What exactly is alcoholism? I came into AA because I had a problem with drinking but the programme itself has been about so much more than not picking up the first drink. It’s often called a “spiritual programme” and here’s my current understanding and view of my alcoholism based on six months working through the steps.
This interpretation is based on my own reading of the literature, work with my sponsor and based on the understanding and experience I’ve gained from being in the rooms during this time. I’m sure this may change as I experience more of the programme, and I’m fully aware that everyone has their own understanding based on their own experiences. Just a note, to anyone not in the programme themselves, some of this might be difficult to understand, you have been warned!
The idea that my disease is one of mind and spirit is something that’s really resonating with me. It comes down to the idea that I am unfit spiritually, unable to deal with my emotions and have been trying to either conceal or disconnect myself from this through addictive behaviours. Turning to substance abuse helped by masking the problem in the short term but is ultimately an example of me constantly choosing the wrong solution.
For me my “ism” isn’t just related to alcohol. I’m an alcoholic certainly, seeing my step one and discussing all the times I’ve been powerless over alcohol made this clear. However the disease isn’t limited to me abusing just drink. In the past I’ve used food, shopping, work, smoking, drugs, and alcohol amongst other things to try and overcome my poor spiritual condition. The abuse or reliance on these addictive behaviours are all ultimately different symptoms of the same underlying disease – namely that I’m fucked spiritually.
I’ve essentially been trying to fix my poor spiritual condition with these behaviours or substances. In my case I looked most to drinking or drugs to feel comfort or peace, to the extent that when I took a drink or used a drug, I never wanted to stop, I became powerless over them.
I’ve heard it referred to as warped thinking, that this is a disease of the mind. Some say “we come to the rooms to stop drinking, and stay to fix our thinking”. Quitting drinking or using on it’s own doesn’t help us overcome our disease. It’s only by changing the way I think day to day and becoming spiritually fitter that I’ll be able to stop drinking and live a happy, peaceful, useful and fulfilling life. By all accounts It is possible for an alcoholic to stop drinking without the programme, without working on their spirituality, but this has chances of leading to either relapse or becoming a ‘dry drunk’ (someone who’s physically but not spiritually well or emotionally sober) as our disease ultimately goes beyond alcohol itself.
So how did this spiritual illness take hold, where did it come from? What’s caused our ‘hole in the soul’? Was It something I was born with or the result of environment, upbringing or past experiences? This is something I’m not sure of at the moment, and right now I’m not sure it matters to me. I’m here now and I want to better understand my condition to move on with my life.
So what exactly does it mean to be spiritually unwell and how do we get better? Right now, my personal understanding it that our spiritual condition comes down to either living through either fear or love. Those of us who are unwell spiritually have constantly been living and acting a life of fear.
We begin to base our lives and actions around a series of fear-driven character defects. These include things like anger, resentment, self pity, egotism, dishonesty impatience, jealousy, greed and more (I’ll do some more posts around resentments soon). Acting from fear and these defects worsens our ongoing spiritual condition and the downward spiral continues, our disease gets progressively worse and we rely on our addictions more than ever before as a result for fleeting moments of peace.
Our higher power becomes a crucial part of our recovery and our spiritual journey. After acknowledging our defects and realising that we have been living a fear-driven life in our step four inventory, we then move to step six which asks us ‘to be entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character’.
The wording of this caused me some initial confusion as (at least for now) I don’t believe they can be removed. looking back over my inventory it was clear (at least to me) that these traits or defects are a part of who I am and that they always will be. Are these traits not a part of our human nature? My interpretation of this step is that we’re now ready to acknowledge that we’ve been living through fear, however are now willing to embrace the programme and live through acts of love instead. We ask God for a daily reprieve through prayer and meditation to help us escape this way of living and instead open ourselves up to living a life of love.
Living and acting from love, living life each day through honesty, humility, understanding, tolerance and patience, staying connected to our higher power, our programme and the fellowship enables us to keep our fear-driven defects and actions at bay. It helps us to continually improve our spiritual condition, keeping us sober and able to live a life beyond our wildest dreams.
It’s a big ask though. We’re not always going to get things right and live life like saints. We are human after all, but that’s why we have the rooms and our programme, it’s a journey of progress not perfection.