What is secular spirituality?

It is almost as old as AA itself: “AA is spiriual, not religious”. Some AA meetings don’t make that distinction clearly. These meetings look for all the world to be religious.

How can something like AA be “spiritual” but not religious?

The casual oberver who sees or attends AA meetings is likely to see religious elements. During meeting shares you may hear references to “my Higher Power”, even adding “whom I choose to call God”. Frequent mentions of a “miracle” are common (eg. “don’t leave before the miracle”). These references in meetings — even ending some meetings with the Lord’s Prayer — would seem to be religious. How is this “not religious” then?

A number of AA members claim no religious faith. Others may have a religious faith but it doesn’t include a Judeo-Christian concept of god. How do these members deal with the “God stuff” as it’s frequently termed in AA? Well, they don’t deal with it well. Some just do a mental “translation” into a non-religious concept. Others allow it to build up into a resentment that festers if they continue in many AA meetings. Others may leave AA.

For many of these members (and they are members if they say they are), simply not saying “God” before the serenity prayer when others intone it is not acceptable. Telling meeting attendants that closing a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer “for those who want to join us” is not acceptable. Telling them to find a meeting that better suits them is not acceptable.

So, can we be “spiritual” in AA without the religious trappings? So-called secular spirituality is a definite consideration.

Secular spirituality suggests this: “Secular spirituality refers to the adherence to a spiritual ideology without the advocation of a religious framework. Secular spirituality emphasizes the inner peace of an individual, rather than a relationship with the divine. Secular spirituality is made up of the search for meaning outside of a religious institution; it considers one’s relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers to be the ultimate. Often, the goal of secular spirituality is living happily and/or helping others.” (Wikipedia, as of 3/30/2016)

We’ll explore this secular implication as it applies to AA in a subsequent post.

AA member Number 4: The first atheist in AA

Excerpted from Glenn F. Chesnut’s article in hindsfoot.org

Jim Burwell: early AA’s first famous atheist

Tradition 3 says that “the only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

“Ed the Atheist” was a pseudonym and the title of a story in the Twelve and Twelve. But we know his real name, and we know a good deal about who he was. This was Jim Burwell, a famous early A.A. figure, who had his last drink on June 16, 1938. He founded the first AA group in Philadelphia in February 1940, and helped start the first AA group in Baltimore. He participated in the debates over the pre-publication manuscripts of the Big Book in 1938 and 1939, and he is the one who is credited with the insistence that the phrase “as we understood Him” be inserted into the 3rd and 11th Steps.

This is the way his story is told in pages 143-145 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which came out in 1953:

“A.A.’s [New York] group received into its membership a salesman we shall call Ed …. Ed was an atheist. His pet obsession was that A.A. could get along better without its ‘God nonsense’. He browbeat everybody, and everybody expected that he’d soon get drunk … Distressingly enough, Ed proceeded to stay sober.”

“At length the time came for him to speak in a meeting. We shivered, for we knew what was coming. He paid a fine tribute to the Fellowship; he told how his family had been reunited; he extolled the virtue of honesty; he recalled the joys of Twelfth Step work; and then he lowered the boom. Cried Ed, ‘I can’t stand this God stuff! It’s a lot of malarkey for weak folks. This group doesn’t need it, and I won’t have it! To hell with it!’…”

“The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, ‘You can’t talk like this around here. You’ll have to quit it or get out.’With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. ‘Now do tell! Is that so?’ He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the foreword to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, then under preparation. He read aloud, ‘The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.’ Relentlessly, Ed went on, ‘When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?'”

“Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So Ed stayed.”

“Ed not only stayed, he stayed sober — month after month. The longer he kept dry, the louder he talked – against God. The group was in anguish so deep that all fraternal charity had vanished. ‘When, oh when, groaned members to one another, ‘will that guy get drunk?”

“Quite a while later, Ed got a sales job which took him out of town. At the end of a few days, the news came in. He’d sent a telegram for money, and everybody knew what that meant! Then he got on the phone. ‘In those days, we’d go anywhere on a Twelfth Step job, no matter how unpromising. But this time nobody stirred. ‘Leave him alone! Let him try it by himself for once; maybe he’ll learn a lesson!”

“About two weeks later, Ed stole by night into an A.A. member’s house, and unknown to the family, went to bed. Daylight found the master of the house and another friend drinking their morning coffee. A noise was heard on the stairs. To their consternation, Ed appeared. A quizzical smile on his lips, he said, ‘Have you fellows had your morning meditation?’ They quickly sensed that he was quite in earnest. In fragments, his story came out.”

“In a neighboring state, Ed had holed up in a cheap hotel. After all his pleas for help had been rebuffed, these words rang in his fevered mind. ‘They have deserted me. I have been deserted by my own kind. This is the end . . . Nothing is left. As he tossed on his bed, his hand brushed the bureau near by, touching a book. Opening the book, he read. It was a Gideon Bible. Ed never confided any more of what he saw and felt in that hotel room. It was the year 1938. He hasn’t had a drink since ….”

“So the hand of Providence early gave us a sign that any alcoholic is a member of our Society when he says so.”

“So in Bill Wilson’s interpretation, it was God himself — ‘the hand of Providence’ — who told the AA fellowship that they were not to exclude atheists from their AA groups. The principal message (to Bill’s mind) was one which was directed towards those AA members who had a strong belief in a personal God, people who wanted to talk about spirituality in biblical and Christian language. These members were deeply frightened by open atheism, that is, the total denial that God exists. But Bill was telling them that they nevertheless had to accept people into the fellowship who did not believe in God, because AA experience proved that these God-deniers also could be gotten sober in life-changing experiences.”

“It is important to note though, that in Bill Wilson’s version of Jimmy Burwell’s story as he published it in 1953, it was completely assimilated into the genre of the traditional Protestant frontier revivalist conversion story. In effect, he had Jimmy saying, ‘I was once a drunkard and a Godless wretch, abandoned by all right-thinking people, when suddenly I was SAVED by an overwhelming spiritual experience which coursed through me, when I stretched out my shaking hand and opened the sacred text of Christ’s own holy book.”

“Bill Wilson put Jimmy’s story into the basic format of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth century evangelical Protestant conversion story. But in doing so, Bill W was not only gravely altering and distorting Jimmy Burwell’s real story — which didn’t show an atheist found Christ or the biblical God — but how an atheist found his own kind of salvation.”

Jim Burwell in the second edition of the Big Book (1955): the Vicious Cycle

“But two years later, in 1955, Jimmy Burwell was allowed to write his story in his own words — it was entitled ‘The Vicious Cycle’ — for the second edition of the Big Book (pages 238-250). Or at least a good deal more of it was Jim’s own ideas and his own words. He began by emphasizing the way in which forcing religion down people’s throats in a way which gives them no freedom and no choice, can produce a horrible backlash, turning out men and women who believe that exact opposite of what the neurotic authority figures are trying to coerce them into believing:”

“At thirteen I was packed off to a very fine Protestant boarding school in Virginia, where I stayed four years …. developing a terrific aversion to all churches and established religions. At this school we had Bible readings before each meal, and church services four times on Sunday, and I became so rebellious at this that I swore I would never join or go to any church except for weddings and funerals.”

“This backlash effect would of course affect people in AA meetings in the same way if they started having required Bible readings and insisting that all members spend their time in AA meetings reciting all of the ‘correct’ doctrines and scriptural interpretations which a rigid group of authority figures was demanding (with threats of hellfire and eternal damnation heaped on the heads of any AA members who rebelled).”

“When Jimmy first came in contact with AA (he got sober the first time on January 8, 1938) the man who made the twelfth step call on him ‘said something about God or a Higher Power, but I brushed that off — that was for the birds, not for me.’ And so for six months, Jim and the rest of the New York AA group fought one another nonstop, with neither side gaining an inch on the other, until finally — if we look at the story carefully — both sides finally backed down and quit standing on their pride, and worked out a way they could live together with mutual respect.”

“First however was the six-month standoff. Jimmy went to New York City and joined the little AA group there. ‘There was one meeting a week at Bill’s home in Brooklyn, and we all took turns there spouting off about how we had changed our lives overnight, how many drunks we had saved and straightened out, and last, but not least, how God had touched each of us personally on the shoulder. Boy, what a circle of confused idealists! At our weekly meeting … I took every opportunity to lambaste that ‘spiritual angle’ as we called it, or anything else that had any tinge of theology. Much later I discovered the elders held many prayer meetings hoping to find a way to give me the heave-ho, but at the same time stay tolerant and spiritual.”

“I rocked along my merry independent way until June [of 1938], when I went out selling auto polish in New England. After a very good week, two of my customers took me to lunch on Saturday. We ordered sandwiches and one man said, “Three beers” …. I spent the next four days wandering around New England half drunk, by which I mean I couldn’t get drunk and I couldn’t get sober. I tried to contact the boys in New York, but telegrams bounced right back …. This was when I really took my first good look at myself. My loneliness was worse than it had ever been before, for now even my own kind had turned against me. This time it really hurt, more than any hangover ever had. My brilliant agnosticism vanished, and I saw for the first time that those who really believed, or at least honestly tried to find a Power greater than themselves, were much more composed and contented than I had ever been, and they seemed to have a degree of happiness which I had never known …. I crawled back to New York a few days later in a very chastened frame of mind.”

Taking the AA group as his Higher Power(June 1938-February 1940)

“Jimmy was the first one to bend slightly. He began thinking of ‘the power of the group’ as his Higher Power. This was far more than I had ever recognized before, and it was at least a beginning. It was also an ending, for never since June 16th, 1938, have I had to walk alone.”

“But then the rest of the AA group also began to unbend, and more than just slightly, as they began writing the Big Book. Jimmy notes only one of his contributions, his insistance that the phrase ‘as we understood Him’ be inserted into Steps 3 and 11 (Big Book page 59), but this little four word phrase has stood ever since as a guarantee to atheists that they cannot be excluded from AA.”

Jimmy B added, “Around this time our big A.A. book was being written and it all became much simpler; we had a definite formula which some sixty of us agreed was the middle course for all alcoholics who wanted sobriety, and that formula has not been changed one iota down through the years …. my only contribution to their literary efforts was my firm conviction, being still a theological rebel, that the word God should be qualified with the phrase ‘as we understand him’ — for that was the only way I could accept spirituality.”

“The insertion of that key phrase was, however, only the tip of the iceberg. It was what did NOT appear in the Big Book, and Jimmy Burwell’s influence on that, which was decisive to the future of the movement. The name ‘Jesus’ did not appear even once in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. And the word ‘Christ’ occurred but one time, and that only in the kind of negative context which one would expect in a book written by an angry atheist (Big Book pages 10-11). ‘With ministers, and the world’s religions, I parted right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a theory.”

“To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching — most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult; the rest I disregarded.”

Jim’s reasoning was this: “The wars which had been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted whether, on balance, the religions of mankind had done any good. Judging from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible, the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.”

“In all the subsequent books written by early AA members for other early AA members, references to Jesus Christ and the Bible progressively became fewer and fewer: look at The Tablemate (1943), The Little Red Book (1946), and Twenty-Four Hours a Day (1948), just to give some of the more important examples.”

Working the fourth step forced Jim to begin looking at moral psychology (1940 and after)

“It was moving to Philadelphia that pushed Jimmy into the next stage of his spiritual growth, when he began, piece by piece, to work on his own fourth step character defects, and had to begin looking at the moral dimensions of the program.”

“Most early twentieth-century American psychiatrists, following Freud’s teachings, believed that speaking of right and wrong, or good and bad, or any other moralistic distinctions of that type, would push patients back into the realm of introjected parental admonitions and other superego issues that would drive these patients even further into crippling guilt and all sorts of bizarre neurotic behavior.”

“But early AA had from almost the very beginning combined the neo-Freudian belief that it was our childhood traumas and blockages which created our most damaging psychological problems, with the conviction that, in sorting out one’s past, one could not escape having to deal on many occasions with what were in fact moral issues. So AA fourth-step work of necessity involved having to engage in what many AA’s (and their friends among the psychiatric profession) called ‘moral psychology’, bringing these issues up out of our subconscious minds so we could process them, and learn new and better ways of dealing with them.”

Jimmy expanded, “After the book appeared we all became very busy in our efforts to save all and sundry, but I was still actually on the fringes of A.A. While I went along with all that was done and attended the meetings, I never took an active job of leadership until February 1940. Then I got a very good position in Philadelphia and quickly found I would need a few fellow alcoholics around me if I was to stay sober. Thus I found myself in the middle of a brand new group. When I started to tell the boys how we did it in New York and all about the spiritual part of the program, I found they would not believe me unless I was practicing what I preached. Then I found that as I gave in to this spiritual or personality change I was getting a little more serenity. In telling newcomers how to change their lives and attitudes, all of a sudden I found I was doing a little changing myself. I had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory, but I discovered in pointing out to the new man his wrong attitudes and actions that I was really taking my own inventory, and that if I expected him to change I would have to work on myself too. This change has been a long, slow process for me, but through these latter years the dividends have been tremendous.”

“To do this, Jimmy had to consider the fact that we each of us possess, as part of some kind of ‘deep conscience’, a fundamental knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. When we have to make an important decision, we can ask the simple question. If I go this way, will I be walking on the sunny side of the street, or on the dark side of the street? We all know in our hearts what it is like on the dark side of the street — people lying, cheating, manipulating, conning, taking pleasure from hurting other men and women, and walking away while other people lie bleeding and dying as the results of our actions. And we all know in our hearts what it means to walk on the sunny side of the street’.”

“But this means, as Jimmy slowly came to realize over the following years, that ‘the Good’ exists in every human being, even if many of us try to deny it and shut our eyes to it. The Good can be used as a kind of Higher Power that one can truly respect.”

Jim Burwell thirty years later (1968)

“To round off the story of Jimmy’s spiritual progress, we need to conclude by looking at an article he wrote a good deal later, entitled ‘Sober For Thirty Years,’ which was published in the May 1968 issue of the A.A. Grapevine. (It was reprinted yet another thirty years afterwards in the November 1999 issue of the Grapevine).”

“I came into the Fellowship in New York in January 1938. At that time A.A. was just leaving the Oxford Group. There was one closed discussion meeting a week, at Bill’s home in Brooklyn, with attendance by six or eight men, with only three members who had been sober more than one year: Bill, Hank, and Fitz. This is about all that had been accomplished in the four years with the New York Oxford Group. During those early meetings at Bill’s, they were flying blind, with no creed or procedure to guide them, though they did use quite a few of the Oxford sayings and the Oxford Absolutes. Since both Bill and Dr. Bob had had almost-overnight experiences, it was taken for granted that all who followed would have the same sort of experience. So the early meetings were quite religious, in both New York and Akron. There was always a Bible on hand, and the concept of God was all biblical.”

“Into this fairly peaceful picture came I, their first self-proclaimed atheist, completely against all religions and conventions …. I started fighting nearly all the things Bill and the others stood for, especially religion, the ‘God bit.’ But I did want to stay sober, and I did love the understanding Fellowship. So I became quite a problem to that early group, with my constant haranguing against all spiritual angles.”

“I was suddenly taken drunk on a sales trip. This became the shock and the bottom I needed …. for the first time I admitted I couldn’t stay sober alone. My closed mind opened a bit. Those folks back in New York, the folks who believed, had stayed sober. And I hadn’t. Since this episode I don’t think I have ever argued with anyone else’s beliefs. Who am I to say?”

“I feel my spiritual growth over these past thirty years has been very gradual and steady …. For the new agnostic or atheist just coming in, I will try to give very briefly my milestones in recovery.”

“This spiritual journey ended up bringing Jimmy real serenity and happiness. He never came to believe in any kind of biblical concept of God, or the kind of Protestant evangelical principles that the Oxford Group had taught, where it was believed that salvation could only come through a highly emotional experience where you fell down on your knees and took Jesus Christ as your personal savior, or something of that general sort. But he did find that he could totally depend on the AA fellowship as a Higher Power, and eventually found that the concept of the Good which all human beings had buried down deep in their hearts, could serve as a perfectly adequate God for him. As Jimmy put all this in his own words:

1. The first power I found greater than myself was John Barleycorn.

2. The A.A. Fellowship became my Higher Power for the first two years [1938-40].

3. Gradually, [in the process of starting the first A.A. group in Philadelphia] I came to believe that God and Good were synonymous and were found in all of us.

4. And I found that by meditating and trying to tune in on my better self for guidance and answers, I became more comfortable and steady.

“Learning how ‘to tune in on [his] better self for guidance and answers’, that is, how to contact what Emmet Fox and Richmond Walker called the spark of the divine within his own mind, Jimmy found true blessedness and a lasting and happy sobriety.

Agnostics can be happy, joyous and free too

The daily reflections book used in the Many Paths meetings is “Beyond Belief”.

What follows is an excerpt from a review of that book. Written by Ernie Kurtz, this historian of Alcoholics Anonymous was praised for the depth of his research and his broad knowledge demonstrated in his book, “Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous”.

Ernie Kurtz speaks about the book Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life – daily reflections for nonbelievers, freethinkers and EVERYONE

“The book is aimed at a general 12-Step readership, but it is mindful that there heretofore exist no such aids for unbelievers, freethinkers, and the unconventionally spiritual. Given that the latest Pew survey found that twenty percent of the American people list their religious affiliation as “None,” it is certainly time that the Recovery world took into consideration this population’s needs. Beyond Belief addresses that need in a confident, non-aggressive way. I doubt that any believer will find anything objectionable in its pages. This believer, for one, finds much that is spiritually helpful.”

“If I have one criticism of this book it is that its musings are too rich. On quite a few pages I wished to pause and think after virtually every sentence. For many, reading Beyond Belief will require a pen or pencil in hand and perhaps a notebook on the side.”

“This is the first daily reflection book of which I know that offers a lengthy (17-page) “Notes” section as well as a full Bibliography. The Notes are far more than mere citations, often presenting brief additional discussion and even new material that more frequently than not is as rich as the text itself.”

“In addition to the Notes and Bibliography, the end-matter of Beyond Belief contains a full Index that allows searching out individual musings on just about any topic. Having problems with “ego”? Check out May 29, August 8, September 24 or seven other dates. Polishing your gratitude? Flip to March 2, June 16, November 12 or eleven other dates.”

“Beyond Belief will enrich anyone interested in living a 12-Step life.”

Ernest Kurtz, Ph.D. (author of The Spirituality of Imperfection and Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous)
Released January 25th, 2013, in its first week on Amazon, Beyond Belief cracked the top 100 sales in the Recovery/12 Step category.

Anyone can read 100 sample pages from Rebellion Dogs Publishing at: http://rebelliondogspublishing.com/samplebook.cfm

Alcoholism vs. Addiction

from The Fix website

By Kristen McGuiness 09/22/11

How much do alcoholics and drug addicts really have in common? Our experts explain the similarities as well as the differences.

Are Alkies Really Different than Addicts?

“When I first got sober, I remember going to AA meetings and identifying as an alcoholic and an addict,” explains Douglas, a 37-year-old property manager from Dallas who’s seven years sober but has the graying temples and sun spots of an older man. “But then my sponsor told me that if I was going to identify as both, I better put two dollars in the basket: one for each. I got the feeling that I had to choose between them—that I was either an alcoholic or an addict, but I couldn’t be both.”

Patty, another member of Alcoholics Anonymous, says, “There’s almost an unspoken taboo in AA where you’re not supposed to talk about drugs or refer to yourself as an alcoholic and addict.” With only two years of sobriety, Patty, who has blonde model looks and an easy smile, admits that she’s just as judgmental as the next person. “I can tell there’s a resistance because I think the same way,” she admits. “I snicker when someone identifies as an alcoholic and addict, but the fact is that everyone in that room is an addict—they’re just addicted to alcohol.”

Jan identifies solely as an alcoholic but she realizes that her addiction looks no different than the heroin user sitting next to her in a meeting.
And modern science agrees. As Dr. John Sharp, an addiction-focused psychiatrist who specializes in the integration of mood disorders and addictions, says, “Alcoholism is an addiction—it’s just one type of addiction. When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with—impaired control, preoccupation with a drug, using despite adverse consequences, distortions in thinking, most notably along the lines of denial—they are no different from any other type of addict.”

Sharp explains that the definition of addiction—a topic The Fix has covered at length—has been even further tweaked. “Recently, the American Society of Addiction Medicine came out with an updated definition of addiction, which identified five other aspects: inability to abstain consistently, impairment of behavioral control, cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems, and dysfunctional emotion responses. I think it’s fair to say you can apply those aspects to both drug users and alcoholics.”

Either way, when someone’s brain reacts in an addictive way to one substance, they will no doubt act that way to any substance, which is why so many struggle when they quit one drug only to pick up another. For many heroin addicts, alcohol is their way out of their primary addiction. For others, it might be marijuana. But at the end of the day, for many addicts/alcoholics, it all becomes the same. As Douglas, the Dallas alcoholic/addict, says, “I can be addicted to anything: women, booze, meth, cigarettes, food. The fact that I call myself an alcoholic is really just so that I can relate to other alcoholics. We’re all the same when we say that. I’m no more different or special than the drunk next to me, and chances are, we’ve both been addicted to drugs.”

Says Jan, a 45-year old school teacher from California who realized she was an alcoholic after years of coming to class drunk, “I always figured that there are different types of Anonymous organizations so we have the ability to connect to other people’s stories, but whether its gambling or sex or booze, addiction creates the same obsession of the mind and the inability to remove yourself from the addiction when you’re in it.”

According to addiction psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim, she’s right. “There is no clinical term for addiction,” he says. “It is more of a pop culture term than a scientific one. The true definition is substance use disorder, which can be anything—meth, cocaine, alcohol. And then there are non-substance use disorders, which could be sex, gambling or porn. We define all of it as addiction. What’s the difference between alcohol and addiction? Words. Addiction describes the brain changes and behavioral changes that create consequences in your functioning.”

And for many alcoholics and addicts, these changes are the same. Jan identifies solely as an alcoholic but she realizes that her addiction looks no different than the heroin user sitting next to her in a meeting. “I think the reasons for having an addiction are the same,” she says. “We’re all trying to fill that same hole, that same void, with outside things. I do think that different addictions mean different effects on the brain chemistry and different chemicals affecting the body, but at the end of the day, we are both battling the same disease.”

Dr. Karim concurs, explaining how different drugs can affect the physiology of a substance user differently. “Each drug has its own specific challenges and battles,” he says. “When you’re looking at meth, there is a really strong neurotoxicity for the brain. Meth addicts not only have impairment but they can destroy neurons in the brain. With cocaine, there is more of a cardiovascular problem. One of the biggest troubles with alcohol is actually cultural. It is a social lubricant, and it is really big business. That’s why it’s everywhere. You can work an AA program, and do therapy, and get medication, but there are going to be triggers everywhere with alcohol. People go to bars all the time; they don’t go to crack houses.”

For Douglas, alcohol ultimately became the deadliest addiction. “There were times when I put down the hard drugs, and that’s when it really got scary,” he confesses. “Alcohol compromised me in ways that cocaine, and even meth, never could. It turned me into a different person—one who made decisions that the sane and sober Douglas never would. And I would think, ‘It’s only booze.’ But booze for an alcoholic is just as dangerous as crack.”

Dr. Sharp agrees. “Alcoholism shows up like all addictions do,” he says. “The only difference is that alcohol is more prevalent. It’s the most widely used drug in the world, and it’s a normal part of many cultures. But people who are vulnerable to addiction run into trouble with it in the same way they would run into trouble with substances that they might need to reach out for more, like illegal drugs which aren’t as widely available.”

For Patty, ultimately it didn’t matter whether she was battling booze, Vicodin, or an eating disorder. “Addiction is addiction,” she states. “I have bulimia and it’s been just as hard to recover from as it has been to recover from alcoholism, and recovering from pills is just as hard as recovering from drinking. It’s all fucking hard. Ultimately, as long as we think the drug or the behavior will make us feel better, it will always be difficult to find recovery or abstinence.”

“Both addicts and alcoholics have a disease that’s impacting their brain from a reward circuitry standpoint by telling them that drinking or using is a positive behavior,” says Kirim. “And there’s probably something else going on—like an anxiety or a spiritual problem. But then you also have the direct affect of the drug on the brain. So in one way, you’re dealing with one drug /alcohol disorder in terms of its causes but then you’re also dealing with two different disorders in terms of their consequences on the brain and the body.”

Douglas has seen the different effects of both, but believes it’s all one disease. “There are many alcoholics who become addicted to other substances, and there are a lot of people who are addicted to drugs and when they stop the drugs, they become to addicted to alcohol,” he says. “I almost wish that Bill Wilson had defined himself as an addict, too. I don’t think the disease is selective to the substance; some people just have a preference for the type of escape they like to have.”

Kristen McGuiness is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Fix who wrote previously about the 13th step and dreaming about drinking, among other topics. She is the author of 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life.

Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowitga Bydlowska


Oh, in case you’re wondering: I’m not a cocaine addict. I prefer to drink.

You found me in the middle of my story and I happened to have just found a baggie of cocaine in that bathroom.

But honestly, I prefer drinking.

I prefer drinking to anything in the world: sex, food, sleep. My child, my lover, anything.

I love to drink. Sometimes I think: No, I am drink.

It’s like my blood. Even before I get it, I can feel it in my veins. I’m not being poetic—

I can actually feel it in my veins.

It’s gold. It’s like little zaps of gold going through me, charging me, starting me up.

When I drink, I fill with real gold and become god-like.

So I’m not a cocaine addict. I’m a drunk.

I had been a drunk for a long time. I stopped drinking for a time, and then I started again.

I believe that you’re never cured of alcoholism. I use the word cure but it is not strictly a disease. Go to any AA meeting, watch or read anything about addiction, and sooner or later you will hear the word “disease.” But it is not a disease. Disease implies you can maybe cure it. In my opinion it’s closer to a condition or, perhaps, a habit you can’t unlearn completely once you stop it. Even if dormant, it is ingrained in you.

For example, my first language is Polish. I don’t use it often yet I will never unlearn it. When needed, I can speak it fluently, just like that.

I’m always going to be a speaker of the language of alcoholism too—if I relapse, picking up right where I left off, catching up to my last number of drinks with an extra drink to top it off, my vocabulary expanding.

People also tend to mistake alcoholism for drinking: “I’m going to slow down. Cut down on my drinking.” Okay. You do that. But if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t do just that. Alcoholism is not drinking, just like hemophilia is not bleeding. You can’t slow down, cut down on your alcoholism. You can’t unlearn its language. You can stop using it and forget some of the words, but you still know it. With drinking too, you can stop drinking and hope it’ll stay stopped. Alcoholism is a habit, a permanent condition of having the habit— like this wanting is, at least in my case. Sometimes the wanting gets too strong and I run. I run with it, run so fast I’m out

of breath, and then run even faster.

I relapsed when the wanting got particularly strong. To relapse means to “suffer deterioration after a period of improvement.”

There was a period of improvement when I became sober for the first time, at the age of twenty- seven. But before that, I was the kind of drunk girl who ran so fast with it, drinking, she could never catch her breath.

I was the girl who danced barefoot on tables or sometimes fell asleep with her shoes on, or sometimes lost a job or a relationship. I was the type of tragic girl that boys would try to fix, or try to drink with although only until they’d had enough, and there I would be, moving apartments yet again only to move in with another boyfriend who claimed he’d be better at fixing me.

I always had three drinks to your one, I always prepared for a night out with a bottle of wine, always opened another beer at 4 a.m., after coming home after a night of partying.

But it’s easy to hide your drinking in your twenties, when many of your peers seem to be bent on oblivion too, when comparing hangovers is par for the course. Except that I kept quiet when people discussed having blacked out as if it was something unusual. It happened

to me all the time. And I too shook my head in disbelief when a friend would do something silly while intoxicated— steal a garden gnome, climb on a roof, make out with not-his-girlfriend.

Look at that guy! Guy, you really need to cut down on your drinking!

Me? You couldn’t catch me. I juggled friends and environments. Except for those poor boyfriends, there weren’t that many people who witnessed my demise. It’s easy to flit from party to party, from event to event when you’re full of life in your twenties. It’s easy to drink in your room before you go out to flit—the people you keep around you in your twenties are new to it all. They are new to friends drinking in their rooms or friends in Emergency because of alcohol poisoning. And they are flitters as well; we all flit, trying to catch up with each other and outflit each other too.

The ones who drink a little harder can even make fun of themselves with typical youthful bravado. I remember sitting with a heavy-drinking friend and joking that once we reached twenty-five, we’d definitely have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous because this was just ridiculous, how drunk we were getting all the time.

She stumbled home, and I opened a third bottle of wine and wrote about that in my journal, or tried to write. Mostly I just scribbled. Go to AA when you 25 stupid bitch.

I went to AA when I was twenty-seven. At that point, I had lost another relationship and a job that I’d gotten freshly out of grad school. My roommates were planning to kick me out. As they say in AA, “AA was the last house on the street.” There were no other options.

I stayed in AA for three and a half years. I stayed sober.

But now I’m not.

I’ve relapsed.

I don’t know why. Or I know why and I don’t have the time to go over it right now. Or there are too many whys to consider. Or who really cares why?

The point is, I really, really need a drink.

From Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Jowita Bydlowska, 2014.

Tagged as: drunk mom, memoir, Parenting & drinking

Personalizing Step 7

The previous step suggests we were now ready to have our character defects removed. Step 7 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book says we now “humbly ask God to remove all these defects”. Pretty straightforward if that were possible. But this doesn’t come from an “exorcision” where these are cast out of us, and I don’t think Bill W thought that either.

We arrive at Step 7 after an honest look at our ourselves, including our positive attributes and those needing some work. We don’t judge ourselves and our attributes as positive or negative, good or bad. Those attributes just are what they are.

Often our confidants, friends, and counselors help us if we are in doubt about character pluses and minuses. They might also have helpful advice about changes. If we ask them to make constructive suggestions about improvements, they might offer ways we could adjust positively.

So, short of an exorcision or supernatural intervention, what are some other ways to personalize Step7? Again, here are a few examples from “The Little Book”, from Roger C.

– With the assistance of others and our own firm resolve, we transformed unskillful aspects of ourselves and cultivated positive ones. (Buddhist Non-theist 12 Steps)
– With humility we acknowledged our shortcomings, and with openness we sought to eliminate them. (We Agnostics)
– We asked for practical help in effecting these changes. (Gabe’s therapist’s steps)
– I am proud of my strength and ability to grow. (The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation)