In the depths of despair, I chased the booze with a bottle full of valium. I wished for something, anything, to take the pain away – to numb me to the haunting reality of what my life had become. I had crawled so far into the hole that the darkness had engulfed me and I felt as if I would never find the Light again.
Slowly the drugs began to take effect, the mixture guiding me to comfortably numb. My brain began to shut down and my breathing slowed, until eventually everything stopped. I rose up, listening to my feet pad into the bathroom where I stared into the mirror. The face that looked back at me was ashen and the eyes were hollow.
Moments later, I found myself in the church of my youth, on my knees, wondering why God had left me. A priest appeared at my side and laid his hand on my shoulder. He encouraged me to sit with him and I began to share what had become of my life. There, in the darkest hours of the night, I unloaded my burdens, and raged at God for abandoning me. The priest never moved nor spoke until I finally leaned back, empty, spent.
“You have never been alone. He has always been with you. Open your heart and forgive yourself – He has no need to forgive you. You have done nothing wrong. Your choices are experiments that allow you to grow. Even when you feel separate from God, you remain in His embrace, whether or not your perceive this. Are you ready to accept Him again and fill your body and soul with His love?”
I nodded, as if in slow motion, beginning to feel myself tingle all over. Suddenly I found myself back in my bedroom, leaning over the body that lay on the ground. Then, without warning, I was gasping for air, grasping for the desk, then rising and stumbling to the bathroom. I emptied the contents of my stomach until I crumpled to the ground sobbing.
“Oh my, God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”
And, there on the cold porcelain floor, I heard soft words fill me.
“I am with you.”
SYD, age 17
In the depths our addiction, few of us feel that connection with God. It is often this isolation that allows us to hit bottom, and even to surrender to desperate efforts to numb the pain of that disconnection. And yet, as so many Friends of Bill W. know, success in the traditional Twelve Step program requires an investment and commitment to God. Seven of the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous require a spiritual foundation that may not be in evidence at the time that those suffering from addiction really need it. Given that reality, how can we bridge the gap? How do we embrace that which may feel vacuous and distant from the hole from which we must emerge?
Whether or not you’ve experienced an addiction, you probably know that this first step toward any solution is admitting that you’ve got a problem. In AA parlance,
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
When we hit bottom, few of us would disagree that we’re out of control. But, there’s another piece here below the surface: it’s not just that we’re out of control, it’s that we are not in control of our lives when we separate ourselves from God. That when we attempt to exercise control using free will, something gets lost in the translation. It’s how we end up circling the drain.
If we can embrace this idea, then the second step becomes more palatable:
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Early in sobriety, most addicts struggle to allow anyone else to be in control. So Step Two can be challenging. Instead of divesting the power over your sanity to Someone or Something else, what if you simply accepted that when you feel the God within you, you are more capable, clearer and calmer?
Step Three in its traditional form requires surrender — which again, may prove difficult for those early in recovery.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
But, if the alternative is the isolation that resulted in our addictive despair, how could union with a powerful and deeply loving Source be wrong or frightening? So many of us were raised in religions that beheld God as fearsome and punitive, whether or not there was evidence of that. How do these beliefs help us to move forward, out of the abyss and into His loving embrace? If simply regarding God as Love enables us to relinquish our insanity and recover with grace, how could there be anything better?
Empowered and emboldened in our connection with God and filled with love for ourselves and others, we become capable of the remaining Steps.
4. We can make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”
because we know that to do so allows us to be even more attuned to the God within and around us. Armed with self-forgiveness, we no longer fear the shame and embarrassment previously associated with our choices.
5. We can admit “to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”
because we no longer fear God’s wrath or retribution. Our recognition that we are children of God, reminds us that we were made in His own image, and are as such perfect, requiring nothing more than our own acceptance of our unhealthy choices to elect a new path down which to walk. As we embrace ourselves as God-beings, we come to understand that our union with God enables us to be
6. …Entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
No longer burdened with shame, we are better able to deal with our internal conflict regarding the ways in which our choices have impacted others. We need no longer fear
8. Making a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
It becomes manageable to
9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.
As our connection with God becomes the base of our foundation, the building blocks that we place on top of that foundation rest more easily. Integrity, values and honesty breed trust in self and others. And, the trust in God, which may have initially been elusive, begins to fill every molecule of our being. As such, we…
11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
As we embrace God, we undergo what many refer to as a Spiritually Transformative Experience (STE). Per the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE):
“An experience is spiritually transformative when it causes people to perceive themselves and the world profoundly differently: by expanding the individual’s identity, augmenting their sensitivities, and thereby altering their values, priorities and appreciation of the purpose of life” (http://aciste.org/index.php/about-stes/what-is-an-ste Retrieved 5/26/13).
This transformation begins to alter our life’s mission and the twelfth step becomes the most likely progression in our recovery.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (http://www.aa.org/en_pdfs/smf-121_en.pdf Retrieved 5/26/12)
Whether or not an addict or alcoholic uses the Twelve Steps to achieve a healthy recovery, the development of healthy spirituality is a prerequisite for eliminating the dangerous isolation of addiction. Spiritual evolution need not be complicated but instead starts with one simple step: to experience and embrace within you the miraculous, therapeutic light of love of the God that exists within us all.
Dr. Sage Breslin is a Psychologist in private practice in Solana Beach, CA. She is an Ordained Minister specializing in the use of transformational therapies to enhance therapeutic process and recovery.