Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1
Friday, November 20, 2015
Addiction has been variously described as a moral weakness, a simple lack of willpower, a cowardly inability to face life, or a spiritual illness or disease. I agree with Alcoholics Anonymous that addiction is the latter: a disease of the soul, an illness resulting from longing, frustrated desire, and deep inner dissatisfaction and emptiness. Ironically, this is the necessary beginning of any spiritual path, much more than a moral failure. I have met so many people in recovery who are spiritually mature, sometimes more than those who are regular church-goers.
A.A. says, in its own inspired way, that addicts are souls searching for love in all the wrong places, but still searching for love. The Twelve Step program has learned over time that addiction emerges out of a lack of inner experience of intimacy with oneself, with God, with life, and with the moment. I would drink myself into oblivion too, or look for some way to connect with solid reality, if I felt bereft of love, esteem, joy, or communion. Fortunately the Twelve Steps provide a “way to connect with solid reality.” I suspect Bill W. knew that “can-do” Americans needed a program to get us going. We needed to “work the steps.” He also knew that we would only realize over time that it is all grace from beginning to end. We cannot engineer our own enlightenment. It is largely done to us. Someone Else is the Doer.
One helpful clarification is that many addicts tend to confuse intensity with intimacy, just as young people often do with noise, bright lights, fast movement, artificial highs, and overstimulation of any sort. Manufactured intensity and true intimacy are opposites. In the search for intimacy, the addict takes a false turn, hopefully just a detour, and relates to an object, a substance, an event, or a repetitive anything (shopping, thinking, blaming, abusing, eating) in a way that cannot give them the intimacy with the moment that they are really seeking. Then over time, the addict is forced to “up the ante” when the fix does not work. You will always need more and more of anything that is not working.
If something is really working for you, then less and less will be required to satisfy you. When I return from my Lenten hermitage of under-stimulation, it takes very little to totally delight me. It seems like everything has been painted with rich and new colors. Everything has fresh and full meaning. The addict has actually denied himself this joy, a happiness that is everywhere and always, a simple feeling of being alive, when our very feet connect lovingly with the ground beneath us, and our head and hair meet the undeserved air.
Addicts develop a love and trust relationship with a substance or compulsion of some kind, which becomes their primary emotional relationship with life itself. This is a god who cannot save. It is momentary intensity passing for the intimacy they really want, and it is quickly over. I urge all of us—consumers, compulsives, and unconscious alike—to not waste any more time or worship on gods that cannot save. We were made to breathe the Air that always surrounds us, feeds us, and fills us. Some of us call this experience God, but the word is not important.
Gateway to Silence:
Breathing in—receiving mercy; breathing out—letting go
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 114-117.