Alcohol and Spirituality - The Family
Attention to spiritual health on the path to recovery in alcohol treatment is about
encouraging openness. It’s about letting go of inward obsession with a false sense of self-identity and turning outward. Spiritual health is about finding our place in the world. It’s about finding meaning, purpose and truth in a community of shared lives. We find this community in the first instance in those closest to us – the family and other loved ones.
The alcoholic takes the first step toward recovery by acknowledging to self and to others that he has lost control of his drinking. He needs to confess because this first step is about being honest to self and to others. This is a necessary first move toward opening up and moving forward. If we cannot be honest and open to others then how can we rebuild relationships? Honest acknowledgment of the need for help is cleansing and liberating.
Alcoholics have a hard time confessing. Based on my own experience, there was a long downward spiral of blackouts and repeated attempts to stop drinking before being prepared to admit to myself or to anybody else that I needed help.
We need somebody to hear the confession properly as we enter treatment. This is likely to be somebody in our closest circle. It might be a trusted colleague at work or a friend. In moving from inward to outward, the family is usually the closest in the immediate circle. But sometimes it is difficult to turn to family and admit to a deep problem of personal behaviour.
I started to acknowledge to others that I had a problem long before I entered formal treatment. When I look back, I knew that I could no longer control my drinking but perhaps I didn’t say it loudly enough or others didn’t take it seriously enough to make a difference. The first people I told were work colleagues. But I was reluctant to tell my family. Why? It might have been that I feared being judged by those closest to me. It was probably also because I didn’t want to hurt them.
We need somebody to share the burden of recovery. Committing to a programme of recovery is hard work. It means self-sacrifice, obviously, but it also involves others because you are no longer able to do the same things together. It also involves pain because there are setbacks. The path requires mutual understanding between the recovering alcoholic and the support group. The family usually, but not always, knows the suffering alcoholic more intimately than anybody else.
The family needs to understand and commit to the recovery path. The alcoholic in recovery has a better chance of success if others have knowledge of what is trying to be achieved. There needs to be a common framework for all of those supporting the recovering alcoholic. Ideally, this will involve a common understanding of the process, shared responsibility and a common aim – restoration of health in body, mind and spirit.
The spiritual path is about helping the recovering alcoholic to find a proper sense of belonging in the world. It is about encouraging him to come out of himself, in some sense, to find a deeper source of meaning and purpose to his life. We do this in relation to others and the world around us. This is how we find our true sense of self-worth – a proper sense of self-identity in relation to a broader community – living in communion.
The spiritual perspective is that life is communion and communion is love. What does this mean? It means that authentic human life is found in the interrelatedness of all things. The nature of the reality in which we live is a connectedness of giving and receiving. True community is love. Love is unconditional – it asks for nothing in return. We find our ultimate sense of self-worth and identity as human persons in a communion of love.
The family is the immediate embodiment of this communion of life and communion of love. We never love perfectly. The family never loves perfectly. Sometimes we find it easier to take than to give. Alcoholics often care more about the next drink than others. The love of family has an important role to play in helping the recovering alcoholic on the path to spiritual recovery.