After my first dramatic encounter with God that previously detailed, I stopped drinking, joined a religious order and went through 5 years of seminary. I also obtained a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, a Master’s in Divinity, a Master’s in Moral Theology, was ordained a priest and was assigned to a large parish in Delaware. A lot of stress to be sure, but I went into it free of alcohol.
During that same period, I was diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease in my neck and was told that I would need surgery to fuse two ruptured discs. My doctors decided that until I was settled in my first permanent parish assignment and could find a surgeon, they would prescribe narcotic pain medications to manage the pain. The details of this part of the “addiction journey” I have written about separately. Ignorant of the dangers of addiction to these medications and trusting in my doctors, I agreed to this regimen of treatment.
Most people might assume that as a seminarian or priest, my relationship with God must have been rock solid. For a period of time, it was. However, as my use of narcotic pain medications spiraled out of control, I found my relationship with God thrown into upheaval. I simply could not stop taking the pain medications and I began binge-drinking again on occasion to cope with the stress. I found myself wondering how I could be stressed out when I had dedicated my entire life to the service of God and His people. Shouldn’t God have my back?
When my prayers seemed to be ineffective in managing my stress and stopping my growing addiction, I found myself questioning God and praying less. I still “talked the talk” to my parishioners, but I found myself facing a spiritual crisis. I kept asking the same question over and over again in my head, “How could God allow this to happen to me?” I was forced to confront the fact that I never did—and never will—have all the answers. It was a humbling moment to experience.
During my journey through addiction, multiple inpatient treatments (about 12 months altogether) and recovery, my understanding and relationship with God went through more drastic changes. The treatment center I entered into was Guest House, an inpatient program specifically for Catholic priests and religious individuals suffering from addictions. I found myself surrounded by other Catholic priests with addiction issues and also struggling with their relationships with God, just like me. After all, we are only human after all, and not exempt from the problems and illnesses faced by every other human being on the planet.
During my first stay in treatment, my relationship with God had dwindled to almost nothing and, having no hope, I attempted suicide and was sent to a psychiatric unit at a nearby hospital. The attending psychiatrist was baffled and asked me how a man who had dedicated his life to God could wind up in such a condition. I had no answer.
I found myself rethinking the whole “God thing.” While I thought initially that I had a pretty good handle on who God was and what He was all about, the reality was that I still had some learning to do. Even though I believed that there was a God who hears and answers each and every one of our prayers, I had to learn that (a) sometimes the answer is “no,” and (b) God expects each of us to be an active participant in the life we are given. Finally seeing that my Higher Power actually assists me through the journey was freeing. It allowed me to know that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that my prayers were not in vain.
God may not eliminate addiction from our lives, but there is no doubt in my mind that He is with us during each and every moment of our struggles. Of course, each of us must still do the work required in recovery, but we are not alone. Not only do we have each other to lean on for support but there is Someone, Something out there (call him God or something else) that is far, far greater than ourselves who is always there for us in our times of need.
In my personal experience (and in talking to many others), spirituality is the first to go and the last to come back in addiction and recovery. I also firmly believe that spirituality of some kind is essential to recovery and ongoing sobriety from drugs and alcohol. For our continued recovery, we need to spend time discovering who or what this “Higher Power” is for us, and developing a relationship with him. For me as a Catholic priest, I call Him “God the Father”, “Jesus Christ the Son” or the “Holy Spirit.”
Call God what you will, but having a Higher Power in your life will guide you, inspire you, comfort you and help you through your journey. Our spiritual path leads us to freedom, to hope, to recovery and to continued sobriety. Spiritual life is essential to my recovery, and without it I would not be who I am or where I am today. My prayer for you is that you seek out and find God in your life so that He may lead you away from the pain and misery of addiction to the joys of recovery. If you or someone you know is seeking help for addiction, please visit 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 first half of our writer's story here.