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Furrow, January, 1952
IS SUFFICIENT - WHY ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS?
SEAN O'RIORDAN, C.S.S.R., D.D.
Maynooth College, Dublin, Ireland
should like to draw the attention of readers of The Furrow
to an article entitled "Science, Religion, and Alcoholism"
which appeared in the American Catholic monthly magazine
Integrity in September, 1951. In it "John Doe",
himself a victim of alcoholism, discussed the problem of
self-conquest in this difficult sphere, which date from
his own experience.
more years than he has "stomach to look back on"
John Doe was an alcoholic. Yet it was not for want of trying
to do better.
tried the Sacraments. Between drinking bouts I made frequent
and intensive use of the channels of grace available to
me. They did not seem to help.
not drinking, I was a daily communicant; I did a lot of
spiritual reading; I made frequent retreats; I have knelt
far into the night saying the rosary with arms outstretched
in penance and petition.
have come from a private closed retreat with the utmost
fervor and devotion - and walked into the first saloon I
met. I have frequently been at Holy Communion in the morning
and drunk the same night...."
a few months ago, on the advice of friends and with their
assistance, I quite suddenly broke the pattern and stopped
drinking. I did it by the combined use of two of the techniques
recently evolved for the rehabilitation of alcoholics....
is now an established fact that I have gone without alcohol
for a much longer period than ever since the drinking started.
My drinking has been arrested. I have not been cured of
alcoholism. I am still an alcoholic, and a moment of carelessness
or overconfidence could start me back on the old cycle within
a hour of writing these words. But I am not drinking. I
am doing my best to fulfill my duty to myself, to my fellowman,
and to God. I am, within the limitations of human nature
and my own temperament, at peace."
VS. SUPERNATURAL MEANS
we have a concrete case of a man who overcame the grip of
his fatal habit by natural means of physical and psychological
readjustment, when he had failed to do so by supernatural
means directed at overcoming temptation. This is certainly
a fact of considerable interest to anyone who has to deal
with the problem of recidivism, whether in the matter of
alcoholism or in any other sphere. As John Doe himself puts
it, "If a man can stop drinking because another man
convinces him he is an alcoholic and one drink means disaster,
why can he not stop when a priest tells him that he has
a chronic weakness and is bound under pain of mortal sin
to avoid the occasion of sin?"
in his article the writer enumerates the Twelve Steps toward
lasting sobriety laid down by Alcoholics Anonymous, the
rehabilitation movement that has had such a striking record
of success in different countries (including Ireland) in
recent times. They deserve to be repeated here in full before
we go on, with the help of John Doe, to consider the bearing
of such remedial techniques on the spiritual life of the
TWELVE STEPS OF A.A.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives
had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could
restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the
care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being
the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing
to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except
when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong
promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious
contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge
of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice
these principles in all our affairs.
so we return to John Doe’s questions: "If a man
can stop drinking by following twelve rules of conduct laid
down by two drunks, why can he not stop by following the
ten commandments and the moral and ascetic teaching of his
faith?" A superficial answer might be: "A man
will stop when he really wants to stop. He promises his
confessor that he will avoid the occasion of sin, but deep
down in himself he doesn’t mean it sincerely. Then
one day he promises A.A. never to touch a single drink again,
and this time he does mean it; so of course he stops. The
result would have been the same if his promise to his confessor
had been equally sincere in the first instance. But the
question remains: "Granted that the fundamental sincerity
and firmness of the purpose of amendment are of capital
importance, how is it that A.A. can elicit such a purpose
from a habitual drinker when a priest cannot?" Moreover,
in many cases the fundamental sincerity is there all the
time; but while it fails to secure a victory over habit
under a strictly spiritual course of guidance, it achieves
signal and lasting results under the guidance of A.A. This
is fairly clear in the case of John Doe himself. His good
will was constant and genuine for years, but he did not
get the better of drink until he used techniques of rehabilitation.
Is it, then, that such techniques form, as John Doe suggests,
"necessary concomitants to the ordinary channels through
which spiritual and supernatural aid reach the ordinary
ALCOHOLISM FROM DRUNKENNESS
inquiry must begin farther back. Actually John Doe begins
it with the help of a study of alcoholism made by Father
John C. Ford, S.J., a well-known American moral theologian.
He is glad to find Father Ford accepting, for a start, the
difference between drunkenness and alcoholism. "The
first important point established by Father Ford is the
distinction between mere drunkenness and its morality and
the morality of alcoholism. He says: alcoholism is not the
same thing as drunkenness; not even the same thing as excessive
drinking; not even the same thing as excessive drinking
over a period of time. ‘ For, as he points out, there
are people who can do all these things without becoming
alcoholics. They can stop if they want to, much as a man
with a long habit of smoking can give it up."
is therefore an abnormal phenomenon. As Father Ford points
out," the alcoholic is not a normal individual where
responsibility for his drinking is concerned. He is across
the line on the abnormal side and his drinking is correctly
does not mean at all that the alcoholic is necessarily insane.
"But," says Father Ford, "when we say alcoholism
is a disease or disorder, or sickness of a mental kind,
we mean that the drinking itself is to a greater or lesser
degree compulsive... On this point - the compulsive character
of the alcoholic’s drinking- I believe there is a
great unanimity among all the psychiatrists and other specialists
in the field."
Doe agrees absolutely. He comments; "In the course
of discussing this compulsion, Father Ford makes a statement
which I, as an alcoholic, would beg you, a non-alcoholic,
to accept, even if you do not understand how it can be so.
He writes: "There are times when an alcoholic reaches
for a drink blindly and compulsively even when he has had
nothing to drink for a considerable period. I was not ready
to believe this at first. But after listening to hundreds
of alcoholics tell their stories, and after questioning
many of them on that very point, I am convinced that not
only after having had some drinks but even after a considerable
period of sobriety the alcoholic reaches out compulsively
and blindly for the first drink." That statement is
other words, the alcoholic is, as the first of the twelve
steps says, "powerless over alcohol." His powerlessness
is, of course, a moral, not an absolute one, but it is terribly
real for all that. He is not a sinner in the ordinary sense,
that is, a man who "cannot because he will not."
"The unfortunate fact of experience,’ says John
Doe, "is that the man doesn’t, and he doesn’t
because he can’t. That is neither theory nor excuse.
It is a cold fact of experience to which I and thousands
like me can attest."
that the element of freedom and therefore of sin is absent
from alcoholism. It is present, but in a complex and obscure
way. There is a mental element in alcoholism; there is probably
a physical element in it in many cases; but a third element,
the spiritual one, must also be considered. Father Ford
writes; "Psychiatrists who do not believe in sin will
class all these persons as neurotics. Religious -minded
people who know nothing of neurosis will class all these
people as sinners. But I see no inherent difficulty in admitting
that the same person can be both a neurotic and a sinner.
In the case of the alcoholic, he can be both a compulsive
drinker and a sinner, his misconduct being at times the
product of his compulsion and at other times of his willfulness."
Doe comments; "The alcoholic will agree to that. In
fact, he will be glad about it as a just and clarifying
we come to what this sincere and enlightening writer regards
as the crucial point in the cure of alcoholics. The alcoholic
must accept his status, before God and man, as an alcoholic.
He must realize the difference between his position and
that of the simple drunkard who does not suffer the compulsive
factor in drinking. "From my own experience, and the
experience and knowledge of others, I know that acceptance
of this distinction and an attitude based on such acceptance
form the all-important first step that must be taken
both by the victim of alcoholism and by anyone who would
aid in his rehabilitation. It is a hard step for both parties
to take. The first is extremely unwilling to admit that
he is not as other men- that he is an alcoholic. The second,
if he is a non-alcoholic, cannot for the life of him see
why the other cannot pull himself together and put an end
to this bad habit." A.A.’s are fully aware of
the necessity of building everything on this initial acceptance
of the true nature of alcoholism; hence their success. But
confessors are often ignorant of the matter (as are alcoholic
penitents themselves); hence there failure to effect a cure,
in spite of the excellence of the spiritual means of grace
which the church places at the disposal of all us. The fact
is that grace does not then get a chance of working fully
and freely in the soul of the alcoholic. He lacks adequate
AM NOT ONE OF THE BOYS
lack can have disastrous and long-term results for the sufferer.
If he looks on himself as a normal fellow in every way,
with nothing but a moral defect to overcome, he is in for
serious trouble. After a brief recovery from a drinking
bout he will again "drop in for a couple of beers with
the boys," on the supposition that if they can have
a couple of drinks and go home, so can he.
Doe again speaks from experience, "In my own experience,
after having ‘dropped in for a couple of beers with
the boys’ and finished up by drinking to drunkenness,
not once or twice or ten or eleven times, but time after
time for years, I have again gone in to have a drink with
the boys and felt absolutely certain and clear in my conscience
that I was just going to have that couple of drinks and
go home.. ..am.. . fully aware that it is against all reason
and common sense that I could possibly have felt like that.
. .I am also aware that it is the common excuse of any moral
coward to say, ‘I couldn’t help it.’ But
neither the shame of being accused of that, nor the fear
of ridicule, alters the fact that I was quite certain I
was going to have only a couple of beers.
my case I had not yet fully admitted that I was an alcoholic.
But whatever the reason, the fact stands and it demands
there, I think, we have the basic first step in the rehabilitation
of the alcoholic; the non-alcoholic accepting authoritative
opinion that there is, as distinct from common drunkenness,
such a thing as a disease called alcoholism; the alcoholic
accepting authoritative opinion that he is subject to that
fundamental reason for the success of A.A. is the absolute
finality with which the first step is taken by both sides.
For both ‘doctor’ and ‘patient’
are alcoholics who have made the admission that ‘I
am powerless over alcohol.’ There is not lack of understanding
on the one side, no feeling of being unjustly despised on
acceptance prevents another misfortune which lies in wait
for the compulsive drinker who continues to think of himself
as a quite normal man; the "ever-descending spiral
of his despair," as John Doe calls it. Once he knows
himself as he really is and knows that his deliverance must
come from God, he will stop reckoning his failures in terms
of what is "normal" (as the word is commonly understood).
He will not worry because he cannot drink at all without
drinking madly, whereas "the boys" can take a
drink and leave it at that. He will simply stop thinking
of himself as one of "the boys," will leave them
to go their way while he goes his, and so will escape the
tendency to take chances on the one hand or to grow despondent
over repeated failures on the other.
the conclusions of his own experience to the relationship
of priest and penitent in the Church’s sacramental
life, John Doe maintains that both priest and penitent must
be quite clear about "the distinction between mere
drunkenness and alcoholism as a disease. Berating an alcoholic
for being a no-good drunk, or whining at him for ‘doing
this to me and the children,’ does nothing but drive
him back to drink. The alcoholic may or may not be a reprobate.
He is certainly a sick man.
much for the starting point. But what about the process
of rehabilitation itself? Here again, says John Doe, A.A.
with their twelve steps have something solid to offer which
is, unfortunately, not often proposed to the penitent in
confession. As he expresses it himself; "The second
reason I give for the success of A.A. is a rather shocking
one. I offer it in humility and with all due respect. A.A.
insists more vigorously on the practice of those principles
of Christian ascetics and the spiritual life than do priests
of the Church of Christ."
is an experienced Catholic’s judgment on the twelve
steps - and he has been through the alcoholic mill himself.
They "bring about conversion of life," he insists,
"where sacramental confession has failed. Now, the
Grace of God never fails. So there must have been something
blocking the channel. That failure can only be man’s
failure to co-operate with the grace. The failure, in turn,
must essentially lie in the understanding or in the will
of the penitent. Granting that the penitent alcoholic really
wants to stop, and allowing for the weakness of will born
of habitual indulgence, we must put a large part of the
blame on the penitent’s understanding. He does not
understand the nature of his soul-sickness and he does not
understand the absolute necessity of specific remedial action.
is where the priest should come in as a physician of souls.
And this is where the priest so often fails. He fails to
enlighten the penitent’s understanding. He fails to
prescribe a regime for the strengthening of his will. A.A.
does both. It not only tells the man what is wrong with
him but it adds, "Here’s what you have to do
if you want to get better."
NEW WAY OF LIFE
John Doe points out, A.A. aims at building up a new way
of life for the alcoholic on a positive, over-all
basis. Alcohol is mentioned only once, in the first step.
A recognition, humble and unflinching, of its deadly power
over the victim is made a point of departure for a completely
new way of life where alcohol loses its power because another
Power takes over. But the humble acceptance of the victim’s
personal frailty is always maintained. "I am still
an alcoholic," says John Doe, "and a moment of
carelessness or overconfidence could start me back on the
old cycle within an hour of writing these words."
the end of his article he quotes Father Ford to the effect
that "cooperation with A.A. is essential to the successful
pastoral care of alcoholics." He seems to think, for
his own part, that such cooperation is very desirable but
will not ordinarily be essential, provided that the priest
as physician of souls is able to appreciate and apply in
practice the principles of rehabilitation so well understood
to the precise degree of responsibility which the confessor
should attach to an alcoholic’s acts of drunkenness,
John Doe agrees with Father Ford’s opinion: "His
responsibility for his drinking is generally diminished
to a considerable extent, and sometimes eliminated, but
each alcoholic, each drinking episode, and even each act
of drinking must be judged separately. . .and in the final
analysis the judgment must be left to a merciful God."
PROBLEMS IN GENERAL
from the light which this article throws on the problem
of compulsive drinking from a layman’s experience,
"on the outside of the confessional grill," as
he says himself, it helps also, I think, to clarify a number
of points relating to "compulsive" acts as a class.
The compulsive factors is one that arises in connection
with many other types of sinful or spiritually disturbing
acts besides drinking to excess. Indeed a certain degree
of compulsiveness asserts itself in some acts of most people
who are, by all standards, quite normally constituted. A
familiar example of this, in the religious sphere, is compulsive
distraction at prayer. It is one thing to be distracted
in a casual or accidental way, say by stray thoughts running
through the mind from time to time; it is quite another
matter to be internally driven to distraction, as if by
a mechanical force, under pressure from some preoccupying
thought, pleasant or painful, which sticks inextricably
in one’s mind like a piece of barbed wire. Yet there
are few, even among the most recollected people, who do
not have that distressing experience from time to time.
Similarly one can suffer from compulsive impatience talkativeness
(or taciturnity), laziness, insubordination, and so on.
writers have much to say of these spiritual "trials,"
and it is a noteworthy fact that the Church’s ascetical
tradition deals with them in substantially the same way
as A.A. deals with alcoholism. Thus we are recommended not
to try to combat persistent (i.e., compulsive) distractions
at prayer by a frontal attack or obstinate self-assertive
efforts at recollection. That will get us nowhere, since
our efforts, however dogged and well-intentioned, will be
vitiated from within by the deep-seated inner "cleavage"
of attention from which we are suffering and over which
we have, at least for the moment, no direct control. One
might as well try to eliminate an infection from one’s
lungs by violent coughing. The only thing for a man with
lung trouble to do is acknowledge that he cannot cure himself
and to put himself unreservedly in the hands of the doctors.
In the same way, when we are the victims of compulsive distraction,
impatience and the like, or of compulsive temptation in
thought against the Christian virtues (say against faith
or chastity), we always get the same advice from the saints:
"Do not try to get rid of these things directly. Rather
take advantage of them to confess your powerlessness before
God; surrender your-self into His keeping, with all readiness
to accept whatever sacrifices He may ask of you, whatever
duties He may lay on you; commit yourself entirely to the
care of your loving and merciful Father in heaven -and
all will be well." The analogy between such counsels
and the first three of the twelve steps (from which the
other nine logically derive) is obvious.
considerations suggest the possibility of broadening our
approach to the whole body of moral and spiritual deadlocks
that involve, and are created by, the compulsive factor
in human conduct. The priest as physician of souls encounters
this factor repeatedly, not only in the sphere of alcoholism
but also in such serious moral entanglements as scrupulosity
on the one hand and autoeroticism on the other. In such
cases the victim is powerless over his troubles in just
the same sense as the alcoholic is powerless over alcohol.
Here too, the confessor may fail to help the sufferer as
much as he might, if he persists in treating him as though
his psychological make-up were, here and now, fully normal
-telling him not to be a fool, to pull himself together,
to behave just like everybody else, and so on. This may
be a quite effective way of dealing with a mild case of
compulsive aberration - that is, where the element
of compulsiveness is slight or momentary (it is momentary,
for example, in most cases of individual or mass panic)
but it does not work with serious and permanent cases. The
program of rehabilitation from alcoholism outlined by John
Doe would seem to offer a better nucleus of general principles
capable of being applied, with the necessary adaptations,
to similar situations in other fields.
TO GOD’S PROVIDENCE
the last sentence of his article this writer says that when
the Catholic alcoholic makes use of the right remedial techniques
"with the blessing and understanding of his Church"
his alcoholism "is transformed from a soul eating monster
to a felix culpa which turns him towards the practice of
Christian perfection." Here, surely, in the recognition
of an overruling Providence behind all human weaknesses
and sins we have a basic outlook of incomparable value for
the proper handling of compulsive difficulties as a class.
If God allows evil, it is only in order that He may draw
greater good from itf that is as true of psychological snags
and cleavages as of physical sickness, poverty, war, and
all the other misfortunes of human existence. Man’s
extremity is, in fact, God’s supreme opportunity.
Driven back on his ultimate defenses, man finds himself
alone with God and sees that there is only one way out;
Humility of heart, unconditional surrender to God, absolute
self-abandonment into His hands, obedience to His will.
To take that way out of one’s troubles is to set one’s
feet, as John Doe says, on a road leading "towards
the practice of Christian perfection." The fault is
indeed happy which has so happy an ending.
in God’s loving providence, then, both priest and
penitent need not fear to recognize a compulsive trouble
for what it is - not a straightforward case of mere "nonsense"
or "sin" or "lack of purpose of amendment,"
but of "soul sickness," as John Doe terms it.
(we may take that term as covering both the mental and the
spiritual elements in compulsive acts, leaving room also,
of course, for the possibility of contributory physical
factors). Thus the penitent is asked to begin by accepting
his personal powerlessness over something which he would
very much like to overcome - and may be, in fact, trying
hard to overcome - by self-reliant exertions of one kind
THE GROUND FOR GRACE
breakdown of these exertions then becomes intelligible to
him. He has no alternative except, in a human sense, to
despair of himself ("I am powerless over alcohol"),
since all his self-assertive efforts are sabotaged from
the start by a profound inner snag which he bears willy-nilly
within himself. This is, inevitably, an extremely disconcerting
realization - but also a liberating one. The victim gives
up trying to discover and apply rules of rehabilitation
based on the supposition that he has only to want to be
normal. He knows now that normality is not for him; he is
powerless, except for his power to turn to God.
second and third steps can now be taken ("Came to believe
that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to
sanity. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over
to the care of God."). The grace of the sacraments
and of prayer can then function in a properly prepared environment
of subjective life, and the time may come when, for example,
the apparently incurable autoerotic may be able to say,
in words that echo those of Integrity’s thought-provoking
contributor: "I have not been cured of autoeroticism.
I am still an autoerotic and a moment of carelessness or
overconfidence could start me back on the old cycle within
an hour of writing these words. But I am not sinning. I
am doing my best to fulfill my duty to myself, to my fellow
man and to God. I am, within the limitations of human nature
and my own temperament, at peace…."
deserves the thanks of theologians and the pastoral clergy
alike for publishing "Science, Religion, and Alcoholism."
Based as it is on a fact finding course pursued in the unique
academic institution, the "university of hard knocks,"
it is a valuable contribution towards the progress of our
knowledge in our obscure but important department of human
That was an excellent paper. Doesn’t it touch the
question of the old problem, namely, recognition by the
alcoholic of his own state? What I ask is this: Is that
a perfectly natural act or does it in turn imply some kind
of a special, actual grace? A.A. offers a fine opportunity
for this self-recognition as an alcoholic. Does it bring
into play a special, actual grace for the occasion? If so,
then, I can still see that it is quite properly handled
in the confessional. But, if not, isn’t it true that
the confessor would have an obligation to outline this to
the penitent, and have him promise that he is taking steps
accordingly? That in turn would lead the priest to taking
the case out of the confessional, and to suggesting that
he go to A.A., in obedience to what the confessor knows
would be the prosecution of a perfectly natural act, rather
than surrounding it with the supernatural aura which in
turn might delay the recognition.
Pfau: I think we have all had that experience in the confessional.
Especially those of us in A.A. The procedure is to ask the
man if it is all right to talk about this outside the confessional.
Now, most priests I have talked to who are members of A.A.
approach the man in some way similar to this: "If you
are honest, and sincere in wanting to do something about
your problem, you will naturally be willing to give a hearing
to men who, as we know by their results, have the answers
for your problem. Would you be willing to speak to a member
or two members of A.A." Then, usually, if the man is
sincere, he goes to A.A. In a few weeks or so he comes back
to you ready for all the spiritual advice that you want
to give him. The penitent’s mind is pretty confused
in the confessional. The emphasis there is on moral degeneracy
that he is trying to fight against in himself. The main
thing is to help him recognize it for what it really is,
and that he is not a moral degenerate. I think that is the
main reason, and it is psychological more than anything
A.: With regard to the confessional, I am experienced as
both confessor and alcoholic, and I would defy any of the
confessors to know I am an alcoholic. They may have learned
it from someone else, but I didn’t confess it myself.
I did confess I had had too much to drink. I think our sphere
of activity here’ is more often in the field of pastoral
theology or pastoral care than directly in the confessional.
You may be aware from someone coming in, a wife or friend,
or from your own observation, that a man very definitely
has this problem of alcoholism. My way of handling it is
this: If someone comes in and tells me that a brother or
husband is an alcoholic, I don’t say, "Bring
him in." But when I am taking census in that area I
find’ it easy to get on the topic of alcoholism. I
try to convey to the man first of all that alcoholism is
a disease, and to get him to accept that knowledge. Now,
the acceptance of that knowledge on his part, as having
personal application, definitely requires an actual grace
because of pride. Another thing in regard to the confessional,
Father Ford points out that we must distinguish between
the drunkard and the alcoholic; but it works the other way
around, too. Not everyone who confesses his sins of drunkenness
is an alcoholic; so to advise everyone who comes and confesses
drunkenness to go to A.A. is as incorrect as to advise no
one to go to A.A. Your knowledge of the particular case
will be more complete in the things you know from outside
of the confessional, than by what your penitent actually
says. I think the most important thing that the pastor can
do, especially the non-alcoholic pastor, is first
of all to inform himself on the nature of alcoholism. Then,
when he sees the symptoms of alcoholism present in one of
his parishioners he tries to convey his knowledge of alcoholism
as a disease to that person. Then he can try to guide him
to those who have personal knowledge of the disease, within
A.A. After you do that, continue to give encouragement,
but let go of the ball! Don’t try to do it yourself.
Give him the knowledge of the fact that alcoholism is a
disease; then "let go and let God" step in. That’s
a phrase you often hear in A.A. I think that’s the
best help a pastor can give. First of all, knowledge, then
guidance to where he can get the therapy of A.A., and then
constant encouragement. Of course, too, I think that we
should bear in mind that an alcoholic priest in confession
can more quickly recognize the problem of alcoholism than
the non-alcoholic priest. There is something there
we can sense while the non-alcoholic priest might be debating
in his mind whether this man is or isn’t an alcoholic.
On the average, the ordinary excessive drinker does not
minimize his drinking, whereas the alcoholic will always
minimize it. If he says, "I only had one beer,"
you suspect him; if he says, "I had two beers,"
you know he is an alcoholic. The excessive drinker is not
particularly ashamed of it. The alcoholic is ashamed of
B.: I think there is one point that Father brought up that
is important. He asked the question whether or not the recognition
by the alcoholic of the fact that he is an alcoholic and
the admission and acceptance of it was a natural act. I’d
like to say this: It is hard for a person who is not an
alcoholic to understand how an alcoholic can be so blind
to his condition. An alcoholic is suffering terribly from
alcohol. Everybody else is aware of the fact that he is
alcoholic and that he should never drink, but the alcoholic
himself is the last one to become aware of what alcohol
is doing to him. I don’t think it is a natural act
for an alcoholic to be able to see and accept the fact that
he is an alcoholic. He is blind to that, and somebody has
to help him, and I think that is the work of A.A. The phenomenal
success of A.A. is attributed by A.A. to the grace of God
which works through this fellowship of A.A. It is the act
of charity performed by the members of A.A. in trying to
help other alcoholics that brings the grace to the alcoholic
to enable him to see that he is a person who never should
drink. The members of A.A. become the instruments of God’s
grace to alcoholics to enable them to open their eyes and
become aware of the fact that they are suffering from the
sickness of alcoholism.
C.: I think the incidence of members of A.A. who did not
realize that they were alcoholics is large. We have to keep
that in mind. There are a lot of fellows who go along with
the program a long time before they admit that they are
alcoholic. In my own experience, for a year and a half I
had no recognition of the program. I was told I was alcoholic.
I couldn’t drink. It was a year and a half before
I suddenly had the realization. That is the reason we should
never push it. The most important thing in the initial period
of sobriety, going back to the sacraments and all the other
things will follow. Undoubtedly it is an actual grace, but
we can’t prognosticate that either.
D.: Would you say this blindness is part of the clinical
picture or part of the ascetical problem of alcoholism as
a vice or as a disease?
E.: I would say it is fundamentally in the mind. It is the
obsession of mind that an alcoholic has that he has to drink.
Over the years, his drinking has built up that way of thinking
about drinking, that obsession of mind that is necessary
to living for him to drink. He can’t live without
D.: Would it be more clinical than ascetical?
E.: It is a combination of both. The contact with God grows
dimmer and more and more you fall into alcoholism.
Pfau: I think that we should keep in mind that the neglect
of the spiritual came first in some cases, and in many cases
the alcohol came first and then neglect of the spiritual.