From the Heart Reflection about Addiction & Spirituality

How does faith and spirituality assist the alcoholic and the afflicted family?

At what point do most alcoholics seek treatment?

So most have to actually hit rock bottom or is there hope for “stemming the tide” before addiction causes great disaster?

Do you see something inherent in some individuals that makes them prone to alcoholism?

Is spirituality helpful to the families as well as the alcoholic? 

What is the biggest mistake that enablers make?

Here is a “From the Heart” response to those questions

by a longstanding NCCA member

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disease with its own set of symptoms.  Increasingly, research has demonstrated a strong genetic factor and I’ve learned that many of the past “secrets” kept about grandparents, etc. include deaths caused and/or complicated by alcoholism.  Despite what it says on their death certificates, my dad and my brother both died of alcoholism.  It is an equal opportunity disease.  It doesn’t matter who you are, how many degrees you have, what you do for a living, where you live, whether you’re male or female, rich or poor, intelligent or not so smart, etc.

This disease is like instant mashed potatoes – just waiting for the liquid to be added.  I may have been a social drinker for a long time with no negative consequences or hurt relationships in any area of my life (home, work, friend, et.) and eventually cross that invisible line between social drinking (where I can take it or leave it without any adverse consequences) and alcoholism (where alcohol makes my decisions for me).  For me, I crossed that invisible line 20 seconds into my first drink.  For others it takes years. The progression from social drinking to alcohol drinking is like the cucumber that goes through the pickling process and becomes a pickle.  This pickle can never return to being a cucumber and the alcoholic can never successfully go back to being a social drinker.

As the disease progresses – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, alcohol (and other drugs) make more and more decisions based on when and how I can drink.  My primary relationship is with the bottle, my drug of choice.  All other relationships pale in comparison and I find myself increasingly defensive when others comment on how much / often I’m drinking or why I isolate myself, become secretive, and fearful that I’ll “run out” for whatever reason.

I do believe that we were each created with a god-shaped hole inside of us.  Often we try to stuff / fill that g0d-shaped hole with other things we crave to make us feel filled / complete:  alcohol and other drugs, material possessions, addictive behaviors (like gambling, work, shopping, sex, etc.), addictive relationships 9codependent), etc.  None of these fit into that god-shaped hole, that yearning we all have to be filled with our Highest Power –the One who waits for our “yes” to the holy relationship that really matters.

Regardless of what we lose in the progression of this disease, the worst part of “hitting bottom” is shame, the root of all addiction.

Fear of losing a marriage/any significant relationship, losing a job or home, material possessions, etc. may hasten our bottom.  But it is the shame/loss of our self-esteem, that beautiful gift from God, that is the most painful of all.  Vernon Johnson’s classic book “Intervention” helps others who care about us to hasten the alcoholic’s bottom, to share honestly how alcohol has impacted each of their significant relationships.  It may be the last ditch attempt for their families, friends, bosses, co-workers to “raise the bottom” and break through the denial that is the hallmark of this disease.  Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful; it is the only disease that tells the alcoholic how well he she is!

Nothing exists in a vacuum.  If I’m going to take alcohol/other drugs out of my life, I need to something meaningful in its place.  So many of us learn that the 12-Step Spirituality found in Alcoholics Anonymous is a new way of living, a new way of being in relationship with ourselves, and others and a Loving God/Highest Power in our life.

The same is true for Al-Anon, a 12-Step Spirituality for families and friends of alcoholics.  As family, friends, co-workers, etc., we have developed unhealthy patterns of behavior that enable the alcoholic to remain sick.  Often under the guise of “Christian charity”, we lie to ourselves and others, make excuses for their drinking, try to control their drinking, develop fears for our own safety, health, welfare, economics state that make it easier for us to deny the truth of how much alcohol has consumed the alcoholic and the way we relate to them and others.

Codependency is trying to save someone else from their pain, trying to control the uncontrollable…we wear ourselves out “wearing masks” that say “I come from a Leave it to Beaver” family/office, etc.  We wear ourselves out by pretending the alcoholic reality we’re drowning in isn’t as bad as what we fear most…so we cover up as best we can – -and it’s never enough.  “We are only as sick as the secrets we keep.”

In my personal and professional experience, 12-Step Spirituality in AA, Al-Anon and other 12-Step programs of recovery helps us to discover, learn, practice a way of living that transforms my relationship with myself, others and the Loving God, the only One who can fill that God-shaped hole inside of each of us that thirsts for the Holy One who yearns for a meaningful relationship with each of us.

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12-Step Recovery is indeed a miracle!!