Editorial: Church plays role in recovery

  • September 8, 2023

Among the many compelling truths found in this issue’s special section on healing and recovery is the reality that so-called process addictions can be as real and destructive as habitual substance abuse.

As a society, we have thankfully dispensed with dismissive regard for substance addicts as stereotypical character failures lying in the gutter or on the crack house floor. We know, often through personal experience with our families, our social circles and even ourselves, of “high-performing” compulsives whose tragedies are compounded by their delusion that they’re the fooling the world.

Only much more recently have we come to acknowledge that more ephemeral, but no less personally toxic “processes” such as gambling, pornography, work, sexual behaviour and so on mimic the biochemical effects of alcoholism or heroin abuse.

Obsessively scrolling social media is highly unlikely to be a gateway to losing your house, but its dopamine surge and related processes light up your brain analogously to someone snorting coke throughout the day.

As Michael Swan details so effectively in his stories of addiction, healing and recovery, understanding such equivalence clears a path for us to recognize that trauma is invariably at the core of addictive behaviour. The needle in the arm is a narcotizing answer to the hole in the heart. Just so is habituation to weeks of 15-hour work days without, say, a day of Sabbath rest.

Here is where our special section hones in on both a diagnosis, and a path to recovery, that the Church is ideally — some might say uniquely — positioned to provide. For at the heart of  physical, emotional or psychological trauma is spiritual trauma manifest so deeply that it precludes the usual possibilities of tracing cause and effect. Loss, even severe wounding, of the spirit becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of cause and effect.

Alcoholics Anonymous long ago identified 12 specific steps that, when taken, can open in an addict’s life a path to recover and to heal. But those steps start, ever and always, with acknowledgement of powerlessness and the presence of a higher power. Yet long before A.A. came along, the Church had worked out an even more succinct spiritual preparation: “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” Little wonder, as Michael Swan identifies, that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were a model for the secular approach of A.A.’s founder.

Even less a cause for wonder, but as worthy of being counted wonderful, is the contribution of millions of the faithful within the Church who give their hours, indeed their lives, in Christ-centred charity to those who need help overcoming addictive habits. It is a story that should be told alongside the undeniable errors of the Church, i.e., the human faults her detractors at times seem compulsively driven to inject into every account of Christian, and especially Catholic, life.

The purpose of such telling is not to obscure, minimize or excuse those sins. It is to tell the whole truth about Holy Mother Church in the world.

When the Register team began planning for the special section on healing and recovery, and the companion section on human trafficking that will be published next week, that was our intention. We knew the enslavement of people, either through substances, processes or as actual bought-and-sold chattels, was of major societal concern.

The numbers, as we report, are irrefutable. But we wanted, beyond that, to illuminate the Church’s active presence in recovering from both forms of bondage. Active physically in terms of front-line work demonstrating love of neighbour. Much more, active spiritually by extending the liberating truth that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us and nothing — nothing — can prevail against it.

We hope our readers agree that our effort is worth the truth of our intentions.

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