When you were introduced to a Twelve-Step program and heard that the Program is a spiritual one, you might have had one of two extreme reactions: a real resistance and animosity to the idea, or that you have always been a religious person and have nothing to learn. Neither attitude will be very useful in your recovery. A more productive approach would be to set aside your prejudices and see what the originators of the idea meant.

AA Spirituality

AA grew out of the experience of a Christian religious movement called the Oxford Group. Bill Wilson, AA’s cofounder, had a profound religious experience while in the hospital for his alcoholism.

Early AA members made no bones about the necessity of turning to God and changing their ways to stay sober. But the whole Twelve-Step movement has grown and expanded to include a variety of means by which people could find a Power greater than themselves to free them from the bonds of addiction.

By its nature, spirituality cannot be defined; it can only be described. Attempts to analyze it, to break it down into observable parts, will always lose the essence of what spirituality really is. AA gets across its message of spirituality through its members telling their stories, whether formally in a meeting or informally member-to-member. Most of the stories in the Big Book are about the spiritual concept of grace.

Spiritual awakening To experience a spiritual awakening as talked about in Step Twelve means that you enter a state of grace with your Higher Power. This happens by living the principles of the Twelve Steps. There are specific instructions on how to do this in the Big Book of AA, specifically in chapters 5 and 6. Examples abound in the stories in the Big Book.

You are not God Typically, the relationship with God or a Higher Power changes. For some, there has been no relationship at all. For others, it may change from thinking of God as an adversary, or even a supernatural servant, into a trusted guide. Many concepts or varieties of I relationship with a Higher Power will work. The one that is least likely to work is the belief, however well disguised, that you are God.

Relationships Spirituality is about your relationship with yourself, with others, with your Higher Power, your Program, and with the things in life that are important to you. On examination you will probably find that while you were a practicing addict, you were dishonest, unloving, selfish, self-centered, resentful, self-pitying, and fearful, all to some degree. These attitudes and behaviors probably affected all your relationships.

Changes Recovery simply means that you use your Higher Power, fellow Twelve Steppers, the Steps, and the principles of the Program in order to change.

It is true that vast emotional and spiritual changes often accompany the spiritual awakening referred to by Step Twelve. Fortunately, this does not have to be a dramatic event, or even happen in a certain time frame. But to be truly relieved of the bondage of addiction physically, mentally, and emotionally, it does have to occur.

Religious Addiction

Spirituality and healthy religion should not be confused with religious addiction, which requires specific extreme beliefs, rigid dogmas, and intolerance of others. This is really addiction to religiosity — all the excitement, power, and altered conscious states inherent in religious activity, especially of fanatical cults like the KKK and ISIS/ISIL.

Healthy religion allows choices and focuses on the positives of human nature rather than manipulating people with shame and guilt. Do what you must to examine your experience, keep what you need, and discard what is not helpful.

Religion vs. Spirituality

For some people it is very important to distinguish between religion and spirituality. If you have a negative attitude toward organized religion, then you may find it comfortable to focus on the differences between them. One such difference is that religion usually includes a component of worship, which is not vital to the spirituality in AA. Most religions also have specific beliefs or dogmas that are required for membership in the particular religious group or movement.

Actually, those who have been in recovery for some time, and have a strong spirituality, have less tendency to find it important to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Perhaps this comes through the tolerance that is one hallmark of spirituality, or maybe the self-righteous condemnation of religion inhibits the development of spirituality.

Pervasive Spirituality must touch all your life, not just a portion of it. This is underscored in chapter 6 of the Big Book, “Into Action.” Spirituality is the mortar that holds all the pieces of recovery in place. The majority of addiction relapses can be characterized either by not going to meetings or by not incorporating the Program into daily life. If you are living a lie in one area of your life, it will be much more difficult to be rigorously honest in the rest of your life, including your recovery from addiction.

What Is Required?

The spirituality that is developed by using the Twelve Steps means quite simply that you trust God, clean house, and help others. There is no specific way required to do this. You may be a person who has little difficulty fitting these principles into your life. On the other hand, you may have drastic changes to make. The Program allows for many individual differences.

Prayer and meditation are important tools for living life on a spiritual basis. Refer to the Prayer and meditation module for more information.

Rewards of a Spiritual Life

The rewards of the Program are spiritual. The Promises found on pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book refer to the experiences of freedom, happiness, serenity, peace, unselfishness, faith (loss of fear), and trusting in God that come as the result of using the Steps. Note that they are found in the book after Step Nine, though many Twelve-Step group members report gaining some of these benefits even before they have actively used Steps Four through Nine.

No Magic Key

There seems to be no magic key to making the process of recovery work, though spirituality does have a touch of the mystical. Many elements are involved. Grace plays an important part, for when you do your share, God truly gives the gift, as She does when you plant the seeds and She makes the flowers grow. Recovery can provide as much joy as the beauty and fragrance of the flowers.

Alternative Spirituality

If you got this far and still think it sounds too much like religion, that’s OK. You can do a Twelve-Step spirituality with no religion or deity at all. See the modules Secular Spirituality and Program for an alternative view.

Spirituality, see also: Attitudes, Beliefs, Community, Forgiveness, Grace, Higher Power, Integrity & values, Program, Religiosity, Serenity, Spiritual aspects, Steps of AA, Surrender, Traditions of AA, Unity.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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