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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Paradox of Alcoholism, Addiction and Spiritual Awakening

Twelve Step programs have a double purpose, but like all spiritual matters, the double purpose is paradoxically interrelated. The alcoholic addict turns to A.A. (or one of its sister organizations) because of the suffering induced by his or her addiction and quickly (or slowly, in my case) learns that alcohol and/or drugs are not the problem, but rather a failed solution to a deeper, existential challenge: the lack of power to manage, or even soberly tolerate, his or her life.

"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient they failed us utterly."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 44-45.]

Thus, it seems we cannot stop drinking and/or drugging just because we feel, or even know, that it is "wrong" for us to continue. "The needed power was not there." Essentially, we continue because we see no viable path to live our life without the comfort and ease (which finally elude us) that comes from drinking and/or drugging. We are hopeless, or so it seems.
"Lack of power," we then read, "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?" 
The "how" of where to find a Higher Power greater than "self" is, of course, the Twelve Steps. And, the "where" (again, paradoxically) is "deep down within us" - i.e., deep in our consciousness. We read in the 'Big Book' (at page 55) that "deep down in every man, woman, and child is the fundamental idea of God," although "(i)t may be obscured by calamity, pomp, (and) by worship of other things."

And there's the rub. We each have within us a higher consciousness devoid of the pomp, calamities and acquisitiveness generated by our self-conscious, egoic state of being - a higher consciousness that we approached, but never really reached, when using alcohol and drugs -  but we are unable to attain to it. It is through the "how" of self-examination, meditation and prayer suggested by the Twelve Steps that we finally acquire the ability to let go of our ego-consciousness and connect (or, perhaps more accurately, reconnect) with this deeper nature of our being - a state of consciousness and being which the more religious members of A.A. (and its sister organizations) call "God-consciousness."

When we attain to this state of higher consciousness, we experience a spiritual awakening, and this awakening allows us to abstain from the use of alcohol and/or drugs on a day-by-day basis, provided we do the necessary daily work to maintain a connection in consciousness to this Higher Power. For the realm of the spiritual is ephemeral, as generations of mystics have warned, and our conscious contact with the God of our own understanding is much easier to lose than it is to attain and maintain. "Every day," we read, "is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will for us into all our activities."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 44-45.]

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