Spirituality and Addiction
A Willingness to Change
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Throughout his ministry, Father Richard Rohr has recognized the power of Twelve-Step programs to bring about spiritual transformation. The steps parallel the counterintuitive wisdom of Jesus:
What the ego hates more than anything else is to change—even when the present situation is not working or is horrible. Instead, we do more and more of what does not work, as many others have rightly said about addicts. The reason we do anything one more time is because the last time did not really satisfy us deeply. As the English poet W. H. Auden (1907–1973) put it: “We would rather be ruined than changed, / We would rather die in our dread / Than climb the cross of the moment / And let our illusions die.” 
Addicts—which I’m convinced are all of us, in one way or another—have an intense resistance to change. We like predictability and control. That’s one of the reasons addicts find it easier to have a relationship with a process or a substance rather than with people. Unlike objects, people are unpredictable. Having a drink, making a purchase, or turning to our devices can change our superficial mood very quickly. Even though the mood shift doesn’t last, it makes us feel like we are in control for a while. We don’t have to change our thinking or way of relating to people. We don’t have to sit with our boredom, discomfort, or anger, which short-circuits our ability to grow up and to move beyond whatever is in our way.
In the process of healing and gaining sobriety, salvation becomes not just something we believe, but something we begin to experience through the process of transformation through grace. Both Jesus and Paul were change agents. They were hated by their own groups precisely because they were constantly talking about change. The first thing Jesus said when he started preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia, which is surely best translated as “turn around your mind” or “change your thinking.” Most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to do so, which usually means some form of suffering or disturbance that upsets our habitual path.
Until we bottom out and come to the limits of our own fuel supply, there is no reason for us to switch to a higher octane of fuel. Why would we want to change? We will not learn to actively draw upon a Larger Source until our usual resources are depleted and revealed as wanting. In fact, we will not even know there is a Larger Source until our own source and resources fail us. Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that we cannot “manage,” we will never find the True Manager.
 W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue, ed. Alan Jacobs (Princeton University Press: 2011), 105.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, How Do We Breathe Under Water?: The Gospel and 12-Step Spirituality (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, DVD, MP3; and
Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011, 2021), 3-4, 6.
Story from Our Community:
When my first marriage ended, I immersed grief in alcohol, drugs, women, and denial. Through an overdose, I met Jesus, “my savior.” I discovered my grief was not about the relationship ending, but thinking my desire to serve God was gone. Who would want me? The answer—God! Through this realization, I am able to serve God and my sisters and brothers as an addiction and mental health counselor. —Gary C.
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