In photo above, Juan Yniguez and Jenny Teeters at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Carmichael.
For far too many years, Jenny Teeters was living a lie.
With a successful career in telecommunications, business administration and leadership, and married for more than 20 years with two teenage daughters, her life seemed quite ideal – from the outside.
“All that time I knew inside I was a high functioning alcoholic,” she says. “My only choices were to get help or die. I’d done all kinds of research, but I was hiding it from everyone including my family. They definitely knew alcohol was a problem, but it had gotten to a point over our years of marriage that I never drank hard liquor, in an attempt to still try and have some semblance of control. I wouldn’t drink in front of my husband, but I would buy vodka and drink that when no one was around. It was a lot of dishonesty, and feeling guilt and shame around living a lie.”
Now sober for the past two-and-a-half years, Jenny, a member of the parish pastoral council at Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Carmichael, looks back on her circuitous road to recovery and sobriety with hindsight and gratitude.
Part of a large Catholic family (her father was one of 17 children), she moved to the Sacramento region when she was 10, attending sixth, seventh and eighth grades at (the former) St. Lawrence School in North Highlands. As a young adult, she strayed from her faith until she married her husband, Steve, and they attended St. Lawrence Church together. Along the way she earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Chapman University and a master’s degree in business administration and management from CSU-Sacramento.
A pivotal change came in 2008 when her father was diagnosed with cancer and he returned to practicing his Catholic faith. Her aunts, members of the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus serving in Southern California, came to visit her father numerous times before his death in 2012. They all inspired Jenny to rediscover her Catholic faith. One of the sisters’ ministries since 1980 is Sacred Heart Retreat Camp in Big Bear Lake, which Jenny and her cousins attended as girls. She asked her aunts if she could volunteer and bring her own daughters, Cordelia and Arabella, to the girls’ camp.
During that stay Jenny received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time in many years. “It was terrifying, but the priest told me my penance was to work on my personal relationship with Jesus,” she recalls. She returned as a volunteer at camp for the next few years.
“Each time I felt I’m on this holy mountain surrounded by faith and I’m understanding more about being Catholic. It was incredible and beautiful, but still throughout all this my alcoholism was progressing. The last time I was at camp was a few months before I got sober. I confessed for the first time I was an alcoholic, that I was hiding it from my family. The priest who heard my confession said he had just buried someone who died way too young. He told me, ‘your husband might be angry with you but you must tell him. You are a mother and you need to ask for help.’”
It was the weekend of Divine Mercy Sunday. “I’m sitting in this retreat, just desperate, and I look up and see the sisters had made a banner that proclaimed ‘Most Merciful Jesus, I trust in you.’ That was a real turning point for me. I had to stop drinking.”
Things evolved and changed in her life over the next few years.
She had been attending Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption, and one Sunday she felt strongly that God was calling her to participate and help. She trained and became a lector and a eucharistic minister. She started serving on the parish pastoral council in 2018.
When the pastoral council offered a retreat with several speakers in August 2018, she met the founder of Catholic in Recovery, Scott Weeman, who spoke about his ministry. “I felt this was for me,” Jenny recalls. “I felt close to God.”
Soon after she was asked by Father Eduino Silviera, pastor, and Juan Yniguez, chair of the pastoral council, to establish and lead the Catholic in Recovery (CIR) ministry. She took on the role without hesitation, and it was partly through CIR that she started on her path to sobriety.
She started to lead the meetings and learn about the 12 steps. “Through Catholic in Recovery, people can admit, ‘I am powerless over this thing. I’ve tried to stop. I need God to help me,’” she says. “The program is extremely spiritual. Many people are already in other programs but CIR has the element of faith. We talk about our faith and share what we are comfortable with. People have the peace of being (able to talk) about their faith and their recovery. The fourth step of the 12 is telling another person, apologize and make amends, and that aligns so well with the sacrament of reconciliation.”
In 2019, she lost her job and her physical and mental health greatly deteriorated. “One night I was not sleeping and I always drank to sleep,” Jenny recalls. “I was crying my heart out and I prayed the first three of the 12 steps because I had memorized them. I was powerless over alcohol and my life was unmanageable. I prayed for a power greater than myself to restore me, and most important, that I turn my life and will over to God, begging for him to help me.”
She also remembers praying to her grandparents, her father, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. “I begged for any intercession,” she says. “I woke up in the morning and knew I would have a withdrawal if I went for a few hours without drinking. I poured out the alcohol I had saved from the night before. I was sick for two days, and my husband finally said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I told him everything and that I was severely depressed. He said he was depressed also because of me.
“I thought my marriage might be over. If I didn’t trust God, I never would have been able to quit. We told Cordelia and Arabella, and I said I need a doctor, an AA sponsor and need to go into recovery. It was a hard period of building trust back with my family, but in one way it was amazing that I could finally be open. I had to rebuild everything based on the trust I had built in God.”
She attended an outpatient program at Kaiser, and participated in CIR at the parish. Scott Weeman, the founder of CIR, offered to be her sponsor. The day she told her family, she also texted the men who were in her CIR ministry. “I thought nobody was aware of my problem,” she laughs. “I texted to tell them I was an alcoholic, sick, and I had been hiding it. It was not a surprise to them – they all knew already.”
Today, CIR meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the parish. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they also held meetings by Zoom. People may become part of CIR to work through recovery from problems with substance addiction, food, control and anger issues. There is also support for issues with sexual integrity and other unhealthy attachments.
“We have people participating who have years of sobriety, some with no sobriety, and some come in for the first time with no exposure to any type of 12 step program,” Jenny says. “It’s a process of each person having to be open, honest and willing. Since we still do it by Zoom also, we have some participants from outside our parish.”
Jenny, who now serves on the national board of Catholic in Recovery, says there is no need to identify an addiction or unhealthy attachment at the meetings. Everything that is shared is confidential. “It is a safe space,” she notes. “The benefit of doing this through Zoom is that people can turn off their camera and change their name on their computer. This allows them to remain anonymous if they want.”
Each meeting includes reading the 12 steps and a reflection and questions, which are based on the upcoming Sunday’s Mass readings. Prayer, including the Prayer of St. Francis, is an integral part of the program. The ministry is ongoing, so attendees may continue to participate for as long as they would like.
Jenny hopes that anyone going through addiction or unhealthy attachment will step forward and attend CIR. The pandemic over the past two-and-a-half years has added extra stress and isolation for many people who were already struggling, she says.
Even during the hardest moments in her life, her Catholic faith brought her joy. “God put Catholic in Recovery in my path and it’s been the same for other people,” she reflects. “I’m very open about my own recovery and it’s wonderful to celebrate the milestones of sobriety with my family and friends.”
About Catholic in Recovery or other sober living programs by emailing Jenny Teeters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Carmichael at https://olaparish.net.
What is Catholic in Recovery?
Catholic in Recovery (CIR) is a nonprofit organization based in San Diego that seeks to serve those suffering from addictions and unhealthy attachments (including alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography and sex/relationship addiction, gambling, compulsive overeating, codependency and general fear, control and anxiety). The organization was established by the passion of Scott Weeman, as he found healing and new love through the help of 12-step recovery and the sacramental love and mercy provided by the Catholic Church.
The organization supports parishes and communities with group resources that draw people closer to these two powerful sources of grace. It is the aim of CIR to share the good news that God can bring about healing and recovery, even in the most hopeless of cases.
Read more at https://catholicinrecovery.com.
Juan ‘needed to be part of’ Catholic in Recovery ministry
Although he has not struggled personally with addiction or recovery, Juan Yniguez, immediate past chair of the parish pastoral council at Our Lady of the Assumption, has seen family members suffer from alcoholism and other addictions.
“I had a wonderful upbringing (in Sacramento and Carmichael) with my family, but I also saw good people in some cases cut down from addictions or die from them,” he says. “So I wanted to honor them by having Catholic in Recovery at our parish. And I knew if we offered the ministry that I needed to be a part of it.”
Juan, who retired after a lengthy career in politics, higher education administration and policy, has been a member of Our Lady of the Assumption for the past 20 years. “I have a strong belief in social justice,” he notes. “Pope Francis’ encyclical, ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ says we – the Church – need to smell like the sheep who we serve. We need to be intimately involved with our flock. That resonates with me. We need to have ministries that help people with spiritual and physical needs.”
By attending CIR meetings, he realized how valuable they were to him. “I have my own struggles, temptations and demons, if you will, and I realized I needed to go through this process as well. I think everyone should have exposure to some sort of 12 step program and CIR has elements of it. You don’t have to be addicted to anything to benefit from the methodology. It’s accountability for yourself and basically presents a plan of life that blends with our Catholic tradition and teaching.”
Participants in CIR are attracted to its faith component and the informal way of participating, Juan concludes. “Our overwhelming response in the past few years is that people can let their hair down with us, as opposed to other recovery groups. They can talk about Jesus, the liturgy, and issues in Catholic terms, rather than in broad Christian or non-religious terms. The charism of this ministry is that it puts Catholicism to work on recovery and accountability.”