Growing up, most of what I knew about God was based on what I was taught, not something I had ever spent time figuring out for myself. It came down to “do what you’re told or God’s going to send you to hell.” Not a very pleasant view. My homiletics professor in seminary summed up my relationship with God very aptly: “We are all sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Up to that point, that’s basically what I believed.
The only time I really reached out to God was when I couldn’t find my car keys (while also enlisting the help of St. Anthony, the finder of lost things). Dealing with stress in life, on the other hand, was very well managed by alcohol—lots and lots of it. Since the age of 14, I would get drunk whenever life was stressful. This all seemed to work quite well for several years until I found myself one Friday night drunk and miserable. Alcohol was supposed to make the misery go away—what was I doing wrong?
That night, I called my best friend who was away at college and accustomed to my frequent drunk dials. He was someone whom I trusted and looked up to, and I always felt that he had a good relationship with God. I don’t recall what we talked about, but at one point in the blackout-induced conversation he asked me, “Do you want to go back to church?”
Call it a miracle but I heard that question with perfect clarity and responded as though I were stone-cold sober. “Yes,” I said. After all, at that point I had nowhere else to turn. The next morning I went to Mass with my best friend’s mother and sisters. When I walked out of church afterwards, I felt like a ton of weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Rarely have I experienced the deep sense of peace I felt that day. During the following days and weeks, that peace stayed with me and I never ceased to be amazed and overjoyed by it.
That experience led me to a new understanding of God—a loving, caring God who wanted the very best for me. A God who, at that time, gave me such a sense of peace that I didn’t have to turn to the “god of the bottle.” I also developed a prayer life that worked like nothing before.
I firmly believe that each one of us can develop a relationship with God that is unique to ourselves and that has deep meaning in our lives. My relationship to God and my prayer life may look quite different from yours. If they both work then who’s to say one of us is right or wrong? I have found that the 12-Step programs like AA and NA speak of God in such a way that nobody is excluded because his or her belief differs from the rest. I find a lot of wisdom in this approach and have seen it work successfully in the lives of addicts and alcoholics from a very wide variety of backgrounds.
My story, however, doesn’t end here. My newly discovered relationship with God was due for yet another “overhaul” as I continued through five years of seminary, ordination to the priesthood, an assignment to a large parish on the East Coast and an unexpected addiction to narcotic pain pills. As good as I thought my relationship with God was, I was about to realize that the journey was far from over for me. If you or someone you know is seeking help for addiction, browse our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to inquire about specialists in your area.
How Being a Priest and an Addict Changed My View of God is a two-part series. Read the second half of our writer's story here.