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Why are so many priests alcoholics?

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith

The downfall of many clerics (PA)

The story about the continuing misfortunes of Paul Gascoigne are more than the usual article about a “troubled” celebrity, or a star fallen on hard times, with which our culture is so obsessed. Rather it is a reminder of the grief caused by alcoholism. Mr Gascoigne is an alcoholic, and his addiction is clearly ruining him, just as it once ruined George Best. Moreover, Mr Gascoigne’s alcoholism must cause distress to his family and his friends, many of whom, no doubt, have tried repeatedly to help him.

Everyone who has lived inside the institutional church, in a presbytery or a religious house, or a convent, will know about alcoholism, for alcoholism is, historically speaking, often regarded as the curse of the Catholic clergy. I doubt that figures are published or much serious research done into the problem any more, but Catholic priests are more likely to be alcoholic than other men, or so it seems to me. Any attempt to provide scientific backing to such a claim would be bedevilled by the question of just how you measure the incidence of alcoholism. But consider the facts: there are special drying out facilities just for the clergy, or there used to be; the figure of the alcoholic priest is a staple in literature – consider the “whiskey priest” in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, or even Father Jack in the television series Father Ted; and think of all the priests you may have known who drank too much. And count up the times you heard someone, somewhere, utter the line: “Father X is not an alcoholic, he just likes a drink” or one of the variants thereof.

Why are so many priests alcoholic? That is a fairly easy question to answer. There are the pressures of the job, being on call, sometimes for 24 hours a day. There is the simple difficulty of finding it hard to relax without a drink in your hand. There is the culture of drinking that is so common in Catholic milieux: the world of the Catholic social club, or the people always offering you a drink. There is the challenge of loneliness, and the challenge of boredom. And there is the possible genetic predisposition to alcoholism that some of us bear.

Alcoholic priests do enormous damage to the Church. I think that goes without saying. But what does even worse damage is the way the phalanx of people who surround, protect and enable each alcoholic priest (and these people are never absent), who all deny there is a problem. One can see that Fr X is an alcoholic, but he is surrounded by people who refuse to admit that his is true, which introduces into ecclesial discourse the dangerous disconnect with reality which is the source of so many of our problems. If we cannot face the truth of Fr X’s alcoholism, what truths can we face? If we cannot tackle this problem, how will we ever tackle anything?

To tell someone they are an alcoholic is cruel, for it shames them profoundly: it is always shameful to have to acknowledge that you are not free, but rather a slave to your lower impulses. But to leave someone in a state of slavery is much more cruel, and, in the end, will greatly increase the sum of human misery. When a priest drinks too much, that has to be confronted, and the sooner the better. There can be no solution to this or to anything else without acknowledgement of the truth.

Why am I writing this, and why now? Partly it is touched off by the pictures of Paul Gascoigne, but it is also because of a concern which we should all have for the welfare of the clergy. The spotlight on the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults, which has taken up much attention in the last two decades, should not deflect us from keeping ourselves alert to other areas of concern as well. As with child welfare, burying our heads in the sand is never a useful way forward. Alcoholism among the clergy was always a problem in the past; and it has not gone away. Denying we have a problem has not helped us in the past, and will only compound this, and other difficulties, we face.

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Robin Williams on Alcoholics

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Robin Williams


Oscar winning actor and comedian Robin Williams has been found dead at his home in California after apparently killing himself at the age of 63.

The star of Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, who battled depression and an addiction to drugs and alcohol for decades, was found dead in his San Francisco mansion at around noon yesterday.

Marin County Sheriff’s Office said today it believed Williams’ death was a suicide due to asphyxia.

The married father of three had been back in rehab last month ‘fine-tuning’ his sobriety in a year where he had been working on six movies and a TV series.

His distraught wife Susan Schneider revealed her husband had died in a statement last night and said: ‘This morning I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one if its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken’.

Friends and colleagues such as Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin and Ben Stiller all took to social media to express their grief and offer condolences to Williams’ third wife and three children, son Zachary Pym, 31, Zelda Rae, 25 and Alan, 22.

President Obama issued a touching tribute to the actor and comedian, and thanked him his influence on American culture throughout his 35 year career.

He said: ‘Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.

A statement by the Marin County Sheriff’s Department in California said: ‘On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 am, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, California. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams.’

‘The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12pm.

Outside the family home in a neighborhood of low-slung houses with water views, people left flowers and talked about the man who rode his bike around and had a smile and a wave for children on the street.

‘It wasn’t like having a celebrity,’ said Sonja Conti who said the actor would often ask about her dog and nicknamed him ‘Dude.’ ‘He was just a normal, nice guy. People left him alone.’

Another neighbor, Kelly Cook, 50, described Williams as a ‘private man’ who would often be seen cycling around the area.

She said her children would call him ‘the funny man’ and he would often speak to them when he was out walking his pug called Lenny.

Known as ‘the funniest man alive’, Williams fought drug and alcohol problems from the time he was still appearing in Mork & Mindy – right at the start of his fame.


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Amber Valletta: How I Live With Addiction Every Day.


‘I was high and drunk on a multi-million dollar shoot': Amber Valletta opens up for the first time about her ‘daily’ battle with addiction

Amber Valletta has opened up for the first time about her ‘daily’ battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

The 40-year-old supermodel, who stars in TNT’s upcoming drama, Legends, spoke about her addiction at a live talk for MindBodyGreen.com, a site that helps people live better, healthier lives.

‘I had a multi-million dollar deal and I showed up the first day to shoot this campaign high and drunk. I didn’t care,’ confessed the mother-of-one. ‘And that’s to just show you addiction takes you to the worst places’.

Ms Valletta, who is married to the Olympic volleyball player, Chip McCaw, said her addiction started at an early age, and it took her 17 years to seek help.

‘When I was about eight I would sniff markers, glue, and nail polish – anything that could give me a buzz,’ she recalled.

‘Then I found drugs. By age ten, I think I had been high… And by the time I was 18, I moved to Europe and found cocaine and alcohol.’

The model, who has starred in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein and Versace, was born in Arizona, and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her single mother who worked at the post office and bought groceries with food stamps.

Ms Valletta doesn’t blame her tough childhood for her addiction, nor does she blame the modeling industry.

‘It is genetic, I’m predisposed to it… I’m just an uncomfortable human being, I feel anxious and have a need to take the edge off.’

She does admit, however, that modeling was a business ‘where drugs and alcohol were widely acceptable and given to me’.

She added: ‘I didn’t have any tools to help myself. I was this socially awkward kid thrown into a world that was very sophisticated. I couldn’t manage my feelings, so I took things to cope.’

At 22, Ms Valletta was at the peek of her modeling career (she has starred on 16 American Vogue covers – more than Shalom Harlow and Kate Moss combined), but said that she ‘put everything on the line’ for her addiction.

‘By age ten, I think I had been high… And by the time I was 18, I moved to Europe and found cocaine and alcohol’

She reveals that she got sober at 25 simply because she ‘didn’t want to die’.

‘There is a misconception about addiction,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t allow you to stop by using sheer willpower. I had to seek out support, learn how to meditate, and be humble. I had to find a spiritual compass.

‘I had to lift the veil off the shame and say “I’m an addict, I can’t do this alone”,’ she said.

Earlier this year, Ms Valletta opened up to The Telegraph, saying that occasionally she is still tempted to drink alcohol, but she never succumbs.

‘Every once in a while, I’ll miss a glass of wine. And there are drinks that I’ve never tried and I think, “S-, I should have tried that.” But I’m so much better without it – the risk I take if I have something is too big. I don’t know where it will lead me.’

Ms Valletta hopes that breaking her silence on her struggle with addiction will help lift the taboo that surrounds the disease.

‘I’m not hiding in my shame. There’s a lot of shame in addiction, it’s how it thrives: darkness, secrets, lies, cheating. It’s demoralizing.

‘We need celebrate sobriety, we need to bring it into the light’.

Read more:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2689133/On-multi-million-dollar-shoot-I-high-drunk-Amber-Valletta-opens-time-daily-battle-addiction.html

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Your Brain on Alcohol

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Dr. Bob on the 12 steps.

“The Twelve Steps … are simple in language, plain in meaning. They are also workable by any person having a sincere desire to obtain and keep sobriety. The results are the proof. Their simplicity and workability are such that no special interpretations, and certainly no reservations, have ever been necessary. And it has become increasingly clear that the degree of harmonious living which we achieve is in direct ratio to our earnest attempt to follow them literally under divine guidance to the best of our ability.”
AA Co-Founder, Dr. Bob, September 1948.

Robert Holbrook Smith (August 8, 1879 – November 16, 1950), who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill Wilson.

Robert Holbrook Smith (August 8, 1879 – November 16, 1950), who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill Wilson.

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Mentioning drugs in AA meetings

A.A. is a fellowship open to anyone with a desire to stop drinking. Because of this among the membership are people with every sort of problem. It was realized early on that A.A. could not solve all the problems people have and long ago chose to limit its primary purpose to helping people recover from alcoholism only. Drinking too much is just about the only thing we all have in common and many fear A.A. would loose its identity and effectiveness if it were to address problems other than alcoholism.

Other fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous, and many people in A.A., see alcoholism and drug addiction as the same thing. At the same time A.A. tries to maintain its traditional focus on alcoholism only. At times this creates friction, particularly because many in A.A.do not think that alcoholism and drug addiction are the same thing. Some see this as an antiquated view, but it is the way A.A. has been set up since it began, with its sole focus on alcohol – not addiction. Among the membership are many people who have tried various drugs but find that alcohol is the only one they have problems with.

In A.A., Step One says that we admit we are powerless over alcohol which is a physical substance. In N.A., Step One replaces “alcohol” with being powerless over “our addiction” which is a concept, behavior or disease. This embodies a significant difference in approach. A.A. is focused on being powerless over one certain substance while N.A. is focused on addiction in general.

A.A. tries to limit its focus to alcoholism but all sorts of other problems can influence a person’s recovery. Some in A.A. talk of how money, health, mental and other problems influence their recovery. Often people talk about how their drug addiction influences their recovery or alcoholism.

“The problem” comes up when some feel that the primary focus of a group or meeting is getting away from alcoholism. If a meeting were to focus on a problem such as tax evasion or smoking, many would object that the meeting was straying from A.A.’s “primary purpose” and suggest the meeting be re-focused onto drinking problems. When the focus leans toward drug addiction some see this as OK, others think this too is getting away from the focus of alcoholism, it often simply depends on who happens to be in the room at the time.

If a person goes to a meeting and talks at length about trout fishing they might be asked to let someone else share or change the subject. While one person may see their fishing addiction and alcoholism as one in the same, they could be asked to limit their comments to the alcoholism to keep the focus on the one thing all in the meeting share in common – alcoholism. Likewise, many view their cocaine and alcohol addiction as the same problem but in an A.A. meeting they may be asked to limit their discussion of their crack smoking to keep the focus on alcoholism – the only problem common to everyone in the fellowship.

In many places introducing yourself as something other than “an alcoholic” at an A.A. meeting is often an occasion for controversy or tension. Many feel that introducing oneself as an “addict” or an “alcoholic/addict” moves the focus away from the primary purpose of an A.A. meeting. The sentiment behind this is that if we focus on our differences, rather than what we share in common, we will loose the common thread that holds us together as a fellowship.

A person may be an alcoholic/gambler or an alcoholic/tax cheat or an alcoholic/diabetic or an alcoholic/thief or, as is quite common, an alcoholic/addict, but the only thing we all have in common is the “alcoholic” part. As a practical matter then, introducing yourself as simply “an alcoholic” can be the easiest way to limit the tensions surrounding the issue and to help keep A.A. focused on alcoholism (even if addiction and alcoholism are the same thing – a subject which A.A. has no opinion on).

Going to an A.A. meeting and introducing yourself as “an addict” is seen by many to be like going to a square dance and doing the waltz; it is just not what the gathering is meant for. Even if your primary hobby is the waltz, there is a time and a place for everything and if you are at a square dance it is only polite to stick to square dancing. If many kinds of dances happened at a square dance it would no longer be a square dance. Likewise many fear A.A. would no longer be A.A. if the common focus on alcoholism were to be lost amid a multitude of addictions or bad behaviors.

Similarly, an A.A. member attending an N.A. meeting may want to consider showing respect for the intended purpose of that fellowship and introduce themselves as “an addict” instead of “an alcoholic.” There the commonality is found in addiction and introducing one’s self as an alcoholic could be seen as emphasizing an individual difference rather than the shared problem.

The fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous has stated this concept in this way:

The focus of AA is on the alcoholic, and we ought to respect that fellowship’s perfect right to adhere to its own traditions and protect its focus. If we cannot use language consistent with that, we ought not go to their meetings and undermine that atmosphere. In the same way, we NA members ought to respect our own primary purpose and identify ourselves at NA meetings simply as addicts, and share in a way that keeps our message clear.
Source: World Service Board Of Trustees Bulletin #13
NA World Service (1985, revised 1996).

AA’s co-founder, Bill W. writes about the issue in both Tradition Three and Tradition Five in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.


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