I suspect it’s not unusual that at most gatherings where people come together seeking deep healing and growth, a fair number of participants have been involved in the worlds of addiction and recovery. That’s certainly been our experience over the years at the University of Santa Monica. During a recent class, a woman by the name of Jennifer stood up seeking clarification pertaining to a dilemma she was experiencing that we recognize as quite common among people in recovery.
She began by sharing a troubling internal conflict she was experiencing pertaining to a question that sooner or later almost always surfaces. In her case, it surfaced just two weeks before successfully completing five years of sobriety. She reported that she was doing very well, then stated she had come to the place where she was questioning continuing her participation at AA meetings.
As she put it, “Recently, I was honest with my sponsor and said that I’m not sure if I’m supposed to continue being part of the program. I'm just not feeling connected to it. I no longer identify myself as an alcoholic. I’ve spent five years in the program getting sober, and I’m so grateful for that. I now have a real relationship with my parents that we’ve never had. But it’s so scary because now I’m having thoughts of wanting the freedom to have a glass of wine if I want one. By being in the program, I wonder if I’ve sentenced myself to something that’s not really me. And then I have an underlying fear that if I give myself the freedom to try, I run the risk of dimming or extinguishing the light I’ve been working so hard to shine.”
Jennifer had come to the place where she was questioning continuing to identify herself as an alcoholic. As she told us all, “It’s become a really big deal for me to have to go to a meeting and say, ‘I’m an alcoholic,’ when I really don't feel like I’m an alcoholic anymore.”
This exchange opened an opportunity for sharing six basic keys we find very useful for anyone dealing with an addictive pattern.
The First Key is that participating in AA meetings is very supportive. The reason for this is that it’s the energy field present at AA meetings that is the major healing agent and not what goes on at the meetings. The energy field of the program itself vibrates higher than the frequency of the alcoholic pattern. In other words, a person could go to meetings with earplugs in their ears and it would make very little, if any, difference. The energy field itself is what tends to lift a participant out of the pattern. That’s why 12-step programs are as successful as they are and why they stress the importance of attending meetings.
The Second Key is the willingness to take 100% responsibility for one's addictive behavior, which is a reflection of how far along the path someone is on their journey of recovery. I recall an enlightening lunch I had with a man with more than 30 years of sobriety, who successfully facilitates workshops for people with addictions of any stripe and has for many years. I shared with him that often people who go through USM don’t like to go to meetings anymore, because they perceive that if they stand up and say, “I am an alcoholic,” they are just reinforcing the pattern they're working so hard to leave behind.
He explained to me that at the beginning, when people are beginning the journey of recovery, the first thing they need to do is take responsibility for what they are involved in, and the way they do that is by saying, “I am an alcoholic.”
He asked me what I thought might be a better way to start. I said that in our experience, what participants appreciate is learning to make statements that affirm the inherent essence of who they are rather then reinforcing their dysfunctional behavior or limiting pattern. So for example, I might say, “My name is Ron and I’m a Divine Being using an alcoholic experience for purposes of my Spiritual Awakening.”
He chuckled and said, “You know, I really agree with you—and I assure you that if people new to recovery came in saying that, it would likely be nothing less than a spiritual bypass because it would have little meaning for them.” I agreed with him. After all, simply learning what it means to be a Divine Being using a human experience in and of itself is a process of Awakening over time.
The Third Key is that as a person establishes years of sobriety, their role in the AA community changes. As they marshal and build their energy field to the level that they rise above the addiction, the last thing in the world they want to do is risk a return trip back down to where they began, or even lower.
This principle is especially important since it’s been shown that people who tend toward alcoholism often have different chemistry than those who can just have a drink or not have a drink—it just doesn't seem to have the same effect on each group. People with an alcoholic pattern are like people with severe allergies to certain foods. They don’t want to run the risk of eating that food; it’s just not worth it.
When she heard this, Jennifer confided that, “My sponsor uses that example with me a lot. She says that her stepdaughter is allergic to strawberries, and you don't find her hiding in the corner eating strawberries.”
So how does one’s role change? Whether a person realizes it or not, or whether they like it or not, what changes is that they gradually emerge as a role model. As the longevity of their sobriety increases, they simply show up differently. They exude a different quality of energy. They literally become a way-shower. Their presence inspires others.
And when someone becomes a way-shower, their level of responsibility is greater than that of the people who are just starting the program. This is why we tell people, “When you resolve an issue, you have a greater level of responsibility to others around you who have yet to resolve the same issue. As you establish 5, 10, 20, or more years of sobriety, your opportunity is to turn and assist those coming behind you.” Very often, these are the people who become sponsors.
So, with regard to going to meetings, we encourage people to continue going if for no other reason than they are adding their elevated energy to the existing field and thereby assisting everyone at the meeting regardless of what words are said. It’s also important to understand that the part of a person’s personality, commonly known as their ego, that led them into an addictive pattern will do anything to get them to quit this silly business of recovery. As one of our favorite news writers from many years ago, by the name of Jimmy Breslin, used to say, “When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place.” He was absolutely accurate.
The Fourth Key is all about the meaning of the word “freedom” in general and freedom to have a sip of wine every now and then in particular. If a person thinks in this vein, is it not equally valid to consider the freedom to abstain, knowing that where alcohol is concerned, the temporary gratification—not to mention a replay of the negative consequences already experienced through past choices—isn’t worth the risk involved in running the experiment. Why not consider the urge to “test out whether or not you can handle it” as simply one of the ways your sneaky ego is using to pull you out of the healing and transformation available through recovery. The freedom to say “no,” is a freedom all the people who are still in the midst of their addiction simply do not have. And they won’t have that freedom until they earn it.
The Fifth Key is the power of clear intention. Recovery is a very straight and narrow path. People who experience an addictive pattern have assigned themselves a very clear, intentional life curriculum. For the recovering addict, it may not be welcome news that the path is straight and narrow. From our perspective, this is why there is a Spiritual component to AA. The most powerful intentions usually emerge from those people who dare to courageously ask themselves the question, “What is the Spiritual opportunity, and ultimately the blessing, available through the experience of an addiction pattern?”
Jennifer then shared that her addictive pattern was currently surfacing in another form. She realized that since she was shifting away from the pattern of alcohol addiction, that a part of her was seeking to replace it with overeating. She said, “It’s like something inside of me is saying, ‘What can we hold onto? What else can we use to hide?’” The answer, of course is, “Nothing.”
The Sixth Key is dealing with the root cause of addiction. As we shared with Jennifer, “If you have a clear intention to grow Spiritually and Awaken into the Loving that is your Essential Nature, there is nothing you can use to hold onto or hide behind. Alcohol, drugs, or food are simply methods used to avoid an extremely painful inner experience of unworthiness—a sense that, ‘There’s something inherently lacking or defective about me.’ That’s really what people in recovery are seeking to resolve—a false sense of unworthiness. And so you have to keep working with it whenever it shows up. You have to keep saying, ‘Ah, another sneaky ego move. Nice try, ego, and I’m just not falling for it. I’m choosing to step free. I’m proving to myself that in Reality, I’m a truly Loving person who is learning and growing Spiritually from my life experience.’”
The bottom line of this sharing is that addictions, like anything else, can be viewed as a pathway up what we refer to as the Mountain of Light. Granted, it’s a steep climb requiring clear and powerful intention, a support system largely comprised of those who have gone successfully before you, and a discipline you are committed to. In a very real sense, it’s a matter of life and death—not only physically, but perhaps even more important, insofar as the quality of your life is concerned.
As we say in Spiritual Psychology Principle #16: Unresolved issues are blessings, as they are opportunities for Healing and Awakening.
A 6-minute audio of the actual conversation can be heard by clicking here.