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Father Bill often was increasingly absent from the evening socials with his religious community, and he began spending an inordinate – and noticeable – amount of time alone in his room. At times, he missed morning prayer with the community because he overslept. He otherwise seemed to be himself.
During spiritual direction sessions, Fr. Bill revealed his struggles with watching pornographic images on the Internet and his inability to stop the compulsive masturbation that accompanied this activity.
He was feeling more and more desperate and afraid. He feared that he would not be able to cope any longer. He was spending more and more time in this activity and was not getting sufficient sleep. The lack of sleep and subsequent fatigue was becoming oppressive. His ministry began to suffer as a result.
His spiritual director recommended that Fr. Bill make an appointment with a therapist who was skilled in addictions counseling.
The spiritual director had been working with Fr. Bill for many years. They had built a strong trust and he knew that Fr. Bill had been in therapy almost a decade ago for severe depression after an intervention. This had really helped him. He also knew that Fr. Bill’s current superior was not aware of this past. He understood that this struggle was not merely a spiritual problem, but stemmed from several other factors, yet to be determined.
This was the first of several small interventions. Fr. Bill’s spiritual director knew that problems with social isolation can be one of the markers for an addictive lifestyle. It often becomes very difficult for an individual to reveal the problem in venues other than spiritual direction and therapy.
Reluctantly, Fr. Bill made the call to a therapist. Now, he had intervened upon himself — a second intervention.
His relief was palpable, even during his first session. The therapeutic session provided the safety and environment where Fr. Bill could “lean on the ego” of the therapist and slowly open up about his struggle. In time, his therapist was able to get his permission to make a call to another priest who was a member of the Sexaholics Anonymous Fellowship (SA). This was a third intervention.
This series of interventions with a “small i” provided timely interruptions to the addictive process and allowed Fr. Bill to appreciate the inquiries and interest of caring individuals.
Fr. Bill opened up to this other priest about the SA Fellowship and received a copy of the “White Book,” the organization’s publication. This contains stories of individuals who suffer from sexual compulsion as well and a way forward toward sexual abstinence.
Meanwhile, his local superior recently had granted general permission for therapy sessions as part of ongoing support for the community. He knew, from experience, that individuals go for much needed therapy sessions for a variety of reasons.
While he would not interfere with this process, he wondered whether Fr. Bill would ever share his therapeutic goals and issues with him. His superior was wise. He prayed over this situation and took the opportunity to ask Fr. Bill how life was going for him. He told him that he observed that he was suffering and was open to listening. This was a fourth intervention.
Fr. Bill was not ready to reveal, with full disclosure, how his life was going. This would come in time. In fact, this did happen with the help of his therapist who prepared Fr. Bill for a joint session with his superior.
Often, healing comes from a series of “small interventions.” Together, each small step is valuable and can impact the impaired thinking, shame and unmanageability that are intrinsic to the belief system that drives the addictive cycle.
Making inquiries, showing sincere interest in the life of a confrere and interrupting the isolating pattern of behavior can result in a successful Intervention with a “capital I.”
Margaret Crowley, SHCJ, LCSW-C, is a therapist on the Continuing Care clinical staff of Saint Luke Institute.
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