Fr Benedict Livingstone sP describes the work of his congregation in caring for alcoholics
IT IS no secret that priests can have problems. It can be difficult for the individual to admit that he
is hurting. It can also be embarrassing for the Church in
general to face up to this reality.
Yet although his role is one of teaching and leadership, like
every other member of the Church, the priest needs to be ministered to. Occasionally this requires specialised and expert help.
There is a small religious congregation in the Church .which has this ministry as its
raison d'eire. It is called the Servants of the Paraclete.
Founded in the US by Fr Gerald Fitzgerald in 1947, the Society was established in England in 1959 and since then has been quietly carrying on its work of serving priests and brothers.
Some 60 men a year go through the programme. The house does not exist for any one particular problem, but seeks to respond to any need which the staff are qualified to address. It is the policy of the Servants of the Paraclete never to refuse care to any priest or brother of goodwill, regardless of financial considerations.
The particular stamp of the congregation is compassion and acceptance: "let him that is without sin cast the first stone."
Alcoholism, it is well known, is a very common problem in our society. No profession or social group is immune. It strikes rich and poor, male and female, celibate and married. We do not really know what the true cause of alcoholism is.
There is no doubt that stress may be a trigger for drinking and that the alcoholic, under stress, will frequently resort to a pathological drinking pattern. However, this cannot be viewed as a cause, but simply as precipitating the bout. Plenty of other people are subjected to stress but do not develop alcoholism. For this reason, in helping alcoholics it does no good to talk about cause. It is much more helpful to look upon it as a disorder in itself.
In working with alcoholics for over 20 years, one thing I am convinced of is that it is not a moral problem. Alcoholism has nothing to do with decisions,o1 acts of will. It is something which the sufferer discovers is happening to him. Often when a man is feeling very angry with himself and frustrated and guilty, I say "you are certainly not stupid, nor are you morally weak. However, I do think you
I am also convinced that once alcoholism has been established, it will not go away. Once you are over the line you do not get back to normal drinking. You have to learn to live without alcohol for the rest of your life. You cannot learn to drink normally like the non-alcoholic. In that sense there is no cure for alcoholism. It is a disease which can be arrested but that is all.
The question frequently arises of how you define alcoholism. A colleague says that you are alcoholic if .alcohol is consistently costing more than money. If alcohol is causing repeated damage in any important area of one's life then one's drinking is not social drinking. 't he alcoholic can never be sure what is going to happen when he begins to drink. Sometimes he may seem to drink without negative consequences, but he never knows when these will follow. These may be short memory lapses, personality changes, inappropriate behaviour, feelings of guilt, hiding bottles, spending too much money, damage to health, hangovers and shakes, accidents such as falls or car crashes and harm to reputation.
When a person is alcoholic he is often more out of touch with reality than the non-alcoholic would realise. This is because he screens out the reality of what is going on. The negative aspects of his drinking are explained away with plausible rationalisations. He may minimise the extent of his drinking and its consequences and he may blame other events or people for the bad effects of his drinking.
Intervention must be done very lovingly and caringly, although, of course, with firmness and resolution. There is no use in nagging or in accepting promises or in being manipulated by tears or threats. The sufferei is unable simply to make a choice ol stopping drinking from his own will-power.
In general terms alcoholics need to be willing to accept help from outside themselves and in particular through fellow sufferers who have found a new way of life which enables them to live without alcohol in a sober and happy way.
this happens in a variety of ways but the key is the group of fellow-sufferers. In an atmosphere of warmth and nonjudgemental acceptance the members share their experiences and their feelings. As each one does so, fear and other barriers to the truth begin to fall. Unnecessary defence mechanisms go and the truth can be faced up to. A new way of life can be learned. especially from established members. Gradually other methods of dealing with life's stresses and frustrations can be learned. little by little healing takes place.
This is perceived as God exercising His healing power but in a mediated way through other sufferers. The new member is gradually invited to hand his life over totally to this healing power of God and then finds himself led on to putting his life in order in a new way. Frequently, a less "up. tight" attitude is cultivated and the man makes certain decisions with regard to a new way of life.
Each person is an individual and his personal programme will differ. It will always, however, include on-going support for the rest of his life in Alcoholics Anonymous. It will entail living this philosophy daily and it will also include quite searching changes so that the needs of the various areas of his life might be more appropriately fulfilled.
No two cases arc the same: each one is unique. The process of recovery from alcoholism is often very edifying for those who witness it and a key life experience for the sufferer himself. Frequently, it creates a whole new key-note to the person's future life and ministry. It is often reported that all of ministry, whether preaching, confessions or counselling has been enhanced by the experience of recovery.
* * * * * * Fr Benedict Livingstone sp is the Superior of Our Lady of Victory, the Servants of the Paraclete House in Gloucestershire. Before joining the community he wqs a doctpr and psychiatriSt, having worked at the Southern Genera7 Hospital in Glasgow. Further information about the Congregation can be obtained from: Our Lady of Victory, Brownshill, Stroud, Glos. C1.6 SAS.