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[At our Healing Conference in 2011, Sr. Antonietta Potente, O.P., told us God makes all things new, “…but also this happens mostly in strange silent transformations.  It happens with whatever already exists, as new things are taken out of old things….” And good things come out of ‘bad’ things.  She went on to say that “Caring is …a very solemn term which calls us …to move from being focused on ourselves to freeing ourselves from our small and great self-centeredness (to focus on) that something or someone already in our lives that makes us grow…” In her article,’ Sr. Jo-Ann Jackowski, SFP, shares an experience of what such sharing, faithfulness and caring looks like in real life. . . . ]

jackowskiSr. Jo-Ann Jackowski, sfp

I recently had an opportunity to attend a workshop entitled Walking with the Wounded at Guest House, a beautiful facility in Lake Orion, Michigan for women religious with addictions.  The warmth and non-judgmental attitude of the staff and beauty of the campus were impressive; even more impressive was what I learned. 

Thanks to new technology in use in the past ten years, behavioral addiction, like substance abuse, is considered a brain disease by the medical establishment, and now includes not only alcohol, drugs and gambling, but also compulsive computer use, hoarding/cluttering, shopping and food disorders.  Addiction is defined as not being able to do what you intend to do with drinking/drugs (including prescription drugs), eating/exercise, spending/gambling, saving/storing, computer use,” and using these substances or activities for relief from stress, anxiety, emotional pain, physical pain or other issues of concern.

Increased need and tolerance for the substance/activity and continuing use despite negative consequences mark all addictions. Without intervention, job loss, loss of primary and social relationships, increasing illness and early death occur.  The key point in identifying an addict is the increasing loss of control the addict feels over a substance(s)/ behavior, and the inability to face the difficulties of life and engage them, using, instead, a substance or behavior to distract one’s self from uncomfortable feelings.  PET scans have provided the medical link -- a lack of dopamine in the addict’s brain.

Unfortunately there is no pill at present that can relieve the situation; the addict must commit to a life in recovery and an honest choice to abstain from the substance/activity that triggers the addiction. This is a challenge when there is a chemical trigger; the difficulty increases when the person must engage in the activity to live – such as eating, shopping and use of the internet.  As would be expected, satisfying engagement in work/ministry, interactions with others (community) and prayer support the recovering addict. 

Diet, Nutrition and the Recovery Process
The staff at Guest House has also found that a diet low in sugar and white flour and rich in whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetable, dairy/soy and healthy fats stabilize energy levels and enhance recovery. Participants immediately begin a program of good nutrition and balanced exercise, even during the two-week evaluation.  Once it is established that it would be beneficial for them to remain, detoxification continues and an educational process begins focusing on the disease process, need for abstinence from the addictive substances/behaviors and the recovery process.  Participants are also introduced to the 12 Step Programs and participate in at least one program a week in the local community -- so that they will experience a connection to and the benefit of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), OA (Overeaters), GA (Gamblers), DA (Debtors) and/or CLA (Clutters).  There are about 350 (!) 12 Step Programs available worldwide – which speaks to the fact that any substance or behavior can become addictive if a person is sensitive to the trigger. 

Spiritual Roots of the 12 Steps
Of great interest to me was the section on Spirituality and Recovery.  As women religious, our relationship with God, with our self and with our religious congregation comprise our primary relationships.  If our spiritual director is not familiar with the signs of addiction and/or we are not being honest in sharing our story, it could appear to the director that we are experiencing a "dark night of the soul." In reality our addiction can be progressing and separating us from a felt experience of God. Emotional health is a necessity for spiritual health. Our emotions and our body are gifts from God and the primary ways we experience God.  We all have a need to love and to be loved and a need to feel worthwhile and valuable.  When these needs are not met during childhood, we may not know how to meet them as adults. 

Bill Wilson, a struggling alcoholic and the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), was a friend of William James and Carl Jung, the famous psychologist.  As a favor to James, Jung worked with Wilson in the midst of his struggles.  Jung came to believe that the craving for alcohol was really a search for wholeness or union with God, and once Bill had a deep experience of God, he was able to enter the recovery process and stick with it.  God was/is the One who rescues us from our powerlessness over alcohol, food, use of money; hence, the reason that acknowledging a Loving God (a “Power greater than ourselves”) is so critical to the healing/recovery process.

I left Guest House with a deeper understanding of both addiction and the process of recovery, and a feeling of profound gratitude to the God who calls us into being and remains in relationship with us in the depths of our being.  Our weakness does not keep us from God; acknowledging human weakness and relying on the strength of the God Within is the Path to healing and recovery.  We are blessed to know and believe this!

Sr. Jo-Ann Jackowski, SFP