Struggling Post-Addiction? Advice for the Catholic in Recovery
Scott Weeman, author of ‘The Catholic in Recovery Workbook,’ shares practical and spiritual tips.
With Lent underway, many people are making resolutions for these 40 days.
Generally, it’s no secret that millions of Americans, including Catholics, struggle with addictions that often derail their best resolutions. We tell ourselves, “This is the year I’ll defeat my addiction to ______!”
Many are probably familiar with 12-step recovery programs that have blessed thousands of men and women recovering from addictions.
But now there is a new option for Catholics who are at the same time committed to their faith in Christ and the Church and seeking freedom from addictions, compulsions and unhealthy attachments.
Scott Weeman, a Catholic husband and father and a marriage and family therapist, is the founder and executive director of Catholic in Recovery, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals and families impacted by addiction. He is the author of The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments and the recently released The Catholic in Recovery Workbook from Ave Maria Press.
In a recent interview with the Register, he discusses his work in therapy, trends he sees in our country on addiction, and why he’s so passionate about bringing the Church into the 12-step healing process — as well as the long-standing Catholic commitment to aiding those in recovery, including the Catholic connection to the 12-step program.
Let’s start with your work at Catholic in Recovery (CIR). What kinds of recovery do you currently support?
Right now, we have in-person groups for people recovering from a range of addictions, compulsions and unhealthy attachments.
When most people think of 12-step programs, they think of substance abuse. But we also serve people recovering from food-related compulsions, technology addictions and pornography abuse. We also have groups for families — children, adult children and spouses impacted by a loved one’s addictions.
Other 12-step programs have had great success, including in your own life. So why do we need a “Catholic version”? Why “Catholics in Recovery” specifically?
The Roman Catholic Church is founded on the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, so if Catholics aren’t leaning into that in their own recovery from addictions, they’re missing a huge element.
As Catholics, we have access to the healing power of God through the sacraments and the Body of Christ. That’s an enormous gift. We know that Christ is truly present “where two or three are gathered” in his name. The community of the Church is both the wounded Christ and the healing Christ.
I think something other 12-step programs do really well is acknowledge the spiritual aspect of the human person. These are spiritual programs open to everyone, so they use a language that’s very general, like calling God a “higher power.”
But for recovering men and women who already have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ or the Trinity, that might be a turn-off or just unsatisfying. Catholics should have a community that encourages them to tap into the true presence of Christ.
Your program, the Catholic in Recovery (CIR), won the Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) Institute for Catholic Innovation Challenge Showcase in 2021. Tell us a little about that journey and what the award has allowed CIR to do.
It was a really amazing opportunity, an eight-month process from start to finish. It required a really robust description from me of the mission: who we’re serving, how our hearts break for them, but also a clear case for the business side of the project.
The story of the semifinal round of competition is kind of funny. The 24 finalists had two to three weeks to prepare for a day-long pitch challenge in front of a panel of five judges who grilled us on questions related to our plans and vision. It so happened that my son was born at 12:03am on the morning of my semifinals pitch.
So I gave my final Zoom presentation from the hospital just 10 hours later, while my wife was resting. I can’t really do justice to the adrenaline and excitement that was just coursing through me at that point!
We were blessed to be selected as one of the three 2021 winners, and the prize money has allowed us to take Catholic in Recovery to the next level.
We signed a contract to publish The Catholic in Recovery Workbook, which is now available. We were able to expand our team and launch a new digital platform, “CIR+,” where members have easy access to so many resources, including:
● video modules and courses for each of the 20 sections in the workbook;
● video testimony from other recovering Catholics; and
● support for family members affected by addiction.
That sounds like an amazing experience and opportunity. Where is Catholic in Recovery now in terms of growth?
There’s such evidence of a need for this ministry. Right now, we are adding one new group every week in states around the country. We’ve even gone international, with groups in Canada and Mexico.
Additionally, we host 30 weekly virtual meetings — and there is demand for more. These are a great option for people in rural areas or where we don’t yet have in-person communities.
Tell us about this workbook and its companion, The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments. How is it different from the more widely known 12-step program?
CIR follows the same 12 steps as other programs. In fact, Catholics like Father Ed Dowling were intimately involved in the creation of the 12 steps in the 1930s and ’40s. But over the last 80 years, as with most of our culture, the 12-step communities have sometimes become more secularized.
CIR incorporates the sacraments of the Church through the entire recovery process and beyond. CIR groups have the unique ability to speak freely about faith in their meetings. The workbook includes a weekly reflection that ties in to the Scriptures from daily and Sunday Mass.
Members also share and build relationships rooted in liturgy and faith; these connections are so important in authentic friendship: They are absolutely essential to recovery.
Many addicts feel like a “lost cause.” A lot of the book reads very personally to me. Tell us about your own journey. Did you ever feel that you were a lost cause?
Yes; throughout my early 20s, I fell into addictions myself. I think the “lost cause” feeling really came from self-sabotage: Every time things seemed to get better, I would fall back in my addictive behaviors.
I rationalized a lot and told myself that I was unique: I didn’t need help. Then when I fell back into my destructive behaviors, I’d despair and tell myself there was no help for me. There were a couple of years where I thought, “I’m hopeless, and I’ll live with this handicap my whole life.”
I tried to move from my home in Wisconsin to San Diego to save my relationship, but it was like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. My girlfriend left me, and I lost my job because of my inability to show up. I hit rock bottom.
One day in 2011, I took my beach cruiser down to Mission Bay. I collapsed in the sand on the beach, pulled out my phone, and started calling my closest friends and Mom and Dad. I told them I had a problem and needed help. The very next day, I attended my first 12-step meeting.
I remember standing in the stairwell of the building where the meeting was held, and I could hear this laughter. I thought, “If these people knew how I was feeling, they wouldn’t be laughing.” But I also wanted what they had: These people had a solution to my problem.
After that first meeting, we all got together, arms around shoulders, and said the Our Father. I had grown up nominally Catholic, but lost touch with my faith pretty early on. As we prayed that prayer, though, it brought this sense of peace.
A man ran across the room to me, looked me in the eyes: “I know exactly how you feel. You never have to drink again.” It wasn’t until someone had that confident look and said, “I know how you feel” that I really had hope.
“You and I are going on a journey together,” he said. “And none of us is coming back.”
And we did. It was a one-day-at-a-time journey and the real spiritual awakening I needed so much. We had The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Bible. And that was the beginning. It was God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
And my faith became such a central part of that journey. … I wanted to make that possible for others.
Picking up on your description of how a relationship really jump-started your recovery, a lot of the CIR program centers on building authentic relationships. Tell us a little more about what makes a relationship authentic.
In the program, we use the acronym “HOW.” An authentic relationship is characterized by:
Sometimes, it’s easier to be honest with others than with myself. The condition of addiction keeps us stuck in denial, whether our own or a loved one’s addiction, and shining an honest light on it creates an opportunity for us to see clearly our condition as it is. We become willing to see the truth when we’re not alone.
I couldn’t do that on my own. I had to meet and see other people who had already found that gift of freedom. I didn’t believe I could be healed until I saw them. They had discovered the key to recovery and also that in order to maintain it, they had to give it away: to share it with others; with me.
That’s the key to authentic relationships: We must give our gifts away ... or we lose them.
What kinds of addictions is the 12-step program for? What kinds of addictions do you see on the rise in our culture?
The major addictions we see at CIR include food-related addictions, either restricted eating or compulsive overeating, which are now just as prevalent as drug or alcohol abuse.
Other addictions I see on the rise are lust — fueled by porn — gambling and, increasingly, technology addictions. In fact, gambling and tech addictions have become so normalized in American culture that now people can’t even identify that they have an addiction, compulsion or unhealthy attachment to these things.
I think these are different symptoms of the same spiritual malady: The pursuit of these behaviors is at its core a pursuit of fulfillment. We are driven to fill ourselves in a way that only God can.
What begins as an escape and a means to cope becomes a cycle of addiction only an act of God can get us out of.
The good news is that there is hope. I see it every day.
Who are your favorite, go-to saints in your work, particularly saints who suffered with addiction?
I have grown a devotion to St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine. Her patient endurance — and she was not a pushover by any means — is such a model for anyone struggling with family issues related to addictions. She was a strong-willed woman who knew her boundaries and took care of herself, but she also didn’t let anything get in the way of her love for her husband and son.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was a Chinese martyr in 1900 who died during the Boxer Rebellion. He died with many members of his family and even asked to die last so that his family wouldn’t die alone. He had a deep devotion to the sacraments, and when he died, he was also an active opium addict. He would seek confession constantly and had such an appreciation for the Eucharist that he would go without it because of his attachment to opium. He provides great hope for those without the willingness to change. He teaches me to “pray for the willingness to be willing.”
Scott Weeman appeared on EWTN Live this week.