A Path to Freedom and Peace for Young People With Addiction

The culture of death has many pillars and many faces. One such pillar, surely is the tragedy of drug and alcohol addiction.

Not only does addiction slowly kill the addict (physically, spiritually and emotionally), but sexual impurity is often associated with drug and alcohol abuse, which leads to many unplanned pregnancies and abortions. A friend of mine saw this everyday at the pregnancy resource center she worked at.

The major problem with addiction, I think, is that, because of the social stigma of drug abuse, support for drug addicts and their families is just lacking in society in general. As one mother testifies, “when I had breast cancer I opened up the door and there were twenty women out there to help me. Everybody wanted to help me. But when my son was an addict I opened the door and there wasn’t anybody. So, you’re alone and you isolate yourself.”

It seems to me there is less sympathy towards drug addicts because, unlike something like breast cancer, which the person does not ask for, substance abuse often begins as a personal choice. The problem is that eventually the disease of addiction takes over and the addict is no longer acting on his own free will.

What can be done?

On a pilgrimage in 1998 I visited a community that helps bring life to suffering addicts. I had almost completely forgotten about it over the years, but a few years ago I was reintroduced to the Comunità Cenacolo (Italian for Cenacle Community).

By and large people with addiction don’t need “clinic” as much as they need “community” and, as it’s name suggests, that’s just what the Comunità Cenacolo is. It’s community. It’s family. It’s love. It’s hope.

Not only are they dedicated to reaching out to drug addicts and their families, but their services are free and, through prayer, hard work and personal outreach, they provide for the underlying reasons many of these people turn to drugs in the first place – loneliness, low self-esteem/sense of self worth, selfishness and, of course, lack of faith.

It is a “school of life”, providing for the complete person, not just helping them get “off drugs” but giving them the tools to deal with their defects when they re-enter the world and all its temptations. This is the kind of healing that needs to take place in order to truly build up a culture of life!

The Community was founded in 1983 by the saintly Mother Elvira Petrozzi who felt a calling from God to serve the “poor of the modern world,” especially drug addicts and the youth, whom she says have been “abandoned and excluded by this consumerist society.” The Mother House of the Community is in Saluzzo, Italy and today there are 56 houses spread throughout Italy and the world, including four here in America thanks in no small part to Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham.

Not your typical drug rehab program, Cenacolo is based on prayer, sacrifice, truth, work, faith and authentic friendship. Those who want to transform their lives with the help of the community are encouraged to stay for a minimum of three years in one or two of the houses where they will essentially live a very disciplined, monastic kind of life centered on the Eucharist.

What I find most beautiful is the encouragement of family participation in the life of the community. Not only is it important for the recovering individual to have the support of friends and family, but addiction doesn’t just affect the individual. Everyone who loves and cares for him suffers as a result of his self-destructive behavior, and having a network of other people going through the same experience helps the family cope as well.

Here in America, the community offers semi-annual Parents and Families Retreat Weekends and monthly regional meetings throughout the country. Family members can participate in an experience with the community in order to see from inside what their loved ones are learning and better walk with them on their journey. And, of course, there is the annual Festival of Life, a gathering of faith for all the youth, families and friends of the Community world-wide.

It can be frustrating watching a loved one in a seemingly endless cycle of self destructive behavior, but, as Venerable Sheen notes, “There is hope for each… Every man is made in the image and likeness of God.” Don’t give up. Keep praying, especially, and maybe give the Communitya call if you haven’t already. There are houses for men and women.

This approach is not for everyone, of course. Some people may need more involved “professional” medical and psychological help. But numerous testimonies confirm that this can be just what someone trapped in the shadow of death needs to come back to life and find purpose, meaning, hope. Many have entered and been saved after failed attempts with other traditional rehab centers and programs.

I can’t speak from any personal experience, so I spoke with my friend Kim who has had three younger siblings enter the Community. ”Before my siblings entered community,” says Kim, “it was extremely hard and painful. I really feared for their lives on numerous occasions.” Desperate to get them help, they had tried conventional forms of rehab and other accommodations to no avail. Then, her father heard about Cenacolo from a parish priest who had helped another family get their son into Community.

“My dad began meeting with the other family to learn more about Cenacolo.” After several meetings, says Kim, he knew Cenacolo was the right place to turn to. Since then, “the community has changed them and my family so much.” The main change, obviously, being an increase in their faith.

Their family has been helped, too, Kim says, through the family retreats, the fall festival and the monthly first Saturday meetings that allow them to walk with their family member(s) in community. “At the first Saturday meetings, we discuss a topic that makes us reflect on our lives. It may be about our selfishness, our anger, forgiveness, etc. We are usually asked to make commitments at the meeting to better ourselves, i.e., go to adoration, practice humility.”

To those who are going through something similar in their family, Kim says not to lose hope. “I’ve seen what God’s grace can do. Also, don’t be afraid to push them to do something they don’t want to do.”
A Prayer to Break Free From Addiction:
God of healing, we are once again reminded of the fragility of the human person. Bless those who struggle with addiction and grant wisdom and fortitude to those who love them.

Grant to each of us the humility to allow your strength to make up for our weaknesses, and bless us all with loving companions who can bolster us in times of need. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

The Cenacolo Community relies solely on generous donations to make this life-changing experience free for all who enter –please help if you can!

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Chelsea Zimmerman is the editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor at Ignitum Today. She often writes and speaks about life issues and Catholic spirituality. She has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.