The AA program offers the promise of a spiritual experience for those who follow it correctly. In the twelfth step there is the claim that those people who have completed the preceding eleven steps will have had such an awakening as a result of their efforts. The Big Book of AA mentions spiritual experiences throughout the text, and this further indicates the importance of this phenomenon for the program.
There is a general perception that a spiritual experience is something spectacular. The words can be associated with contact from angels and other paranormal phenomenon. In the case of AA, the claims for such an experience are less grand. It is viewed as just an event that has sufficient power as to allow the individual to break away from their addiction. This change does not have to be spectacular in nature nor does it have to happen suddenly. The AA spiritual awakening can take many forms. The terms spiritual experience and spiritual awakening are used interchangeably in AA and mean the same thing.
A holistic approach to recovery from addiction advocates a three pronged solution that contains physical, mental, and spiritual elements. The second step of AA requires that the addict comes to believe in a higher power. The individual is encouraged to become more spiritual by increasing their conscious contact with God. The AA philosophy implies that failing to develop spiritually could lead to relapse.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is the claim a power greater than the alcoholic is needed in order to escape addiction. The individual is viewed as powerless to beat their own addiction, and that the only hope is to admit this and ask for help from God. This God does not have to be the Christian god. It just has to be a force greater than the individual. Some agnostics will choose the group as their higher power. By handing over to this higher power, the alcoholic will be given the strength to beat their addiction. They will then attempt to submit their life to the will of God.
Not only is a spiritual experience enough to help the addict escape their addiction, but it also comes with other benefits. The big book contains promises of what will happen if the alcoholic follows the program rigorously. These promises include:
* New freedom
* New happiness
* Lack of regret about the past
* The ability to benefit others
* No more self-pity
* No more feelings of uselessness
* Less selfishness
* Less self seeking
* New outlook on life
* An end of fear about people and economic security
* Intuition for how to handle every situation
The AA member who has attained the promises is said to be living in a state of serenity. While it may be hard to prove the claims of the promises of AA scientifically, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support it. One study by a respected addiction journal found that AA did increase the level of spirituality of members and that this brought positive results to their lives.
There have been a number of criticisms about the AA spiritual experience. Those who relapse in the program may be made to feel guilty about their failure to hand over to a higher power. If they return to the group, they will be encouraged to work harder at the steps in order to have the required spiritual experience. This type of guidance can be dangerous if the alcoholic has problems that are not being addressed. There are many addicts with a dual diagnosis. These people will struggle to remain sober so long as their other mental health problem is not addressed. There may be instances where lack of progress is blamed on not working the steps rather than this other issue.
There are also criticisms that AA may not be appropriate for all alcoholics. The strong Christian influence will put some people off. While Alcoholics Anonymous is keen to promote the fact that it isn’t allied with any particular religion, there are obvious Christian underpinnings to the philosophy. Despite this criticism, there are people of all religious faiths who do well in the program.
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