Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Hey Michael- Are we in the recovery community doing others a disservice by not talking more about the aspect of a relationship with Christ/or another Higher power?
The elements of 12 step programs point towards a surrender to self and a reliance on a higher power.
How do we effectively talk to others that are lost, without offending an Anti-religious person- but still being real, and honest, and not compromising our faith.
I have realized that struggle of communication with the lost is worth the battle. If I can plant some seeds, and help lead someone toward the peace that I have found- - it is worth any amount of discomfort in my head.

What are your thoughts?

This is really a superb question, (a) because so many of my readers are either in, or on the periphery of, one recovery group or another; and (b) because it is such an an emotionally charged query.

I would agree that as time has gone on, there has been an undeniable watering down of what is most critical in the path of 12 step recovery. There is no question that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is NOT a book about abstaining from substances, but a text about awakening to and living a spiritual life. This, naturally begs the question of what it means to be spiritual; in other words, "What is spirituality?" While I do not claim to have a succinct answer (nor do I think that one really exists), I would offer the following definition: Spirituality is the process of connecting one's spirit to its source. From my vantage point, what that source happens to be (or what we believe it to be) is really not of consequence. If one can intuit that there is more to their being than flesh and bones and blood (i.e. something indefinable which makes them uniquely themselves), it would follow that that they have "a spirit." If one has a spirit, than that spirit must come from somewhere. And so, the process of connecting one's spirit to the place from whence it came is the process of spirituality.

In The Big Book (which is what I will heretofore call the book Alcoholics Anonymous), Bill Wilson (the primary author), twice uses the phrase, "I was rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence" (once in the chapter called "Bill's Story" and again in the chapter called "There is a Solution.") The fourth dimension of existence to which he is referring is the spiritual dimension. The other three dimensions are (of course) the physical, the mental and the emotional. Simply by exiting the womb, human beings have an awareness of these latter three dimensions (that is, we all know that we have a body, we have a mind and we have feelings). The spiritual dimension, while equally as real and present as the other three, is the only one of the four to which we must awaken to, or find themselves plagued by the perceived reality of an absent dimension. A human being will then be open (essentially) to only 75% of their existence. This reality, it would seem, would then give a person the illusion of being 'incomplete.' If you ask an addict of any kind what the primary driving force of their disease is (or was), they will (in one way or another) speak of a sense of feeling incomplete (of trying to fill a hole). Therefore, the process of recovery (at least in so far as the 12 steps go) is the process of opening that fourth dimension; creating a new reality where we (the addict) no longer feel compelled to reach to exterior sources to find that sense of completion.

I believe that almost all people have within them the fundamental understanding that this reality exists (the exception, of course, is the atheist. There are very few atheists in the world. Most people who call themselves such, upon closer examination, will find that they are actually agnostic. An atheist is one who actively believes that there is no such thing as a higher power of any kind. An agnostic is a skeptic who believes that it is impossible to really know if there is or there isn't, and further tends to feel that if there is a higher power, it has no interest in them.)

In my own experience, I have found that most people's struggle with spirit tends to boil down to two basic areas. The first revolves around a concept of god which was forced upon them in childhood. The second is an inability to decipher the difference between spirituality and religion. They are often experiencing a sense of rebellion or disappointment more so than genuine disbelief. To these individuals, I tend to offer the idea that if spirituality is the process of connecting your spirit to its source; than organized religion is simply one way of doing so. If you are drawn to connect your spirit to its source via a specific community with a specific set of dogma who choose to gather in a specific house of god... lovely. But if that is not your cup of tea, there are many other ways to create this connection; yoga, tai chi, astral projection and transcendental meditation are but a few. Much like organized religion, they are all SUBSETS of spirituality.

A.A., and it's sister programs, are not religion; nor do they preach religion (it is true that A.A. actually branched off of a Christian fellowship called The Oxford Group back in the early 30's and that they initially used Jesus Christ as their sole higher power, though that element was stripped out of the message very early on). Therefore, the Step Two question, "Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a power greater than myself?" (Big Book page 47), asks us to jump through a pretty wide hoop. Are you WILLING to believe? If a person can be asked the following question: "Is it in any way possible that there might be a power (or energy) in this universe more powerful than you and your mind and your little batch of problems?"; and they can answer, "yes, I suppose it is POSSIBLE," they have completed step two and are well on their way. The book tells us, "As soon as [a person] can say that [they] do believe, are [are] willing to believe, we emphatically assure [them] that [they] are on [their] way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built." (Big Book page 47).

And so, the initial question,
Are we in the recovery community doing others a disservice by not talking more about the aspect of a relationship with Christ/or another Higher power?, can be answered (in my opinion), "yes, we most certainly are." The reason that A.A. has gone from a nearly 75% success rate in the 30's and 40's to an approximately 5% success ratio today, has all to do with our giving people the impression that coming to our meetings and listening to war stories and drinking coffee and eating cookies and smoking cigarettes and accumulating phone numbers and hugging and sharing and crying will get them well; and IT WILL NOT. If they are true alcoholics (or addicts), that advice will KILL them. It has been proven over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, human measures will never heal the illness of addiction. Without some sort of higher power, we really have nothing of use to offer anyone (unless sitting in little church rooms and bitching and moaning about your problems is garnering you something positive).

Ought we be cautious about introducing spirituality to the skeptic? Of course. Ought we shove anything down their throats? No. Ought we preach to anyone from some moral highground? Never. We owe them the same love and patience and understanding that we were so freely afforded upon our entry into this new and overwhelming world. But if we allow our own co-dependency or people pleasing to keep us from delivering our simple yet powerful message, we fail. If we place making friends ahead of saving lives, we are lost.

"I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible."

God bless you,

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