Alcoholism is a disease which affects both the body and the mind. The person who drinks alcoholically soon discovers that the moment alcohol hits the system it produces a two-fold effect: a physical craving for more alcohol (body) and an increasing obsession with alcohol (mind). We cannot and should not reduce alcoholism to being a moral failure or a lack of will-power. This is simplistic and unhelpful to them and to those who love them and do their best to help them while suffering the effects of their loved-one’s alcoholism. A full-blown alcoholic is a person who is in the grip of a powerful disease that renders their capacity to break free from it very difficult indeed. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous asserts that it is only by turning their will over to a higher power, that the alcoholic can begin to move toward sobriety.
The alcoholic is ravaged in mind, body and spirit by alcohol, and by the disease which renders them incapable of stopping drinking, save by the intervention of a higher power, God. For this reason, alcoholics who begin to move toward recovery begin to discover that a spiritual solution is ultimately their only hope for permanent sobriety. Beginning to walk this spiritual path, many alcoholics see their disease as the catalyst for the intervention of God in their lives. The experience of healing grace that accompanies recovery enables them to, ultimately, see their disease as a sacred illness and that the effect that alcohol has had on their lives is a holy wound. However paradoxical this may sound, a recovering alcoholic knows through experience that this is indeed the case.
Alcoholism is a wound on the psyche, and it is through this wound that the Holy Spirit can enter into the alcoholic person. This brokenness means that the alcoholic can no longer rely on their own strength or understanding, but must turn towards a power far greater than themselves, or indeed, greater than any human power. In this moment, healing and salvation opens up for the alcoholic as they in utter despair, throw themselves upon the mercy of their highest power, who is God. ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted’, the psalmist tells us. In the brokenness of their hearts, God is very close to the desperate alcoholic, as it is through the cracks of that brokenness that they can glimpse their salvation in God, and through the woundedness of their broken hearts, that God can enter in. This morbus sacer, or sacred wound would be Rose’s cross to bear; a cross that both crucifies while it saves.
Most people never get to experience the absolute despair of the ruined and desperate alcoholic, and so never have the opportunity to come into contact with their utter vulnerability and their total dependence on a power outside of themselves. For Rose, her alcoholism was a wounding disease that ravaged her mind and body, while also being a sacred wound in which she had confronted the limited depths of her own spirit. At that limit, the holy wound opened up to the deeper depths of the Holy Spirit dwelling within her own spirit. She knew then that God was real and that God was her only salvation from the soul-wounding ravages of her alcoholism. In humility and desperation she turned to God, and God in His loving kindness turned His merciful gaze upon her, and reached out in healing love to her.
And yet, because of her woundedness, Rose also succumbed continuously to the power of her disease, which convinces the alcoholic that they are now cured and that one little drink could do no harm. But because alcoholism is a disease which is incurable (the recovering alcoholic is one who is granted a reprieve from the effects of the disease as long as they do not touch alcohol), Rose would continue to relapse. Between these moments of relapse, in which the effects of alcohol damage the mind and body and intensify the pain of alcoholic despair, and moments of recovery in which love and devotion for the healing and loving God of her faith brought her peace and serenity, Rose lived the last years of her life. Having experienced God’s power in her life, she could never turn away from Him. Yet the power of the disease, meant that she often succumbed to its effects when her spirits were low. In this, God never left her, and loved her in her pain and isolation. She knew this intimately, and so while struggling with her disease, also lived a life of deep spiritual devotion.
Rose now rests in the heart of God; In the broken heart of our wounded saviour, who aches and burns with love for all his wounded brothers and sisters. May Rose find light, love and eternal life in the heart of the One on whose mercy she constantly threw herself during her life.
friar Terence Bateman OFM Conv.