The “craving for alcohol” is “the equivalent… of a spiritual thirst,” the desire for a “union with God.” So wrote Carl Jung in a letter to A.A.’s co-founder, Bill Wilson.
Perhaps, at first glance, one would not ordinarily cast the words alcoholic and spiritual into the same sentence or even the same paragraph. However, when looking at the word “spirits,” the Latin-based synonym for alcohol it’s not such an unlikely coupling after all.
And that was the essence of what Jung was saying: that the spirit is really what one is seeking in the bottle, albeit in the form of inebriated folly. And it is this idea which is at the core of A.A.’s twelve steps where a God of one’s own understanding is repeatedly called forth as the primary power able to stop alcoholism in its tracks.
It does, of course, make sense that, like their 1960s descendants, who rode the pathways of psychedelic experience towards ostensible enlightenment, those with a fondness for the drink are also, in their own way, searching for something beyond the realm of the ordinary, looking to be catapulted into the cosmic, the transcendent, the realm of the spirit, a phrase which appears repeatedly throughout A.A.’s literature.
However, that was the 1930s, and great strides have since been made in the fields of science, psychology and spirituality. So, the question is, has this notion of prescribing a spiritual solution for a seemingly incurable addiction proven successful?
The answer is absolutely: not only have the twelve steps cured millions of alcoholics, but addicts of other types as well. Also, other religious and spiritual paths now stand solidly behind this idea that addiction is, in fact, a call to something spiritual and that the spiritual is, therefore, the cure.
In his recently published book, God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction, Rabbi Shais Taub asserts, in the context of Judaism, that addiction is, in fact, a spiritual sickness requiring a spiritual antidote.
Then, there are those authors in the fields of New Thought spirituality and addiction whose whole body of work encompasses this very notion. Among them are Louise Hay and Marianne Williamson, who wrote the book “The Spirituality of Weight Loss: Cracking the Code of Compulsive Behavior.”
There is, of course, much medical literature which also states that alcoholism is caused by biochemical and biological malfunctions. Then there’s the fact that, statistically, the most heartily proven antidote to alcoholism is the twelve-step model, which not only includes this spiritual component, but other aspects as well, including attendance at A.A. meetings.
Nonetheless, it’s the spirit which hovers in the background and the foreground as the primary force of the A.A. program. And it is the spiritual which is prescribed today by numerous religious scholars, spiritual practitioners and even those in the psychological community. Perhaps we are all addicted to something, whether it’s something as fierce as alcohol, gambling or tobacco, or as seemingly innocuous as television or shopping or as “natural” as eating or sex. And perhaps these very ties that bind us to this world are opportunities for us to bind ourselves to something that is of another, greater and bigger world.