Spiritual Awakening and Addiction Recovery

Today’s post is by Tom Adams

At lunch at the Gerald May seminar, Compassion of the Mystics, I was at a table where 12-Step meetings and recovery were being discussed. Having been a student and beneficiary of 12-Step groups for over 30 years, my ears perked up. A lunch table friend was describing how someone he knew had had a spiritual experience through contemplation that allowed him to stop going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and to rely entirely on God for his sobriety. He acknowledged that his friend made this decision with a lot of apprehension. The AA culture strongly emphasizes attending meetings as critical to maintaining sobriety. The consequences were clear if this experiment failed. His recovering friend would go back to alcoholic drinking with devastating consequences for him and his family.

If the conversation ended there, I would have let it be as one person’s experience. Instead, it led to a discussion of why people in AA are addicted to meetings and don’t rely more on God. I suspect it wasn’t said exactly that way; it was the way I heard it. Perhaps because I had heard similar comments at other gatherings about spirituality and read it in books on contemplation, I reacted with a vigorous defense of AA and 12-Step Programs.

AA is clear there are many ways to get sober and individuals are free to discover the path right for them. Knowing a lot of recovering alcoholics and seeing people die from alcoholism and other addictions who never got recovery, my personal bias is that it is a safer bet to trust God with your recovery and also go to meetings to keep learning about yourself and the disease and, most importantly, be available to pass recovery on to others who need help. Denial is a primary characteristic of alcoholism, so there is a natural inclination to rationalize and look for a way out that is easier and less intrusive than a rigorous 12-Step Program. Over-reliance on God can end up being a rationalization for returning to drinking.

I explained to my lunch companions that people go to meetings in part to help other alcoholics. A basic tenet of the 12 Steps is you have to give it away to keep it. The so-called “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous, written by AA co-founder Bill Wilson says “the point of this book is to help the alcoholic find God” and in another place, “the point (of the 12 Steps) is to continue to grow along spiritual lines.”

AA is like any group, club or institution. The people who attend are many and varied in motivation, participation and the benefits or graces received. I appreciate it is impossible for someone who is not an addict to understand the hopelessness and horrible desperation of wanting to stop something that is killing you and not having the ability to do it. I appreciate those who have different opinions about how God’s gift of grace and participating in 12-Step meetings are balanced.

One of the points made at the seminar was that being a mystic is not a solo practice for the elite. It is for everyone. While the Desert Fathers and Mothers and other mystics embrace solitude for a time, most eventually return to community. The point of contemplation (as I heard and understand it) is oneness with God and loving actions through growing compassion. Saying it another way, mysticism or contemplation is a “we” not an “I” experience. We go beyond our personal friendship and desire to love God to our oneness with each other and our collective desire to be with God.

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, talks in depth about the need for community to grow spiritually. He suggests there are four “pillars” to Christian spirituality: “a) private prayer and private morality; b) social justice; c) mellowness of heart and spirit; and d) community as a constitutive element of true worship.”

A fruit of contemplation is compassion, an acceptance that we can never fully know God nor can we prescribe how another might best know God. God relates to us all uniquely. Yet we come together in a shared desire in many communities for the purpose of deepening our relation to God and with each other.

To an outsider, it may look like someone who goes to an AA meeting daily must have missed the point that recovery is spiritual and a gift from God, but that is not a judgment any of us dare make. It is possible to be in a 12-Step Program and miss the point for a while that the solution to addiction is surrender to a spiritual power and growing spiritually. Does that mean the better way to recover from addiction is to rely completely on God and do it alone?

In all of life, we need each other. A friend recently described his notion of love as communion. We come together in many communities to connect with God and one another and pass on love. Twelve-Step Programs are one of the places where there is a real working “on ramp” to contemplation. There is a palpable feeling of Love in every meeting. This presence of love comes from the unconditional desire for good/sobriety for every person in the room that is present in every meeting.

Contemplation and compassion invite us to respect the many ways that each of us make our own peace with our own God and connect with each other to live and love. There are many contemplative paths like AA. Contemplation invites us to keep our eyes open for God’s movement all around us and to celebrate those many manifestations of Love.

December 12, 2018 by Tom Adams 1 Comment
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[…] blog was first published on Shalem’s Friday Blog Post on Dec. 12, […]


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