The Catholic Register
September 10, 2023
Publisher’s Notebook

There’s always the hope of liberation

There’s always the hope of liberation

There is hope for those who feel helpless and are trapped in their addiction.


  • avatar
    Peter Stockland
    The Catholic Register

A wise man I know says he stumbled trying to overcome addiction a first time because of the very intensity of his dream to gain sobriety.

“I just believed that once I got sober, everything in life would be perfect. It was only after I relapsed and went through recovery a second time that I realized, no, life would be life. Things would go right. Things would go wrong. But I would be living life sober.”

Both the truth and wisdom of that realization echo through the reportage on addiction, healing and recovery that you will read in the pages ahead. In fact, when The Catholic Register team dreamed up this special section several months ago, it was with variations on that theme in mind. Michael Swan, whose extraordinary writing and reporting fills the majority of the pages, captured it succinctly in one particular discussion.

We know that the darkness of addiction plagues society, Michael said. We know there’s an opioid crisis marked by a staggering death rate. What we as a Catholic publication must emphasize, he insisted, is the enduring hope of liberation, that is the God-given gift to live life free of bondage to substances or processes that enslave us.

As the stories in the special section make plain, the old discredited understanding of addiction as character failure, and similarly the now-challenged model of it as biochemical and therapeutic, tend to diminish the importance of the spiritual. Yet the very enduring success of Alcoholics Anonymous, with its close origin-story resemblance to the Ignatian spiritual exercises, shows the error of overlooking the religious sense as an essential aspect of recovery.

Or as Anna, a key healing figure in Deacon Robert Kinghorn’s report from the Church on the Street, puts it so eloquently in the issue: “The principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace.”

Poverty, in that sentence, doesn’t mean only financial hardship. It means a spirit so weakened, even defenceless, against the world, against life itself, that its only recourse is addictive physical and psychological numbing that lets it endure on the very border line of oblivion.

I met that spirit taking its liberating and hopeful healing steps back to sobriety several years ago in the form of a young woman I happened to sit beside on a VIA Rail train. We fell into conversation and she told me that she had been alcohol-free for seven months — “the longest I’ve gone without being drunk every day since I was 14.” She was, at the time, 27. The arithmetic catches in the throat. But there was more.

“The wonderful thing,” she said, “is waking up every morning without feeling ashamed.”

Her salvation, she said, was A.A. Her backpack contained multiple copies of an abridged form of the Big Book integral to the 12-step program. She showed me passages that had proved particularly liberating for her. As we pulled into Union Station, she offered me her highlighted copy.

“If you don’t need it yourself, you might leave it somewhere for someone else to find,” she smiled.

Then, with perfect timing, she leaned down and gave me back my wallet, which had slipped out of my pocket and fallen onto the floor: a beautiful gesture of finding and returning, and freely going on with life.

Subscribe to our email newsletter