12 step programs offer our modern world an enormous gift. Through-out the world, we can find Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Al-anon meetings, Overeaters Anonymous meetings, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings, Debtors Anonymous meetings, and many other meetings. For many reasons, when Bill W and Dr. Bob founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, something profound began. It was revolutionary in very positive ways. Meetings, books, sponsors, resources, and the 12 steps offer great resources to learn how to consciously live and even thrive with the thought disorder of addiction.
Part of the tradition of 12 step work, includes a great deal of folk wisdom in the form of slogans. This is found in the conference approved literature and can he heard at many meetings.
“One day at a time.”
“Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.”
“Your worth should never depend on another person’s opinion.”
The phrase HALT reminds us to: “Never get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.”
When we take the time to do the simple things to take care of ourselves, we strengthen our individual will. We are more mindful and careful in our choices. When I get 8-10 hours of sleep, my physical brain is healthier. You can see this on a brain scan. When I eat a healthy diet of natural fresh food – including fruits, vegetables, and proteins – I further strengthen my brain. When I get aerobic exercise, I produce endorphins and eliminate adrenaline. My body is calmer and my brain is healthier with exercise. When I take the time to talk with friends who are accepting and empathic, I feel better. These are the practices that support sobriety as well as general mental health.
Psychotherapy can also be a terrific asset for those dedicated to working a 12 step program. It is very helpful to seek out a professional aware of the differences between general psychotherapy and chemical dependency counseling. A counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist with training in chemical dependency treatment can help the client hold themselves accountable and navigate the world of recovery. Addressing the problems with emotional self-regulation can greatly help with the recovery process. Alcoholism and drug addiction is an attempt to control one’s thoughts and feelings with chemicals. Learning how to calm oneself down without doing anything self-destructive is critical for all of us, if we haven’t learned already.
People who are physically and/or sexually abused in childhood are more likely to abuse drugs. Those who abuse substances use alcohol, nicotine or other drugs to change their emotions that we began regulating poorly due to trauma or adversity in childhood. First, the drug abuser uses the substance to calm overwhelming emotions. Second, the substance enables the person to vicariously re-experience their unresolved emotions from childhood abuse or adversity. Usually, these emotions are associated with memories of traumatic events that are yet to be resolved.
The abuse of alcohol and other drugs interferes with maturation. When a teen drinks regularly from age fourteen to eighteen, he tends to act as if he is fourteen or fifteen many years later; this is called delayed adolescence. When someone smokes marijuana regularly from sixteen to twenty one, she is likely to act as if she is sixteen or seventeen later in life. Taking care of our basic needs of life for sleep, healthy food, social support, and exercise is part of being a mature adult. We take over care of these basic needs from our parents as we grow up, if we are healthy.
Addiction is also known as the sacred disease. Carl Jung wrote that “perhaps it was no accident that we traditionally referred to alcoholic drinks as spirits, and that alcoholics were people who had a greater thirst for spirit than others, and that perhaps alcoholism was a spiritual disorder, or better yet, a spiritual condition”.
People who become slaves to alcohol and other drugs long to go back to Paradise, reach Heaven, reach home – more than most. Addicts desperately yearn to regain that lost warm, fuzzy sense of oneness. There are two ways of looking at this longing to go home. One is yearning to return to infancy, not only to go back to paradise but to crawl back into the womb.
M. Scott Peck writes: “The other way to look at it is as a potentially progressive kind of phenomenon; that in this yearning to go home, addicts are people who have a more powerful calling than most to the spirit, to God, but they simply have the directions of the journey mixed up. Many contemporary men and women are cut off from their own life source. . . (They) are undermined by the loss of connection to their own energy in their own body. . . . In infancy, ‘I desire” is indistinguishable from ‘I need.’ As adults, they look at other people who seem to love life and wonder why they themselves do not. They pretend, even as children, to be reaching out from their own desire. Their place of desire is false; their desiring is not coming from natural instincts; therefore, those instincts cannot be satisfied. Because their bodies are not expressing desires that come from natural desires, they fall into unnatural desires, driven desires that overwhelm them with stupor and manifest as addictions. They crave food that brings them no nurturance, drink that brings them no spirit, sex that brings them no union. Because their culture worships matter and minimizes soul, they concretize metaphor and minimize life. Their hunger is for food – Soul food; they are starving for sweetness – Mother Food that will reconnect them to who whey were born to be. Their thirst is for spirit; their longing is for union. They yearn for connection to their own ‘I desire'”.
We all suffer from addictions, in a sense. It is human to struggle with self-destructive patterns. Ultimately, alcoholism is a blessing because it is a disease that visibly breaks people. Those who are alcoholic are no more broken than normal drinkers. We all experience terror and shame. One may not be aware of their pain, but they certainly experience it. We are all broken people, but because of their struggle with drinking alcoholics cannot hide their brokenness. The rest of us normal drinkers can hide behind our masks of composure. Yet we do not have the gift of talking with each other about the things that are most important to us. The disease of alcoholism put one into an obvious crisis. Out of the crisis of alcoholism, the alcoholic has the unique privilege of experiencing the profoundly healing community of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Please watch this video by Elizabeth Schindler on HALT: