Through this site, Addiction Recovery offers free addictions information, a free blog open to anyone and professional services based on their 37 years of experience as a licensed addictions counselor and 39 years of personal recovery.
This is my 40th Christmas in recovery, and I have a great deal to be grateful for. However, I can’t help but think back to my first Christmas sober. I was in a halfway house in York Pennsylvania, in a lot of emotional pain from many losses from my alcoholism, with very little hope for the future. I had not yet discovered that prayer, even to a Higher Power I didn’t believe in, would, over time, produce results that proved to be almost miraculous. What I did have was the willingness to pray, attend meetings, not drink or drug, and ask for help from others in recovery. And that IS the message of this blog post: All that is necessary for one’s early recovery journey is willingness to do the simple things I just mentioned. So, God bless all of you at the beginning of, or well into, your recovery journey; Merry Christmas (even if all you have is a few days of recovery and some willingness); and KCB (keep coming back).
The term humility is frequently discussed in 12 Step meetings (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), often those involving Step 7, “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings” ; humility is, in my view, broader than this, and is essential to the individual’s ability to embrace the goal of the 12 Step Programs, namely, to find a spiritual way out of the bonds of addiction. In my experience, until an individual with the disease of addiction has reached the point that he/she has exhausted all efforts to control use of alcohol or other drugs, and to stay stopped from such use, and failed, that individual in most cases will be unable to succeed in 12 Step recovery. In other words, humility in this context refers to recognition of inability using one’s own efforts to cease use of alcohol or other drugs, or, in 12 Step language, “admission of powerlessness (Step 1).”
In this writer’s personal recovery journey (over 40 years of continuous abstinence), there are many examples of humility in action; perhaps the most humbling experience was the discovery that, contrary to enduring beliefs that there is no God or spiritual source of strength, willingness to seek such a source through daily prayer, 12 Step meeting attendance, and, of course, abstinence from use of alcohol or other drugs, resulted in a profound awareness of a heretofore absent faith in a spiritual source of strength which led to ongoing abstinence and perseverance in recovery efforts. Put simply, the result of following suggestions to pray, go to 12 Step meetings, not use, among other suggestions, resulted in a profound internalization that “I was going to be ok”, a new feeling that over time translated into a faith, based on experience, in a spiritual source of strength. Humility, basically, is the understanding that sobriety and the ability to be relatively stable emotionally regardless of life events, stem from a relationship with a Higher Power, God, or other source of spiritual strength.
Doctor Bob, AA co-founder, presented remarks on humility in a talk in 1948, a few years before his death. He had 13 and a half years of sobriety at the time:
“Another thing with which most of us are not too blessed is the feeling of humility. I don’t mean the fake humility of Dickens’ Uriah Heep. I don’t mean the doormat variety; we are not called upon to be shoved around and stepped on by anyone; we have a right to stand up for our rights. I’m taking about the attitude of each and every one of us toward our Heavenly Father. Christ said, “Of Myself, I am nothing – My strength cometh from My Father in heaven.” If He had to say that, how about you and me? Did you say it? Did I say it? No. That’s exactly what we didn’t say. We were inclined to say instead, “Look me over, boys. Pretty good, huh?” We had no humility, no sense of having received anything through the grace of our Heavenly Father.
“I don’t believe I have any right to get cocky about getting sober. It’s only through God’s grace that I did it. I can feel very thankful that I was privileged to do it. I may have contributed some activity to help, but basically, it was only through His kindness. If my strength does come from Him, who am I to get cocky about it? I should have a very, very humble attitude toward the source of my strength; I should never cease to be grateful for whatever blessings come my way. And I have been blessed in very large measure.” (Dr. Bob’s Last Major Talk, Detroit, Michigan, December 1948 -transcribed from tape, AA Grapevine, Inc, June 1973; from http://www.silkworth.net/aahistory/drbob1948.html).
As always, comments are invited. Jan Williams, November 29, 2017.
Although there is in the 21st Century much research defining alcoholism (addiction) in terms that can be useful, in my view, researchers often ignore the spiritual aspect of addiction and recovery. In addition to the mental-emotional and physical-medical-neurological-aspects of addiction, the spiritual effects of the disease of addiction must be addressed. Alcoholism is a “spiritual malady” per the basic text of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64). There is a growing body of research examining the role of spirituality and religion in the development (or not) and treatment of addiction. This blog post, however, will just briefly look at the anecdotal (based on experience, not scientific research) evidence suggesting that the alcoholic or addict may have an innate spiritual deficit disorder.
Abraham Twerski, a noted psychiatrist and researcher in the addiction and mental health field, has said:
“When a person is not feeding his spirit properly, it is not like an iron deficiency or a Vitamin A deficiency. They suffer from SDS‚ a spirituality deficiency syndrome. *** Spirituality means being the best human being you can be. *** My work with alcoholics and drug addicts has convinced me they cannot recover without spirituality…(speech, 11/02/2009, Saint Peter’s University).”
Based on my years of counseling alcoholics and addicts and my own personal recovery, it is clear to me that most alcoholics and addicts trace feelings of personal alienation and emptiness to times in their lives that predate their use of alcohol or other drugs. Indeed, many seem to have felt they were “on the outside looking in” from their earliest memories. Some of the other words used to describe this spiritual deficit include these: a hole in the soul; soul sickness; alienated; numb; empty; fear-filled hopelessness; fear of impending doom. If I were a philosopher, I might say that all human beings have an emptiness or existential pain (angst) that they strive to fill with activity (jobs, careers, hobbies), sex, relationships, and the like. Fortunate individuals are able to develop a personal relationship with a God, Higher Power, or other source of spiritual strength early in life and the willingness to nurture that relationship throughout their lives.
Some individuals, however, fill their spiritual vacuum with alcohol or other drugs, or other addictive behaviors. These individuals describe their early reactions to use of alcohol or other drugs something like this:
“For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt normal, unafraid, beautiful or handsome, smart, able to be social and interact with others.”
This reaction to drugs or alcohol can be overwhelmingly attractive for someone who has spent life in fear of being crushed by a cosmic rock at any moment, resulting in an ongoing effort to continue to achieve that reaction through drug or alcohol use, resulting in addictive disease. In a loose sense, the alcoholic or addict has found a “reason for being” through use of alcohol and other drugs. Tragically, seeking meaning in life through addiction often leads to spiritual bankruptcy and, for some, actual death. In my experience and the experience of many in the addiction field and in the 12 Step communities, addressing the spiritual aspects of addiction is essential to long term recovery.
So, perhaps it may be helpful to look at the alcoholic or addict (or potential alcoholic or addict) as an individual who has a spiritual deficit disorder that needs to be addressed.
What is the goal of the 12 Step Program known as Alcoholics Anonymous? The answer that may immediately come to mind is abstinence from use of alcohol. But, abstinence alone is not enough. Most individuals with the disease of alcoholism have been able to achieve periods of abstinence; only to relapse into alcohol use despite knowing that such use will restart the destructive cycle of addiction. Ceasing to drink based on will power, the help of other human beings, including medical science, will, in most cases, not suffice. Paraphrasing the words of the basic AA text, “… no human power could relieve our alcoholism…”
“Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that’s exactly what this book [Alcoholics Anonymous] is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 45).”
So, the goal of Alcoholics Anonymous is to help the alcoholic to find a source of spiritual strength, reliance upon which will ensure long-term, emotionally balanced abstinence from alcohol use. Many alcoholics have enjoyed years of sobriety, facing the usual life problems (e.g., illness, loss of relationships), without the escape of alcohol use. The key to such long-term sobriety is reliance upon a source of spiritual strength.
The author of this post will have, God willing, 40 years of continuous sobriety in August of 2017, through reliance upon spiritual principles.