Spirituality is the foundation of the most successful program of addiction recovery of the 20th Century.
The 12 Steps programs that have arisen as a result of the success of Alcoholics Anonymous are testament to that alone. But the comparison between conventional assistance and self-help ‘anonymous’ groups has proven their efficacy as well.
Psychiatry and pharmacology alone or together have not had the success that average men and women helping each other have experienced.
Why is it so?
I think the answer is in the unanswerable. What is God?
I’ve been writing a course to introduce students to recovery from addiction. Here is a segment from day three-
Stop Drinking – Start Living
Pema Chodron beautifully describes one of the Buddha’s most profound teachings by comparing our mind to the weather.
“All around us, the wind, the fire, the earth, the water are always taking on different qualities; they are like magicians. We also change like the weather. We ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We fail to see that like the weather, we are fluid, not solid. And so we suffer.”
Some Noble Truth
The first of the Four Noble Truths says that all is suffering. A lot of non-Buddhist don’t get it – but I like the analogy of being naked in a thorny bush. Every which way you move or try to get comfortable there is some prick there making life difficult.
The truth in this for addicts is that having decided that like wasn’t meant to be easy, and that everyone is in struggle of one sort or another, it’s a lot easier to stop the “Why Me!” bullshit.
In the AA Big Book, ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, it’s written that us alcoholics are known by self-centredness in the extreme. “Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate”. (incidentally, the book came before AA was called Alcoholics Anonymous. Before that they were just a group of alcoholics that met through the Oxford Group, but that’s another story.)
So, coming to grips with life in real terms is a a great leap forward for the addict in recovery.
“The Second noble truth says that resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, the resisting life causes suffering”, says Pema. Resistance if futile, but that is precisely what we do with drugs. With the steps of AA and NA, we can see that ‘ego-deflation at depth’ and ‘humility’ are hand in hand.
Our Memory and Experience
Here are a couple of things that I discovered when I got sober.
- My memory of everything that has happened is incorrect
- What you think of me is none of my business
The first tenet informs me that whatever I thought happened in my life is only one person’s point of view.
For instance, I was left deeply affected by the loss of a pet dog when I was five. He was struck by a car and his death coincided, roughly, with my Grandad passing away and my little brother dying. It was a tough time.
When I asked my sisters’ opinions about the dog, my elder sister was emphatic that no such dog ever existed and the younger sister remembered the event, but not in the same way that I did.
You see, three people who were there at the time and completely different memories. Was I right. Probably not.
Every single moment, everywhere, stuff is happening and no two people will see and experience, let alone remember, the same thing. Therefore my recall of events is very subjective and when I know this my life gets better. Why?
Instead of insisting that MY WAY is the right way, it’s easy for me to accept others points’ of view as being as valid as mine. No need for conflict over who’s right. Brilliant change in perspective!
Furthermore, we can concentrate on loving others rather than looking after our reputation, and that allows for a lot more happiness all around. When we come to discuss living in the moment this point will be more poignant.