Monday, August 1, 2011


The Puzzling Role of Religion in Recovery

Alcoholics who report “spiritual experiences” do better at the 9-month mark. God might be optional, but so-called spiritual experiences—and an increased attitude of forgiveness—seem to give alcoholics an edge during the first year of recovery, say psychiatric workers at the University of Michigan Addiction Research Center. Like it or not, AA and most other 12-Step programs have a “God as you understand it” clause. Sometimes the emotional impulse that kicks off a successful recovery comes in a form identified as “spiritual.” Recent arguments over the issue have threatened to split Alcoholics Anonymous into warring camps. While AA diehards battle with secular 12-Steppers over the issue of spirituality and religion, Elizabeth Robinson and coworkers at the University of Michigan have been trying to look at the picture apart from the AA universe. As Robinson puts it, “prior studies have been limited to treatment-seeking and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) samples.” So the Michigan group recruited 364 volunteers from abstinence-based treatment centers, a moderation drinking program, and untreated individuals from the local communityThe researchers measured the spiritual and religious belief structure of the alcoholics at the beginning of the survey period, and again at six months. They collected reports of spiritual and religious experiences during that time, and used this data to predict who would show a “good drinking outcome” at nine months. Robinson says that participants who reported “increases in day-to-day spiritual experiences” were the most likely to be free of heavy drinking episodes 3 months later. The definitions are vague, and the study is fraught with “confounding variables,” as the researchers like to say, but Robinson and her co-workers say that the best outcomes were found in volunteers who had daily spiritual experiences, and who showed increases in psychological measures of “forgiveness” and “purpose in life.” The three-year study suggested to Robinson that spirituality, so called, “was not necessarily a matter of believing in one interpretation of God, or even belief in a God of any kind…. The relationship between spirituality and likelihood of recovery was unrelated to whether a person took part in AA or not.”


I ran across this at "The Fix" web site and thought it was sort of interesting. I wonder why the "9 month" mark keeps popping up. This seems to be a hurdle for us alcoholics - GSO reports that the 9 month chip is the least given out. My personal experience is that it was always between 8 and 9 months that I went back out again. Maybe the spiritual experience was something I was missing at the time. Dunno.



  1. I suppose a good idea for a topic along this thread's lines would be to ask, "what was a/the spiritual experience to you?"

    The book talks about a simple rearrangement of and casting aside of motives, a personality change, and the like.

    I describe it as, I don't wanna drink.

    An old sponsor of mine decribes it as, he was watching that Strohs beer commercial and when it was over, he said, "I want that fucking dog!" Remember? That stupid ginger mutt? Alex?

    So, Joe's epiphany was that he wasn't thinking about the beer for a change.

    So... our spiritual experience is something so simple... so earthy... something so practical... and they want to bash us for being a bunch of ouiji board Cross wielding freaks. Fucking dick-skins.

  2. Shit Patrick, don't sugar coat it. Yeah you're right, our (or at least my) spiritual experiences are ongoing. No flash of light, no voice from the burning bush. Just a series of "Ah-Ha!" moments. Simple stuff.

    The first was an unconscious decision to "Let go, let God" or something along those lines. Didn't even know it occurred 'til my sponsor asked what happened to me.

    Since then it's been a bunch of little stuff, like suddenly starting to be more tolerant of assholes, something I still work on. I think that these experiences come as replacements for my many character defects.

    Then study, incomplete as it is, is interesting in that the key to sobriety is the spiritual experience, not the program. Yet how many try to get sober with religion and fail?

    So there has to be a definite distinction here between spirituality and religion, something our friends at ST don't seem to accept.

  3. I like the comments McG and Joe, so true Joe, just like you, alls I knew is that i was going to AA, was very serious and didn't want to live like I had been. One night at dinner over at the folks house I was stuffing my face while the oldie's were kinda quite. Mom spoke up and said, "Colter, you've had a 95% change in your personality"! Dad chimes in, "yea, we don't even recognize you". Dumfounded I was like "errr, uhhhh, duhhhh, can you pass the tatters?" or some such clueless reply.

    If you would indulge me, lets look at the way Jesus put it when Nicodemus met privately in the garden and expressed an interest in this "kingdom of heaven" fellowship thing that Jesus was talking about (a simple fellowship of sincere believers in God) that was very similar to fellowship in AA, similar to the Oxford groupers who were trying to return to that first century, God centered life, minis the dogma, creeds and ceremonialism.

    Said Jesus:

    "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

    I don’t want to frighten anyone, but that “God” that speaks in our group conscience, who so lovingly fostered us in AA as we stumbled upstairs, while putting this program together; it’s the same guy that Nicodemus was talking to 2,000 years ago. He promised to poor out the “spirit of truth” upon all flesh. He did, it responds to any and all sincere truth seekers. Why the apparent renaissance in this age? Stay tuned; it’s been happening in parallel in seemingly unrelated ways. Future ages we see this age as the dawn. [ insert trailer for “The 40 Year Old Virgin” when the credits were rolling, “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarious………Aquarious…….Aquar-i-ous…….”