SPIRITUAL ASPECT MOST IMPORTANT
Foundation for New Life Comes With Reliance Upon Power
Greater Than Human Ken
(Forth of Six Articles)
As readers of these articles by now have doubtless suspected, the core of the technique by which Alcoholics Anonymous has worked what often seems like a miracle in the lives of men and women, is spiritual.
Not religious, but spiritual.
Not mental, not psychological—though it is all three of these also—but spiritual.
The majority of the hundreds of alcoholics already reclaimed probably could have been classed rightly only as unbelievers and agnostics. Does it seem strange that this attitude proved no bar to their laying hold on the central truth that is demonstrated by this group?
No stranger than the fact that the membership embraces Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, all creeds, denominations, and faiths.
There is no reason why Hindu, the Mohammedan, or the veriest unreclaimed Hottentot could not translate the central truth about this cure for alcoholism into his own faith, his own native customs.
It is universal because it depends on its effectiveness, and depends absolutely on the recognition of a Power higher than man–the Creative Spirit over all. The name is immaterial.
It will, however, simplify matters to use the familiar terminology employed in the Christian religion, calling this power “God.”
How you picture Him, say Alcoholics Anonymous in all reverence, does not matter. To Smith, He may be a patriarch up there somewhere, with a dazzling robe. To Jones, the agnostic, His form is still a question mark, if indeed He has any form understandable to man. And Brown may almost literally feel the reassuring pressure of His hand as they walk together through the tough spots of the day.
The Creative Spirit is in all things. It is not strange that people should differ in the ways in which they realize this.
But the Power Itself is one and the same thing.
How did these ex-alcoholics get hold of this Power? By a simple act of faith. It’s really the way the Good Book tells about.
The alcoholic says in effect:
“I’ve beaten this habit around the bush from hell to breakfast and back again, and I can’t whip it. It has me down. I can’t beat it alone. But there is a Power greater than I. I shall call on it now; and forevermore, daily, hourly if necessary, to preserve me from this evil.”
If this is said in absolute honesty, and adhered to, the foundation of a new life is laid, this time on the rock. No more shifting sand.
Since “faith without works is dead,” however, more has to be done. This is only the beginning. And it is in the sequence of other steps in the technique that the alcoholic soon realizes the unique and amazing practical value.
The reward seems to go hand in hand with the deed.
Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that, to change a person’s ingrained habits, one of two things is necessary: either a long and painful re-education of mind and body, by a supreme and often agonizing effort of the will, so that one set of habits finally is ousted and a new set learned by deliberate and diligent dally practice; or else a change, such as a person experiences in complete surrender to spiritual principles.
This later is what is meant by a spiritual experience. It reaches the inner man. The old passes away and behold all things are indeed become new.
If it can be achieved, it is the simplest, the easiest, the quickest, the surest way, and the safest from relapse.
William James, the noted psychologist, in his book “Varieties of Religious Experiences,” illustrates the myriad paths by which this inner change may be wrought. But surrender to the higher power, and faith therein, are of the essence of all.
In non-religious terms, the experience is like the realization that sometimes comes to a person who has never appreciated good music or good books, and who all of a sudden “gets” the idea of the pleasure, the value to be found in them. Thenceforth he proceeds with delight to enjoy that in which he formerly had found no charm, no meaning.
Similarly, the alcoholic comes to a realization that the Higher Power waits to help: that with God, truly “all things are possible.”
As outlined in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the steps so far outlined in this article comprise the first three of twelve steps in the entire technique. In the experience of alcoholics who have taken all three, what has happened?
A New World
“I stood in the sunlight at last. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.”
Again: “After making this final agreement (not just for another resolution) to let God be first in my life, the whole outlook and horizon brightened up in a manner which I am unable to describe except to say that it was ‘glorious.’
“There is no ‘cocky’ feeling about this for me. I know I am an alcoholic; and while I used to call on God to help me, my conclusion is that I was simply asking God to help me drink alcohol without its hurting me, which is a far different thing that asking Him to help me not drink at all. So here I stand, and it is wonderful.”
An artist: “A chart of my spiritual progress would look like the graph of a business that had been hit by everything but an earthquake; but there has been progress. It has cured me of a vicious habit.
“Where my life had been full of mental turmoil, there is now an ever-increasing depth of calmness.
“Where there was a hit or miss attitude toward living, there is now a new direction and force.
“To me, it makes sense, opens up a fascinating field of endeavor, and is a challenge the acceptance of which can make of life the ‘Adventure Magnificent’.”
We Have to Live It
I myself, coming down from Cleveland, Ohio, to Houston on the train, hardly out of my swaddling clothes on this thing, all of a sudden felt so overwhelmingly illuminated and relieved by the idea that I no longer had to think about “to drink or not to drink,” that I dug out my notebook and wrote down, How much of my life this realization turned loose for things of real value!
As my oldest son wrote to me yesterday: “Congratulations upon your discovery that you and alcohol do not agree. Now that you give full recognition to that fact, you cease to be on deceitful terms with yourself and all of you can go in the same direction–which is ahead!”
He hit the bullseye at that time.
I’m free now because I’m all in one piece–no longer a “house divided against itself.”
But this spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not think it is enough merely for a man to stay sober.
What of the swath of destruction the alcoholic has cut through the lives of others by his refusal, failure or inability to consider the needs of those who have trusted him and those who are dependent on him?
Remorse won’t pay this off. There’s some work to be done.
Now that the preliminaries of surrender and of faith are established, the period of practice comes.
Here is where the other nine of the 12 points of the Alcoholics Anonymous code comes into view.