Defending the Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous: Thoughts for Meditation

Salon recently published a stellar article in defense of the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous. In several poignant paragraphs, this article reminds us of the purpose of the 12 steps, clarifies the third step in light of the third tradition.

For people at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous do not speak of drinking, they talk about living: about living the Twelve Steps in all aspects of their lives. The words “alcohol” and “alcoholics” occur in those Steps only twice: in No. 1, “powerless over,” and No. 12, “carry this message to.” The rest of the Steps deal with how to live—without alcohol but with reality. Yes, some Steps mention “God,” and most A.A. members are believers and more or less religious in practice.  But it is also true that for some members those letters stand for “Good Orderly Direction” or even “Group of Drunks,” and no one objects to those understandings.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this post was that the writer, Ernest Kurtz, has observed the A.A. culture for years. Kurtz even wrote his doctoral dissertation on A.A., which was later published as a book, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. He obviously has a deep understanding of how the program works.

The positive insight Kurtz developed after years of objective study and research is a testament to the timeless truths found within Alcoholics Anonymous.

This article calls to mind another article from the National Geographic emphasizing another benefit of spirituality–connection.

According to Nia Sipp, staff psychiatrist with Sierra Tucson, the goal  is not just removing the substance or behavior but also facilitating self-reflection and creating social systems.

“Oftentimes people feel that it’s about God and other things,” Sipp said. But she believes that the A.A. concept is more about “the spirit of community.”

Rev. Jack Abel, director of spiritual care at Caron Treatment Centers, agreed. “When we say spirituality, we’re talking about connection. People who are addicted become disconnected. And spirituality, as it’s emphasized in the program of the 12 steps, is profoundly reconnecting.”

The article goes on to explain how that connection we develop during meetings helps fulfill the innate human need for relationships.

“What A.A. does on the basic level is what good psychotherapy does,” Flores said. It provides “a community for people to break their isolation and to start to connect on an emotional level with other people.”

At Duffy’s, we couldn’t agree more. As Patrick, a Duffy’s counselor, further explains in a video on finding Spirituality in Recovery:

“People reconnect not only with their own inner guidance system, but they start to connect with others as well. They start to have this human-to-human connection, and it’s what being a human being is all about, connections, connections to self, connections to others, connections to principles.”

At the core, that’s exactly how A.A. works. By listening, connecting, and helping others, the Twelve Step program becomes a continuous cycle of hope and support.