by Jim Stinson
If you are struggling with an addiction or have recently gotten on a path of recovery, take a few minutes to recall the incidents of despair, discouragement, and disillusionment that the addiction has caused in your life.
The lives of those living addictively become filled with lies, half-truths, deceit, and manipulation. As a result of a life lived this way, there are also increasing feelings of guilt, shame, anger, disappointment, defeat, despair, and remorse. Every addict, and even loved ones of an addict, knows the desperate and hopeless reality of life lived in active addiction.
Over time, and often quite quickly, this life takes the addict to that place Bill Wilson and Dr, Bob Smith, the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, describe as restless, irritable, and discontent. Bill and Bob clearly understood that a complete transformation of an addict’s mind, body, and spirit was an absolute requirement if “full” recovery was to be possible. They also understood that recovery is far more than simply “putting the plug in the jug” – stopping drinking or using is only the first step of transformation.
In the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the basic text of AA – often referred to as the Big Book – written between 1936 & 1939) in the chapter “A Doctors Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth, a prominent physician in the addictions field, wrote:
Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable, and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many people do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change, there is very little hope of his recovery.
Dr. Silkworth had come to see that recovery, by what would become known as 12 Step Recovery, offered hope previously unknown for addicts, as well as for their families. Because of his years working with addiction prior to the founding of AA, and then for years afterwards, he predicted that unless the addict experienced an entire psychic change there was very little hope of lasting recovery.
I believe that when Dr. Silkworth used the word “change” he was referring to “transformational change,” not just something you change for the short term and go back to later. Transformational change is life-altering and permanent. It is about moving away from that place of living restless, irritable, and discontent to being happy, joyous, and free. It is about moving from selfishness to selflessness; from neediness to being in service to others; from demanding love to being loving and kind. Thus it is a spiritual journey which is far deeper than simply quitting drinking or using.
An entire psychic transformation is possible when addicts surrender their egos to a Higher Power, and at the same time are willing to acknowledge that this is something that it is absolutely necessary.
You often hear in recovery circles newcomers asking others with longer recovery: “So what is it about me that I need to change?” The reply is “Everything.” That is what Dr. Silkworth is emphasizing when he uses the words “entire psychic change.” This transformation, one in which all that one is currently to what someone could potentially be, is created through the active undertaking of the 12 Steps. Dr. Silkworth observed and understood this truth.
I believe that doing the work of a 12 Step program is the foundation for transformation. In addition, I recommend clients also work a program of applying spiritual principles to their life, and by this I mean consciously acting with honesty and integrity, being more accepting and compassionate, practicing forgiveness, being in service to others, and having an attitude of gratitude, to name just a few. While there are many, many different spiritual principles, we have identified 52 different ones for which we’ve created a set of contemplative cards. I have found that by actively working on spiritual principles, we can heal our character defects. This is what “full” recovery is all about.
Full recovery from addiction is a lifelong process that requires ongoing work. It is not just about participating in a fellowship of recovery; it requires developing and deepening a relationship with one’s Higher Power, and a letting go of denial, fear, and mistrust through the ongoing application of spiritual principles. Transformation is recognizable when a person lives life from a place of being happy, joyous, and free.