Father Joe M., who is well-known in the recovery community for “Chalk Talk,” shares about alcoholism and twelve step recovery. He is a man that has helped countless alcoholics over many decades and was truly a gift to the twelve step community worldwide. He spent years fighting the stigma of addiction and masterfully articulating what alcoholism is, and the recovery process that is required to recover.
Father M. on breaking free from denial
My drinking was very unspectacular; I drank for ten years from the ages of twenty-four to thirty-four. I was a teacher and never once did I show up naked in a classroom and I never roller-skated down the center aisle of my cathedral. I never punched a bishop for my drinking. As unspectacular as it was, it nearly destroyed me. My drinking was gradual and was a downward slide. I fell in love with the martini on Thanksgiving Day 1948. When you teach seminarians, you live the life of a seminarian, and you get off when they’re off. Our first holiday was Thanksgiving Day, and I was sent from Baltimore to the San Francisco area to teach out there. Four of us on the faculty went down to Santa Cruz to a very quiet quiet little hotel. I think we were the only four in the lounge and when the waiter asked us what we wanted, my closest priest friend Father Larry said, “I’ll have a double martini!” So I said, “Well, I’ll have one too.” Believe it or not, I didn’t know what a martini was, but I learned very quickly and that became my favorite drink.
The drinking was gradual and rather unspectacular because I could never understand why anyone would “choose” to drink too much, especially in public. I don’t mean blind drunk either, I mean just drink too much. Can’t they tell by the way they behave and the way they speak? I could never understand why they did that. You know, looking back on it, I could see a mental preoccupation with alcohol. It fascinated me. It brought euphoria, that amazing feeling, that wonderful sense of well-being. When you drink alcohol, you just feel good. Then in order to keep feeling good, you have to increase the intake more and more. Once on a visitation to our house our superior mentioned the fact that when I was home Baltimore during the summer vacation, it was noticed that I was drinking a bit too much. I think it was the only time it was brought up to me outside of talking to doctors from whom I wanted help. I was out there actively drinking for seven years, and toward the end of those seven, I thought I was headed for a nervous breakdown. I’m sure I was just shaking to pieces. They put me in St. Mary’s Hospital up in the city for three weeks. The doctor never once mentioned the word “alcoholic,” he simply presumed that I would not drink again. He suggested golf as a hobby other than drinking. I once played nine holes. That cured me! Just kidding!
Note: Father Joe M. has left an incredible legacy of recovery and was one of the first prominent members of the recovery community that sought to help others (including the general public) understand the nature of the alcoholic illness. It would be impossible to fathom the amount of lives that he touched and the people he impacted in a positive way. The world is a better place because Father M. was here, and even to this day, he still touches the hearts of others, and helps them change their lives for the better.