The disease of addiction is as toxic to the soul as it is to the liver or the brain. By “soul”, it means all those intangible realities that give meaning and value to human life – goodness, kindness, mercy, love, empathy, altruism, self-awareness, courage, willpower, heroism, honour, duty, truth, and simple human decency. These qualities are twisted and torn, bruised and bloodied by the DISEASE of alcoholism or drug addiction. Tending to the soul’s needs takes time and patience. The body and mind heal relatively quickly. Injuries to the soul can fester for a long, long time.ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA) defines alcoholism as a “soul sickness.”
“We must find some spiritual basis of living, else we die,” AA co-founder Bill Wilson insisted. His experience convinced him that the only way to combat the thirst for alcoholic “spirits” was to develop an even stronger craving for a spiritual way of life. Spiritus contra spiritum – spirit against spirits – is the “helpful formula” devised by Swiss psychoanalyst CARL JUNG, whom Bill Wilson credits as one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. IN a letter to Bill Wilson written in 1961, Jung discusses the case of Rowland H., an alcoholic he had treated thirty years earlier, to emphasize his belief that the human spirit holds the key to release from alcoholism:
(Rowland’s) On a low level, craving for alcohol was the equivalent of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language, the union with God…
You see, “alcohol” in Latin is “spiritus”, and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula there isSpiritus contra spiritum.
Spirituality is experienced as a thirst for connection to others and to the world itself. When hope seems to be lost, and despair closes in, you feel cut off, torn apart from the world, alone. The yearning you experience is a spiritual longing for reconnection, a sick soul’s response to a shattered existence combined with a fierce desire to put the broken pieces back together again and discover some semblance of wholeness.
The thirst for wholeness cannot be satisfied by a fleet of new cars or the latest phone, for it is spiritual craving. Nobody knows the truth better than alcoholics, who have searched for God in the bottle or discovered hell on earth. ALCOHOLISM is all about loneliness. The bottle gives, the bottle takes away, and at the end, that is the nature and extent of an alcoholic’s meaningful relationships. As the years go by, the bottle gives less and takes more, gradually stripping away everything of value in the alcoholic’s life.
Alcohol peels off, and recovery stitches back the layers
The alcoholic goes through a process called “DEHUMANIZATION” – a slow and painful process of peeling off from the world – from social activity, hobbies and leisure time, colleagues, partners, children, and so on. Suddenly, the alcoholic is entirely isolated. He has layered off every person around him like the skins of an onion, and he is alone.
In recovery, those layers need to are stitched back on, layer by painful layer. Spirituality is the thread that mends our relationships with each other, ourselves, and the larger community. It is a slow process, for each seam is sewn by hand, and the stitches often draw blood. Pride bleeds out, as does grief, shame, guilt, anger, and resentment. Yet, for all the pain, there is healing, too. It comes in the reconnection to the living, breathing world and in the mending of relationships with other human beings who are also tending their wounds and seeking answers to their most anguished questions.
Addiction recovery is about reconnecting with one’s soul. As with all spiritual pursuits, a guide (THERAPIST or sponsor) is the GPS in unchartered territory.
Whole and wholesome
Alcoholic or nonalcoholic, we are all torn and broken. We all ache to be whole again. Wholeness comes in relationships and our willingness to reach out, not with the desire to take something from the other person but with the need, growing all the time to give something back.
SPIRITUALITY is not religion. It is something without prescribed rituals, with or without a particular God, a human need and a fulfilment of the thirsty spirit. It is to be whole and wholesome again, without the chemical spirit in the bottle. It is about realizing the values within and reconnecting with others. It is being human again.