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Friday, July 8, 2011

Prejudice, Peril and a Higher Power

"Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to be abandoned. . . . In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one else will be prejudiced for as long as some of us were."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 47-48 --
As an individual who has made a long journey in recovery from atheist to agnostic, to gnostic, I can attest that the way to a working faith in a Power greater than one's 'self' can be not just a "tedious process" but also a very perilous path. And, of course, as is pointed out, "prejudice" to all things spiritual was the great stumbling block.

Obstinately clinging to the belief that science was the be all and end all of human knowledge and accomplishment, to my great peril I had no room to contemplate those great areas on which science, by its nature, is necessarily silent - spirituality, metaphysics and consciousness. As a result, I continued to suffer from the obsessive nature of "the ego" - the sense of the seemingly separated "self" that lies at the root of the alcoholic addict's dilemma.

In his enlightening correspondence with Bill W., the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung (the man who gave the initial impetus to the chain of events that would result in the emergence of A.A.) observed that it had been long known that a vital inner religious or spiritual experience could effectively relieve the symptoms of alcoholism. Yet, he noted that such an experience must be grounded "in reality." (Who, after all, did not think he or she had found something of the divine in the ecstasies of alcohol or drugs while their effects still worked for them?)

Jung also observed that for such an experience to take hold, one must be "on a path," but not just any path. Rather, he wrote that one must be on a path "in reality" that leads the sufferer "to higher understanding." Further, he implies that such "higher understanding" must be one that is "beyond the confines of mere rationalism."

How, then, even when working the 12 Steps, was a committed scientific rationalist to make the leap of faith that would effect the requisite spiritual awakening? The truth is, that it did not for many years, even though I was able to maintain my physical (although not my emotional) sobriety.

In hindsight, I had been the recipient of an act of grace that led me to stop the drinking and drugging that was my daily way of life for eighteen years, although I knew nothing at the time about grace. Unaware of the true nature of my experience, and obstinately unwilling to attribute it to anything spiritual, I was unable to admit the insanity I continued living in. Granted, I was able to cede that my drinking and drugging was a form of insanity, but I was unwilling to look at the insanity of my alcoholic and addictive mind until its obsessive nature indeed pushed me to the point of madness and beyond . . . all while I maintained my sobriety and gained (and then lost) all the worldly goods and success I could only have imagined years earlier.

The problem of the alcoholic addict does, indeed, center in the mind, as the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous points out. Despite the best intervention of learned physicians and therapists, I did not reach the point of sanity until in desperation, many years into sobriety, I returned to work the 12 Steps anew. Miraculously, I once again experienced the "fierce act of grace" and sudden "clarity of mind" that characterized the night I initially quit drinking. It was many months thereafter, diligently working with old-timers who were far more advanced than me in their understanding of spiritual realities, that I came to know what had really happened and the nature of my ultimate adversary, the human ego.

Surprisingly, once I came to know this, I found a plethora of resources to help me on my spiritual quest both within A.A. (and its sister organizations) and outside the protective walls of its community. Indeed, it turns out, "we have no monopoly," and there are a multitude of so-called "normal" people out there who are striving to overcome the same self-centered egocentricity that characterizes the alcoholic addict.

"I am not here to bend the world to my own narrow will," a wizened man once told me. Rather, he said, "I have a deep and abiding faith in the infallible rightness of the course of events."

I am indebted to that man, an experienced medical doctor and psychoanalyst, for putting so clearly the fundamental lesson of A.A., and I can now assuredly agree with the author(s) of the 'Big Book' when they outlined the "three pertinent ideas" that apply, I now know, to all of us: "(a) that "we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives"; (b) that "probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism;" and, (c) that "God could and would if He were sought."

I, too, now hope "that no one will be prejudiced"  for as long as I once was. I am amongst a fortunate few. I know that many - perhaps most - do not survive their prejudices for as long as I did on my own self-will and bitter resources before emerging into "the sunlight of the Spirit".

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