Blog: “a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also : the contents of such a site.” This is the official definition as printed in the Merriam Webster dictionary. It is our hope that this blog will be more than a place to simply record personal reflections and comments but rather that it will serve the function of being a town square for the recovery community to freely exchange ideas about the spiritual nature of the disease of addiction and the path of recovery. In writing this first entry, I would like to begin to explore some of the basics, as I understand them about the spiritual nature of addiction and recovery.
A definition of addiction that I like to use comes from Craig Nakken's book, The Addictive Personality. He defines addiction as "A pathological relationship of love and trust with an object or an event." In this relationship, choice changes to compulsion and the relationship with the object replaces people. Addiction is a complex disease. It has genetic; biochemical; psychological; social and SPIRITUAL components. However, the SPIRITUAL component is always part of the disease and recovery - if addiction does not start out of a spiritual deficiency /disease it quickly becomes one. Addiction is a deadly disease that attacks the very core/essence of who we are. In other words, it attacks our spirit. This disease has a major impact on spiritual life through attacking the relationships between self, others and God. Consequently, restoring a healthy spiritual life is critical to the recovery from the disease. Bill W. understood this when he was constructing A.A. “after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life – or else.” (The Big Book pg 44) The Twelve12 steps are a spiritual journey.
The gospel of Matthew notes that after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, “he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1 In the gospel of Mark, the word is not “led” it is “driven.” It certainly does not sound like Jesus freely and easily decided to go to the desert. Rather it took a force to lead him out into the harsh desert wilderness. A wilderness of extreme heat during the day and bone chilling cold at night; a wilderness of parched land and dried up scrubs; a wilderness of flat open space, dry, brown-yellow hills, and craggy cliffs; a wilderness of vast open sky; a wilderness of snakes, scorpions, and wild beasts; a wilderness with little comfort and no companionship. Jesus was led out into this environment for 40 days and nights.
We might imagine that when Jesus embarked on this journey of prayer and fasting that he was hale and hearty. He emerged from the Jordan’s cool baptismal waters full of life, full of the Spirit and with a strong sense of purpose. However, as we are told in Matthew’s account of this desert experience, Jesus ate nothing for forty days. Near the end of that time, he was likely famished, dehydrated, and exhausted. Isn’t it at such times in our own lives when addiction rears its head looking to be fed. The solitude becomes isolation and at those times the wolves come calling. You all know the saying, which I amend slightly, “When you are in recovery your addiction is doing push ups so it can slap you in the face next chance it gets.” Being spiritually famished, withdrawing into isolation presents just such an opportunity for the addictions to show their muscle once again.
I am sure that during his time of famine, Jesus was very skilled at praying and meditating. However, he was also most likely very lonely and troubled by memories of food, cool water, friends, and family as he tried to meditate and pray the Psalms again and again. When Jesus was in his most spent physical and emotional state, we are told, that Satan came knocking. He was “tempted by Satan.” Actually, the experience was worse than that sounds. The Greek word in the bible that we usually translate as “tempted” is better translated as “tested” or “put to trial.” To be tested sounds a lot harder than to be tempted. Moreover, Jesus was tested and challenged by a formidable foe – evil itself had come to pay a visit.
Another name for evil is addiction. Like the devil challenged Jesus, it challenges all of us to abandon lives of recovery for a life of full of quick gratification, power, luxury, and greed. We are called by evil to focus only on our own needs, our own comfort. Like us, the body of Jesus at this time, in all of its frail humanity, must have been crying out for relief. A relief that he could all too easily have acquired if only he were to turn away from God and toward evil. Nevertheless, Jesus summoned up the courage and strength to dispel the seduction of comfort. He courageously put his trust in God, his father. He refused to worship any other idol even that of self-gratification. And with that, “the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” Now, you may think ‘what is so remarkable about that – after all he is God.’ Well, yes, but we also know that Jesus fully took on humanity and lived and suffered like any one of us. The signs of his divinity were usually only seen in his service to others. In this trial, Jesus established who he is and what he is here for – through not succumbing to false callings, through not seizing power and enriching himself.
Like Jesus, I often find myself in the wilderness. I am sure all of you do too. Only for us, it is a spiritual wilderness of loneliness, emptiness and a yearning for meaning in a frantic world all too ready to focus on self-indulgence. It can be a wasteland of spiritual poverty. Unlike Jesus, we are not forced into this wilderness. Ours is a wilderness we create and we choose to live in. It is a wilderness often relieved by temporal pleasure and self-gratification. However, despite our willingness to enter this wilderness, if we are lucky, we find that in the end we are just not satisfied. Something is missing from our lives and gnawing at our spirits. We are hungry for relief from our financial miseries, hungry for a break from a world marked by war, hatred, and violence. All the while, the sirens of escape and addiction call out all around us trying to seduce us with false gods. Our sirens are not so unlike the sirens that tempted Ulysses so long ago. Today we are bombarded with constant messages that if we put our belief in this substance or that behavior we will be able to shut out the needful voices of war-ravaged lands, hungry children, homeless neighbors and our own souls crying out in agony.
How do we find out way out of this wasteland? How can we, like Jesus, strengthen our resolve and build up our spiritual will power to resist the forces of evil? I think we can begin as usual by studying Jesus’ practices. Throughout the gospels, we hear accounts of Jesus continually engaging in two acts that built up his spiritual resources. First, he focused on service to others through teaching, healing, comforting and when necessary challenging the oppressive power structures of the day. As Jesus himself stated, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Through service to others, Jesus was able to stay focused on his mission to bring mercy to the world even when it might have seemed hopeless or pointless. Twelve step programs call us to lives intimately connected with others. Through these steps we are encourage to share our burdens, to take steps to put spirituality back into our lives and to live lives of concern for others not just ourselves. Secondly, in numerous passages we hear about how Jesus took time for prayer. He entered into a state of solitude (not isolation) to listen for the still, quiet voice of God. He prayed as Paul recommends to us, “without ceasing.” I pray that each of you is able to create some time in your lives to slow down and talk to God. He is talking to us but we need to listen. I pray that you will each find some new way to give of yourselves in service to others for we, like Jesus, are created not to be served but to serve. I hope you will strengthen your commitment to Twelve Step spirituality. Let us all resolve to find a desert experience of growth and renewal with God so that we have strength in the times of trial. We need to help our spiritual selves do the necessary push-ups to stand up to the times of trial that will inevitably come. During his desert experience, Jesus learned he needed to let go and trust in God. We too need to engage in an act of trust with God, who with angels and archangels watches over us and guides us on our way home.