alcohol. Please, please, please, reach out a hand, and rescue me from the clutches of this demon.......
My dear dear child. Not only do I take you by the hand, but I draw you close to me, and throw both arms around you. Yes, indeed, you have been saved from a ship-wreck, and that's all that matters. You were nearly gone, and, unless you called out to me, there was nothing I could do to save you. It is never a question of will-power. If you don't have the will, there's no point in me giving you the power. I have been waiting and watching. I heard the prayers of your loved ones, but I waited for a response from you. You may find this difficult to understand, but to admit that you are totally beaten is a great victory, rather than a defeat. It is the victory of truth over lies, the victory of humility over pride, the victory of life over death. Pride can be very destructive, and so very very devious. >From the fall of Lucifer, to the Fall in the Garden, to this very day, pride has left a trail of death and destruction wherever it existed.
It is not easy to be totally honest, and to admit defeat. It is not easy to admit to powerlessness, and to an inability to manage life. Such things are totally against the inbuilt selfishness that is part of being human. It is not possible for human beings to lift themselves out of the quicksand of their own selfishness. That is why you refer to me, quite rightly, as the Higher Power, because it does take a power greater than yourself to lift you to a higher plain, where you can experience a life beyond your wildest dreams, and, indeed, beyond your greatest potential. It is never too late for me, and your call came in time, before you went over the waterfall. My hand was always held out to you, but you were neither ready nor willing to grasp it. Alcohol, like any other element of nature, is something that is good in itself, when used properly. It has, however, the potential to totally destroy, if allowed get out of control, and generate a dependency. It feeds into what is weakest in human nature, which can be uncomfortable with reality, and with the ordinary humdrum existence of human living. Human nature is something that is very fragile, very frail, and very easily derailed. There are drives, impulses, emotions, compulsions, and appetites that can so easily get out of control. The problem with many of these is that, they are so much part of you, that you cannot see them. Alcoholism is the one disease that tries everything to deny its own existence, and, if you identify it as the destructive force it is, it will do everything to preserve its existence.
Somewhere within you is the hope and prayer that I can rescue you from this insanity. It is clearly obvious that you yourself are powerless, and, after trying everything within your power, you now turn to me. That is good, even if you had come to me earlier I could have saved you a great deal of pain and destruction. Better late than never, and, as I said before, it's never too late for me. Letting me take over is really very simple, but, for you, it's not going to be easy. Long years of living in a certain way make it more difficult to change. Bad habits die slowly, and some bad habits die much slower than others. Alcoholism is a case of self-will run riot, and so it is not easy to turn around, and hand your will over to the care of someone else, even me. You have accepted that your life had become totally unmanageable, and it goes against the grain to have to surrender and let someone else run your life. What I mean here is that any worthwhile change has to be basic, ruthless, and total. If you are honest, and I believe you are, you must admit that all the old ways of doing things must end, that a whole new way of living must be grasped. It is something like a heart, liver, and kidney transplant, where the old must be removed entirely, or it will continue to raise its ugly head. Remember that you deal with alcohol,...cunning, baffling, powerful, and very very patient. There must be no going back; therefore, together, we will have to do something about the past. There is no plan for the future either, because, like many another person, how can you claim or be sure of having a future? One heart attack, and your future is gone. The only way to handle this is to develop a way of living in the NOW, with definite guidelines for living today, and with decisions that are meant for today, and today only.
For the present, I ask you, please, to entrust all the wreckage of the past to me. The burden is too much for you to carry. I'm not going to dispose of it, at least yet, because there are too many precious lessons to be learned from it. One thing is certain : nothing you can do will change one moment of the past, so you might as well not bother trying to go back down that road. The past has value in one area only, i.e., for the lessons it has taught you. I want to go through that past with you, day by day, blow by blow, and when you think it has convinced you of the insanity and the irresponsibility of your behaviour, then we can get rid of it for all time. The past is too valuable to be dismissed lightly because of the lessons it can teach us. Remembering what things were like is a very important part of your recovery. The only real value the past has are the lessons it has taught you. You would be a very wise person today if you learned every lesson life has taught you. Compassion is very much part of the life of a Christian, and that can come only out of your own brokenness, turmoil, and hurts.
You now have to consider a whole new way of living. This is more than just a question of what to do now with the time and money you have on your hands! This is deadly serious, and your life depends on it. You are sick. You have a disease. Others can drink and not end up like you, simply because they don't have your disease. Some people are blind, and can never see; others are in wheelchairs, and can never walk. Some people can run marathons, while others would collapse and die after the first twenty yards. Please, please, be open to accept reality in your life, however painful or humiliating it may seem. You are an alcoholic ; you have a very real allergy to alcohol, and to continue using it will most certainly kill you. It matters little how or why you have become an alcoholic, no more than it matters much to the man dying of a heart attack to be told why his heart is damaged. This is a time for action, and there is no time for arguments, explanations, or reflections. You have a killer disease, and your recovery must begin right now, because tomorrow could be too late. Your alcoholism will try to concentrate on the terror of never being able to drink again, and it can blind you to the thousands of good things you will be able to do, when your life is free from alcohol. You went to great lengths to get the drink, to have time and money for the drink, to protect your supply for the next drink. In recovery, you also have to do things. I certainly will walk every step with you, and I will guide your steps into sobriety, but you have to take and make those steps, because I cannot do them for you. You are the alcoholic, not me!
You are sick, and, when you are sick, you should go to a doctor. That's what you should do now. Tell him what you told me, and listen to what he has to say. He cannot make you sober, nor can he solve your problem, but he can point you to the next logical step towards complete recovery. Your condition is spiritual, emotional, mental, as well as physical, so no tablets from a doctor can cure it. Remember your journey into alcoholism? Maybe it was slow, gradual, step by step, day by day. Your road back, your path to recovery, will be something the same. You suffer from a sickness that is unique, because it can be halted, but never cured. It is called alcoholism, and it never becomes alcoholwasm! It is a disease you will carry within you till the day you die, and, with just one drink, it will flare up again, like a forest fire, and will surely destroy what is left of your life. It is like someome with malaria. For the rest of their lives, without any warning, the malaria will continue to flare up, after long periods of remission. You are an alcoholic, and you always will be an alcoholic. The extraordinary difference is that the alcoholic, without alcohol, has the capacity to lead a life that is fuller, happier, and more fruitful than those who do not have that disease. This is a strange phenomenon, and it results from the gratitude for a second chance at life, from a deep awareness of one's own frailty, and from developing a way of living that gives order and direction to a life that was completely out of control.
I'm going to say something to you now that is very very important : You have a disease, and removing alcohol from the formula will not solve it. As I've just said, it's like someone returning from Africa where the malaria was contracted. For the rest of their lives, no matter where they live, they will always have malaria. The mosquitoes are no longer around, but the harm has been done. To the day you die, you will always be an alcoholic, even if you never touch another drop of alcohol. You need a programme of recovery, something that will continue to be part of every single day. The roots and the causes of your disease continue to be present, and always will be. I now offer you a gift, which you are totally free to accept or reject. I offer you sobriety, and freedom from the compulsion to ever drink again. The programme for living this is already well in place, but you must want what I offer, and be prepared to do what it takes to experience that gift. I cannot force you, compel you, or threaten you. The decision is entirely up to you. I will give you what it takes, and I will walk every step of the road with you, but you must be prepared to do certain things. You must be prepared to turn your will and your life over to me, and to let me guide your feet into the ways of life, peace, and happiness; into a life beyond your wildest dreams.
(Think about this for a while, because it could be one of the most important moments and decisions of your whole life)
Because you are sick you may need to spend some time in hospital to give your system a chance to recover. Let your doctor be the judge of that. Then you will become part of a recovery programme called Alcoholics Anonymous(A.A.). If you are prepared to take this step, to listen to what you hear there, and to do what you're told there, then you need never drink again. If you have a genuine desire to stop drinking, then you will follow my directions. If not, then there is nothing I can do for you, because you have chosen to continue your path towards self-destruction and death. I certainly don't want you to turn your back on this offer, because it is life or death. In your own heart, I believe that you don't want to reject it, even if you experience a fear of what all this might entail. Give me your fears, your doubts, your worries, and anxieties, and just trust me to point you in the right direction. At no stage have I said that you are never to drink again. All I said was that you need never drink again, you will never need a drink again.
This method works only one day at a time. I am totally a God of now. My help is available to you now, right here, right now. If you trust me, you will not have to take up that first drink today. That is my offer, that is my promise. That is the thinking and the type of living towards which I am guiding you. You will find all of that, and so much much more, if you take A.A. seriously, and are prepared to follow that programme. This programme has come from me, just as much as any Church or Religious denomination on this earth. It is a spiritual programme, but it has nothing to do with any particular church, denomination, sect, creed, or religion. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking. Please, please accept the gift that is offered. Come out into freedom from the slavery of this deadly disease. Come out into life, a life beyond your wildest dreams. Remember, in this prayer, you are the one who came to me! I am answering your prayer, I am responding to your cry. Come on, let us travel the path together.............
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It's Me Again, Lord... copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.