The Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery

The Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery July 26, 2018

Welcome to the first entry of this weekly blog series, “The Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery.” As the title implies, I believe addiction is inherently spiritual in nature and is ultimately a quest for wholeness. Research, pharmacology, legislation, inpatient and outpatient treatment, mind and body centered therapy and other ways of addressing addiction are helpful ~ but whatever advances they may achieve ~ recovery is a daily reprieve based upon maintenance of a spiritual condition.

The spirituality referenced in this series may or may not include religion. The Apostle Paul did not form a 12 Step group and Bill Wilson, cofounder of AA, did not form a church. The 12 Steps are not the 10 Commandments. God is not necessarily the “Higher Power” (HP) mentioned in the Steps. G.O.D., for example, is sometimes referred to as an acronym for Good Orderly Direction. And yet, Paul and Bill, the 12 and the 10, GOD and HP, have much in common. There are also basic tenets of other faith-and-non-faith traditions (Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarian-Universalism and others) that can be found in addiction and recovery. The 12 Steps have been adapted by many groups to address many situations and yet they too have much in common.

When I entered a 12 Step program many years ago; I had no interest in going to church ~ even though the meetings I went to were held in a church. Church folk and 12 Steppers seemed like galaxies coexisting peacefully and distantly within the same universe. The people upstairs never went downstairs, and the people downstairs never went upstairs. It was read aloud at each meeting that the 12 Step program is “not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution…” I had, and still have, no problem with that. And I didn’t even think about it.

And yet, despite years of being “clean and sober” from drugs and alcohol and becoming the author of six books in the field of addiction recovery and related issues ~ I still had a spiritual itch that was not being scratched; and a spiritual thirst that was not being quenched.

I began to broaden my quest for wholeness beyond the walls of the 12 Step rooms. I joined a health club, a parents’ group, an arts fellowship, and I entered a church for the first time in my life at 34 years old. I was five years into recovery. I remained a member of a 12 Step group as I also became a member of a church. Eight years later, at the urging of my pastor and the God of my understanding, I entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City at age 43. I was baptized a year later at Riverside Church in the City of New York. My Master of Divinity thesis was on the Apostle Paul, Bill Wilson and the psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung. In 1997, I was ordained into the United Church of Christ at age 47 and have been a pastor ever since. I am also an active member of a 12 Step fellowship.

The 12 Step program to which I belong has always strongly informed my ministry. How could it not? Spirituality abound in both. I owe my life to the 12 Steps and to the grace of God. I knew that spirituality was the key to sobriety from the very beginning.

Early on, I learned that, in 1932, an American alcoholic wrote a letter to the world-renowned and non-religiously aligned psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung, asking if there “was no hope” for an alcoholic. Jung wrote back an astonishing response, especially since it was 86 years ago, “No, there is none [hope] ~ except that some people with your problem have recovered if they have had a transforming experience of the spirit.”

This life-saving, transformative, “born again” spirituality had nothing to do with church. As a matter of fact, the church was often hostile, patronizing and judgmental of alcoholics and those addicted to other drugs. There are still some in recovery who are openly disdainful of religion. We will discuss more about that in the next post.
That said, in the past 20 years, I have seen that there are many things that 12 Step programs could learn and adapt from the church; just as there are many things the church could learn and adapt from 12 Step programs. There are signs of health and lingering illness in the church, just as there are signs of health and lingering illness in 12 Step groups. These two “galaxies” could both benefit by seeking and exploring common ground in their universes.

This weekly blog series will begin with the origins of the “recovery movement” in the 1930’s. The relationship between church and program, as I just mentioned, has not been particularly pretty. As this blog proceeds, I will draw parallels between the early church and early recovery; between the Apostle Paul and the “Apostle” Bill Wilson; between Aldous Huxley and Carl G. Jung; between art and doctrine; and many other things. More shall be revealed.

The solution to much of what is ailing struggling churches is available by adapting key principles and practices of 12 Step recovery programs and applying them to church life and leadership. And, conversely, there is also much in church life and leadership that can benefit 12 Step recovery programs and those striving to achieve sobriety, serenity and wholeness.

Another goal of this blog is to suggest specific steps and methods to assist churches and fellowships to Discover, Uncover and Recover a renewed sense of health and purpose. I will present ways to achieve balance between contemplation and action; the honoring of tradition and celebrating of transition; a rekindling of awe, wonder, health, hope, relevance and vitality.

We will address such things as bottoming-out as a prerequisite of change; having a “spiritual awakening”; the relationship between being healed and being cured; the differences between sickness and evil; selfishness and self-centeredness; intelligence and wisdom; complacency and desperation; contemplation and action; guardedness and vulnerability; and carrying the torch of hope into dark places without buckling to the fear of extinguishing the light.

Are you ready to continue? See you next week. But in the meantime, get your friends and colleagues to subscribe to this blog. You need not be in recovery or be a religious person to venture into the light of the spirit. Your comments and suggestions on this blog site will be considered for incorporation into future posts.

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