Monday, April 20, 2015

Spiritual Direction in Recovery

Though we talk about the twelve steps as a spiritual program we don’t often talk about spiritual direction in our meetings. But outside of meetings people with many years will talk about their retreats and experiences with a spiritual director.  After all, when you have 10 or 15 or 25 years you “get it” that this is a spiritual program. 

It occurred to me more than once (in that way that we keep seeing new things in the Big Book over time) that the wording of Step 12 is significant. It says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” and I notice that it does not say, “having stopped drinking as a result of these steps.”  It’s not about not drinking/eating/drugging etc. but the steps are intended to lead us to—and through--a spiritual awakening. And then, in that spiritually awakened state, we can see our lives and we can make changes and we can have a relationship with our Higher Power.

I’ve come to see that a spiritual director is not a sponsor and not a therapist and a spiritual director may or may not be a clergy person. Over the years I have worked with three different spiritual directors. One was a nun, one a former minister, and one a really compassionate and spiritual woman who had training in spiritual direction. All had some experience with the 12 steps or recovery programs, which was very helpful in the same way that someone whose first language is Spanish might benefit from a spiritual director who speaks Spanish.

I think of a spiritual director as being a bit like a couples counselor. If I am trying to have a good relationship with my Higher Power then anything that might come up in a human relationship will come up in this relationship as well.  I’ll be fearful, angry, jealous, even feel my abandonment issues rising. So we have to process all that, and just like in a marriage, a wiser person can ask good questions.

My spiritual director asks me, “Are you talking to your Higher Power?” “Are you spending quality time together?” and she’s reminds me that I can express all of my feelings --even anger—when I am in a genuine relationship with HP. 

I love the anecdote we hear in meetings of the newcomer who raises their hand to ask about the “spiritual part” of the program and the old-timer replies, “There is no spiritual part; the program is spiritual.”  

It’s also helped me to know that Bill Wilson had a spiritual director.

He identified Father Edward Dowling, a Jesuit priest, as his spiritual director. (Which may explain why some of Ignatius’s insights sound so familiar to recovering alcoholics.)

Bill’s regular meetings with Father Dowling were necessary to his recovery and that was in addition to having sponsors (Ebby and Dr. Bob) and his rich fellowship of recovering friends.


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More on spiritual direction in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

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