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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The "Missing Piece"

Dr. William D Silkworth
Recently, when re-reading The Doctor's Opinion in the 'Big Book' of  Alcoholics Anonymous, I was struck by the fundamental difficulty that both Dr. Silkworth and Carl Jung, himself, were faced with in treating alcoholics. Both knew that "an entire psychic change" could alleviate the alcoholic addict's difficulties, yet both were faced with their inability to trigger such a change. There was a "missing piece" somewhere. Indeed, Dr. Silkworth explicitly admits this. "Faced with this problem," he notes, "if a doctor is honest with himself, he must sometimes feel his own inadequacy. Although he gives all that is within him, it often is not enough. One feels that something more than human power is needed to produce the essential psychic change." (Emphasis added.)

At page 27 in the 'Big Book,' Dr. Jung admits to the same basic futility of effort in working with Rowland H. (that "certain American businessman") which Dr. Silkworth faced when working with Bill.
"Here and there, once in a while," Jung told Rowland, "alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."

"In fact," he pointed out, "I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods I have employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."
Dr Carl G. Jung
 Rowland was initially relieved upon hearing this, pointing out to Jung that he had long been a "churchman." This, however, as Jung pointed, was not enough as "in his case (that) did not spell the necessary vital spiritual experience." Rowland was dismissed by Jung with the advice that he associate himself with some unspecified religious body that might (just might) help him find such a vital spiritual experience.

As fate would have it, upon his return to America Rowland associated himself with the then-popular Oxford Group which had adopted a series of concrete steps that an individual could take in order to effect a closer relationship with his or her God. As part of those steps, Rowland altruistically reached out to Ebby Thatcher, and Ebby reached out to Bill W. The rest is A.A. history.

Bill W. and his sponsor, Ebby T.
Yet, when one looks back at this improbable chain of events that would lead to the further recovery of millions of alcoholics and addicts of all stripes worldwide, one sees that two unique factors were at play when Ebby reached out to Bill that was not the case when Bill was being attended by Doctor Silkworth.

First and foremost, as Bill pointed out many times, he was able to identify "at depth" with Ebby. Here was an alcoholic who should be drinking but was not. Secondly, and just as importantly, Ebby had a concrete solution - a program of action - that Bill could (and eventually did) utilize to effect the "vital spiritual experience" that would relieve him of his alcoholism. Rowland and Ebby had found "the missing piece." Dr. Silkworth could identify the problem, as could Jung, but neither had the mechanics of a "moral psychology" that could help bring about a spiritual awakening.

The word-of-mouth program that Ebby passed on to Bill was simple:
1.  Ebby admitted that he was powerless to manage his own life.
2.  He became honest with himself as never before; made an "examination of consciousness."
3.  He made a rigorous confession of his personal defects and thus quit living alone with his problems.
4.  He surveyed his distorted relations with other people, visiting them to make what amends he could.
5.  He resolved to devote himself to helping others in need, without the usual demand for personal prestige or material gain.
6.  By meditation, he sought God's direction for his life and the help to practice these principles of conduct at all times.
(Source: Three Talks to Medical Societies by Bill W., Co-Founder of A.A.)
This word-of-mouth exposition of the Oxford Group's program (which Bill would later expand "for the sake of greater clarity and thoroughness" into A.A.'s Twelve Steps) was "the missing piece" that both Silkworth and Jung lacked. These steps (in their final form) would be the concrete things that an alcoholic addict (or an addict of any kind) could do in order to produce "the entire psychic change" posited by Silkworth and described by Jung. ("Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.")

For sure, Alcoholics Anonymous has "no monopoly" on this. There are, as William James points out in The Varieties of Religious Experience, "a multitude of ways in which men have discovered God." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 28.) Yet, whether by Providence or happenstance, there was a confluence of events that brought the work of Jung, Silkworth and Frank Buchan's Oxford Groups together, and from this confluence of events sprang the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous. Seventy-five-odd years later, the "missing piece" that bridges medicine, psychology and spirituality (i.e., the Twelve Steps) remains as effective as ever in relieving alcoholic addiction. Jung's helpful prescription "spiritus contra spiritum" still applies, and without the practical steps to bring this spiritus into our lives, millions of recovered alcoholic addicts (and others) would have likely died of their disease.

Our lives in recovery still depend on how well we practice the principles that Rowland, Ebby, Bill, Dr. Bob and so many others found in this "missing piece" of the alcoholism equation. There is a solution to alcoholic addiction, and "it (still) works if we work it."