The subjects of this blog might seem oddly timed, but I’ve been focusing on addiction and recovery in the past few weeks. I think that the seasonal depression that some of us might be experiencing (whether it’s from the holiday blues or the early darkness) call for this exploration.
I have a family member struggling with addiction. I pray for recovery and transformation for this family member. It’s hard to hear about, hard to accept the powerlessness, and hard not to become cynical about all of it. In the book An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, one of the writers tells about his ex-wife who was an alcoholic and eventually died from it. While she was still struggling, the writer had a breakfast with Ivan Illich and the writer went over all of the measures he and the family had taken to try to get her conquer her alcoholism. Exasperated, he finished with, “I just don’t know what else to do.” Ivan Illich responded: “Grieve.” Indeed, I am grieving for this family member.
Most of this blog comes from my own paraphrasing of an interview Richard Rohr gave for a conference called Recovery 2.0. The youtube interview is found here.
The interview mainly focuses on Father Rohr’s book Breathing Underwater: A Spiritual Study of the Twelve Steps.
Even if you’re not struggling with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or another behavior deemed detrimental to our society, there is one universal addiction we all have. We are all addicted to our way of thinking. From an early age we learn concepts by also learning their opposite. We learn tall and we also learn short. We learn pretty and we also learn ugly. At the same time we automatically choose a favorite. We prefer tall, lean, fit, pretty, and successful. This is the stating of preferences, the making of judgements. Left unchecked it becomes all of nothing thinking, especially when it comes to self regard.
It can turn into: I am either successful, accomplished, and attractive, or I am a failure.
This is the type of binary thinking that we must move past if we’re going to advance as a people. We all need to recover from this addiction to our own way of thinking.
The real goal of recovery is union (union with God, union with reality, union with self).
Overcoming the physical addiction is just the first stage. You can recovery from a physical addiction and still have a rigid way of thinking that prevents you from union. I believe this describes most of us who have socially accepted addictions.
For those that do recover physically, the danger is in coasting on that recovery with no effort to engage in self-work. But somehow the universe makes us take a closer look through pain and suffering. It might take time, and you need to be receptive to it, but the pain and suffering will come, and they will force you to confront yourself.
We are trying to get to a foundational contentment or to get away from that deep sense of non-satisfaction or emptiness that we call unhappiness. As Jesus said, “I want to give you joy, a more abundant life.”
It’s unfortunate that most Christian interpretations push it to something later called Heaven. This destroys so much of transformative the power of the Christian religion and religion in general. If it all comes later, the you don’t get into transformative spirituality. The recovery movement is talking about transformation now, not Heaven later. Heaven now is finding foundational contentment (that isn’t external from your self) and this comes from within you. The has been said by all the mystics, saints, and prophets of all the world religions.
We made the soul something to be saved til later, and not to be discovered now.
“After working for 50 years as a priest, I found the people in recovery programs were more humble and more honest. The people that had hit bottom were the humble and honest people.
When you’re involved in the field of religion, so many people come to you using exclusively religious vocabulary. Religious jargon. Churchy words. I don’t want to be unkind or unfair to anybody but I found that when they talked there was no substance to it. It was just words…They didn’t seem to be there. Whereas, the people who had gone through recovery (or have learned to “breathe underwater”) there was a self there that I felt was being presented to me. I could have an honest conversation. I didn’t need to fear about offending their orthodoxy. To talk to religious people is often a minefield. I felt I was not in that minefield but was field of compassion and mercy because they had found themselves so in need of mercy. They were willing to be conduits of mercy for other people. I wanted to ask them, “Where did you get this freedom?””
Rohr calls the work of Bill Wilson and the 12 Step program “The American Contribution to the History of Spirituality.” Why specifically American? Because “Americans are very pragmatic. First question an American asks is, does it work? The 12 steps program took the whole Judeo-Christian theology out of the clouds and brought it to workability.”
Whereas so much of organized religion is transactional, the 12 step program is transformational, not transactional.
To be recovered is not to overcome a physical addiction, or to modify a certain behavior until it’s socially functional. To be recovered is undergo transformation and find a union which brings foundational contentment.
Nowadays, I look put-together, like I’ve recovered and overcome. And I have. But tapping into that union and foundational contentment is a daily practice. It’s not something I wake up with.