The Way of a Pilgrim

In my reading today,
I came across an excerpt from

The Way of a Pilgrim
which featured a story about
one person's change
with addiction.

This brief story shares the beginning
and then twenty years later.

While I may make certain inquiries about
certain ideas expressed,
the transformative story is beautiful
and nothing short of a miracle.
Any kind of true recovery
because I do not believe
it is in our nature
to recover.

I think it is in our general nature to hide.

Hence, I wanted to share.

But first a brief reflection on the disease of alcoholism.


     The disease of alcoholism affects so many--and not just the alcoholic, but their loved ones.  Even when there may be a "cured" moment this disease is a dis-ease: one that emotionally disrupts intimate relationships.  This emotional dysfunctional "ash" is passed down through the generations until one person in the generational family system has the courage to change, to examine, to heal, to ask questions, and be open and at peace with the darkness, the unknown, the terror of not knowing, the brokenness around them, realizing that they are not truly alone.  This process does not imply judgment, only compassion.

     The problem is not the "drink"--it is the shame, guilt, and being blamed; it is the denial that is so overpowering, subtle, and strong that it renders those desiring to drink powerless over the alcohol.

     Likewise, it renders the loved ones affected powerless over their own issues, their own addictions to being angry, controlling, correcting, intervening, shaming, obsessive thought and behavior (which usually is not immediately seen) as well as always expecting and always resenting. 

     That is, until one person in this family merry-go-round has the courage to change as I shared before, to see their powerlessness and seek help from the god who cares, who is compassionate, who is gentle and who is love.  I know this god to be the true Christian god, not the one often made in their image.

     Even when an alcoholic is sober (or perhaps no longer in the picture) or the affected loved ones have sought help, this dis-ease is not suddenly "at ease."  It is a daily dying of oneself.  A daily acknowledging of the emptiness to then be filled with a power that transcends our own will.  Only when the wounded desire to see who they really are and the heart invites Love to bathe, heal, and nurture the wounds, can patterns change because we are not on our own but connected to this Love Divine.  Maybe it is slow, maybe it is fast.  Perhaps it is daily and perhaps this is why the early theologian Paul remarks, regarding behaviors that he cannot control, that he must daily die to these in Christ so that he can fully live.

    My friend who is an alcoholic and also affected by a loved one's addiction to it once said to me, "It is easy for me as the alcoholic--I have a visual of my problems:  the drink.  All I have to do each day is admit I am powerless over it and then my Higher Power helps me and empowers me.  But when I am in recovery for being affected by my relative's drinking, I think it is harder, much harder to see how I have been affected (and have contributed to it).  The controlling, intervening rather than caring and loving, it was a confusing mess.  A fog.  But my Higher Power showed up there too and is clearing it away when I admit my powerlessness and desire change." 

     Is there the disease of alcoholism in your family system?  Do you think it is worth exploring? 

An excerpt from The Way of a Pilgrim:

"We sat down to table and the officer began his story:  'I have served in the army ever since I was quite young.  I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer.  But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking.  It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness.  When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks.  My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years.  They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking.  In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time.  Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

'One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought.  A monk came in to beg alms for the church.  Those who had money gave what they could.  When he approached me he asked, "Why are you so downcast?"  We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief.  The monk sympathized with my situation and said, "My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured.  His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink.  If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another.  My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages.  It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol.  Why don't you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be.  I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you."

'I wasn't very open to this idea so I objected, "How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at self-control nor medical aid could keep me sober?" I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

'"Give it a chance," continued the monk reassuringly, "and you will find it very helpful."

'The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels.  I opened it, browsed through it, and said, "I will not take it for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic."

'The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God's special power is present in the Gospel through his words.  He went on, "At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.  One holy man says that 'even when you don't understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble'; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work.  And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thward their intrigues."

'I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it.  Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern.  But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me.  I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything.  Again I remembered the monk's words, "At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later."  So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible.  Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

'In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen.  I read it and did not go.  Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better.  This gave me courage and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels.  The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it.  It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

'Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer.  Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor.  Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army."


Regent College, a graduate school of Christian Studies in Vancouver, BC, is offering a free download of St. Chrysostom and His Profound Understanding of Paul, a lecture by the beloved spiritual theologian James Houston.  This offer just came through my inbox and is valid until July 13.  Enjoy!  (Click the picture below to be redirected to it.)  x