Scene 1 – a rousing AA meeting (it gets personal!) on Tradition 11 - “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” (and now, internet?)
The 11th Tradition’s emphasis is not shame, but rather humility. Our spiritual foundation is not our “success” in recovery, but our humble gratitude; all our recoveries are as unmerited as any grace. We share the badge of early Christians: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16), and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) Our identity is in “God, as we understand Him”, and for me, Christ as Redeemer.
Scene 2 – a small gathering of priests and laity to discuss diocesan resources for addiction/recovery
“Why is a church, a faith community, less welcoming to alcoholics than a 12-Step meeting, or for that matter, a prison?” Animated dialogue scribed the constraints and opportunities we face in recovery: our positions, our reputations, even our mere accessibility, either inhibit or invite addicts and alcoholics to avoid or approach us. Do we hoist our recovery banners, or are we to strike our colors, surrendering anonymously?
Scene 3 – a documentary The Anonymous People, Greg D. Williams, 2013 (Amazon, YouTube)
Advocating for 23.5 million recovering alcoholics and addicts, the National Addiction Foundation (65,000 members) and the Faces and Voices of Recovery (25,000 members) promote openness about recovery, to carry the message widely and lobby for legislative and community support. They are well-meaning counterpoints to Alcoholics Anonymous’ 11th Tradition. The film features leaders in the contemporary movement, and reports on prior generations’ efforts to take recovery out of the shadows of shame, particularly in the late 1960’s when legislative support expanded insurance, treatment and research efforts (which were curbed in the 1980s-‘90s by the “war on drugs”). The movement poses a fair assertion, exposed by Twitter, Instagram and identity theft, “Addicts can’t find help unless we openly proclaim our recovery, our victory over our addictions!”
Scene 4 – Donning coats in the vestibule after the late Sunday liturgy
As my wife and I gathered our starving selves to scoot off for lunch, a parishioner arrested her hurried exit to ask a deeply personal question. “Oh, I should talk to you”, she said. “I’m on my way to the hospital. My alcoholic brother is dying. We haven’t spoken in years and I don’t know what to do. What can I say to him?” Thing is… how did she know to ask me, presumably as an alcoholic? A sober alcoholic? Moreover, if she knows, who else knows, and does the idea that “everybody will know” inhibit a drunk or an addict or their spouse or parents or kids from “reaching out to me for help or hope,” because, well… “everybody will know” if they do? How vividly is my recovery on display?
Yes, I am the parish’s designated Recovery Resources Advocate and have responded to families in crises. But, I am also a member of the parish, famous for Bandito Bean Chili, helpful with building repairs, active in stewardship, and an enthusiastic participant in liturgy. All me. My identity.
When I returned from Vietnam, I refused to be defined by that experience. I was drafted, served, returned – life goes on. But, Vietnam was an event. My alcoholism is intrinsic, as are my gifts and flaws, those gnarly snags in my character and the graces that offset them to bring joy to my work, love to my family and devotion to Christ. My answer to the 11th Step riddle is the 3rd Step: … to turn to God as I encounter Him within the span of a day, regardless or the case or place or face before me. “Lord, show me the work you are choosing for me this day, inviting me to do in humility and love. Amen.”