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Alcoholism, AA and Spirituality

February 18, 2013

From a phenomenological perspective, alcoholism is not a quantity. It is a state of mind in partnership with alcohol consumption. It is ego-centric and undermining of the self and one’s relationships.

Alcoholism is insidious and nefarious. It creeps up when one is least suspecting and robs one of whatever is most dear. Because of its insidious nature, it is difficult to see and accept when it has taken hold. Because one cannot see when it has taken hold, there is also the belief that when bad happens, as per the nefariousness, the bad is projected onto others.

Recovery involves more than cessation of consumption. Recovery involves developing an appreciation of one’s state of mind having been entrapped beyond one’s awareness and recognizing the role of the self in the creation of personal problems and the problems of the other. Only when one is able to resolve that dilemma, that one’s own behavior brought about one’s demise, can health and relationships be restored. Programs such as AA provide support for self examination, taking responsibility and change.

However, it is not infrequent that when I recommend someone to attend AA, they balk at the thought of the spirituality.

I side step the discussion. I advise that the benefit of attending is in learning about life from those who have been there. I advise, you only need be a fly on the wall. As you listen to the stories of others, you may see yourself in some of those stories and learn more about yourself through the experience of others. I tell them it is important to attend at least a half dozen meetings to determine its personal value.

I have faith that if the client attends 2 or 3 times of the six recommended, the client will be welcomed in and welcomed back and will begin to develop some comradery. With that, ongoing attendance will be easier. Then the person may get engaged with the process and new friends.

With ongoing attendance and working through the 12 steps, the person will eventually become healthier and healthier given this supportive environment. That is the magic of AA when it works.

Spirituality can then be an outcome of the work – a learning that one doesn’t know everything as thought when entering the program. A learning that there is much outside of ourselves over which we have little control or understanding. Once one realizes that he or she is no longer the center of the universe humility can also develop. Spirituality entails this appreciation of things greater than us and an ability to be humbled by this realization.

So for me, the matter of a client’s spirituality upon entering AA is a moot point. I just want the person to dip their toe into the group and with time, hopefully become immersed. Spirituality can be the byproduct of sobriety, apology forgiveness and improved relationships. With this accomplishment the person may then say, thank god – if so inclined.

Returning to “I have faith” from above, it is important to appreciate that so many of persons entering AA have no or limited faith to start. They need to borrow ours.

We have to have enough faith for them; quietly there; understated; just lived. As we have faith, then so too may they.

This is the phenomenology of facilitating recovery. Become part of something larger than yourself, something not dependent upon alcohol consumption, something where the process is meant to improve the self in relation to others.

Call it what you will.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. G. William McDonald permalink

    Excellent! Shared this with our 1,500 members. I believe they will get a great deal from it.
    G. William McDonald

  2. AMAZING article. As a soon-to graduate MSW and a grateful member of Bill W.’s fellowship, this article truly hit home. It will help when contributing to class discussions related to addressing alcoholism and other substance abuse, as well as my future career working with clients who wish to recover. Thank You!!

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