The 12 Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, etc.) are a free resource available almost 24/7 to those seeking recovery from the disease of addiction. Even though much is made of the fact that the 12 Steps are only "suggested", it is clear from a reading of the AA basic text (called the "Big Book"), Alcoholics Anonymous, and the literature from the other 12 Step fellowships, that in order to recover an alcoholic (or addict) "... must find a spiritual basis of life..." (Big Book, p. 44). For many, the mention of spirituality triggers an emotionally violent, all or nothing, reaction that can effectively close the door to the recovery support available in the 12 Step programs. These individuals often have legitimate reasons for their automatic opposition to anything that smacks of God or organized religion. Indeed, there are a number of commercial treatment centers that appeal to those who have been harmed by experiences with organized religions by touting their programs as not being 12 Step based.
In my experience working with addicted individuals for over 36 years, regardless of the reasons for one's aversion to God and religion, any individual can, over time, come to believe in a Higher Power or other source of spiritual strength.
Willingness seem to be an essential key to beginning one's spiritual journey. Spirituality in the Twelve Step programs is a reality based approach, with simple, practical suggested steps an individual can take to arrive at his or her own personal brand of spirituality. In order to begin one’s spiritual journey in the 12 Step programs, one need only be willing to be open to the possibility that such a source of strength may be found and then begin to seek such a source. Belief in the existence of a spiritual source of strength is not a prerequisite to beginning one's spiritual journey. All one need do is to, of course, not drink or drug, attend 12 Step meetings, and reach out on a daily basis through prayer or meditation to a source of spiritual strength regardless of what that source may be or may be called. Over time, the individual will discover through his/her own experience that this regimen of prayer, meditation, and meeting attendance has produced a spiritual strength he/she has never before had, one which has become a solid spiritual foundation for recovery.
Where, you may ask, does one find the willingness to begin the spiritual journey I just described. I do not have a definitive answer to this question but will offer a few thoughts. Willingness often comes from the pain of loss and consequences resulting from alcohol or other drug use, as well as the opportunity to see the evidence, or reality, of spirituality in the other members of the 12 step programs who model in the meetings the result of applying spiritual principles in their lives.
There are a number of stories that may help newcomers to recovery to understand the reality based spirituality of the Twelve Step Programs. One is known as the "Eskimo story."
Two men were sitting alone waiting for a bus. One of the men wore the collar of a Catholic priest. The other man turned to the priest and said "I once prayed to your God to save my life and he failed me!" The priest smiled and said, "Tell me, my son, of your prayer." The man went on to tell how he had been lost in the arctic cold of Alaska, he had no food or shelter and was certain he was going to die. In his last breath, he begged God to save him from death. The priest smiled and said, "But son, God did not fail you. You are alive." The man replied, "God didn't do anything. Some Eskimos showed me the way out."
Basic to the concept of a higher power, God, or other source of spiritual strength, in the Twelve Step programs is the principle that this source works through people and that most people have "Eskimos" in their lives who have helped them. An intervention which may work to bring this point home to people new to spiritual recovery is to suggest they think about the "Eskimos" or people who have been helpful in their lives before they began recovery, making the point that, after all, they have lived long enough to have an opportunity to recover.
Another way of saying that God works through other people is: “We can do together what I can't do alone.” The Twelve Steps are phrased in terms of “We”: Thus, “We admitted we were powerless” (Step 1); “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (Step 2) “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs” (Step 12).
Persons attending Twelve Step meetings can see and hear real people who have had spiritual awakenings and turned their lives around. They can see in these people concrete evidence of the spiritual power of the Twelve Step Program. They can feel the strength that comes from real people sharing real feelings with one another, with no ulterior motives other than self-help, that is, to help themselves through helping others—hence the description of 12 Step spirituality as “reality based.”
As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 02/15/2014.