How to use spiritual power

In this section, I encourage you to use spirituality as the most powerful force in recovery.  Alcoholics Anonymous says that alcoholism is a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. Alcohol has always said to the patient, “Good choice!” It has done this with such power and force that the patient has become addicted to this feeling.

Now you need to help the patient find something that feels better than alcohol.  You need some experience that more powerfully says,  “Good choice.”  There is nothing that can do this more powerfully than God. I guarantee you that if patients walk into the presence of God, they will feel so much better that they will follow that feeling anywhere.  God’s presence is better than any experience you can imagine. Addicts need something better than alcohol to deal with stress.

They need to find greater peace, greater love, and greater power or they will go back to alcohol. Many of you know this already, and many of you are suspicious of spiritual beliefs. I encourage you to take a look around you. There is a national trend to seek God.

Table 2.1
Professional Principles for Dealing with Spirituality

  •   Maintain respect for the patient’s belief system.
  •   Obtain information about the patient’s religious and spiritual beliefs.
  •   Develop empathy for the patient’s belief system.
  •   Do not impose your own religious or spiritual beliefs.
  •   Educate the patient about the 12-step concept of a higher power.

Benefits of Spirituality

  •   Humility.
  •   Inner strength.
  •   A sense of meaning and purpose to life.
  •   A feeling of acceptance, love, and tolerance.
  •   Peace.
  •   Harmony.

Most national magazines and television shows talk about God. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, people were praying on every television channel. All across America there is a new growth in spirituality (Gallup & Jones, 2000).

Even science is becoming interested in religion and spirituality because studies consistently show that patients who use religion and spirituality get better quicker and live longer. In the 1990s, the research on religion and spirituality began to mature.  Research studies were launched within the National Institutes of Health,  including the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  Special issues and sections focusing on research on spirituality and health have appeared in scientific journals,  including the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Underwood-Gordon,  Peters,  Bijur,  &  Fuhrer,  1997),  the Annals of Behavioral Medicine (Mills,  2002),  the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice (Lucken, 2000), the Journal of Health Psychology (Thoresen & Harris,  1999),  the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (“Spirituality and Family Therapy,”  2000),  Psycho-Oncology (Russak,  Lederberg,  &  Fitchett, 1999), Twin Research (Kirk & Martin, 1999), and American Psychologist (W. R. Miller & Thoresen, 2003). Professional principles for dealing with spirituality and benefits of spirituality are summarized in Table 2.1.

Those who work with alcoholics and addicts have a distinct advantage over colleagues in other professions. The 12 steps offer a template that can be recommended to patients and used personally. There is evidence that working a 12-step program is not participating in a religion:

  •   All the modern religions that have examined the 12 steps have come to the conclusion that the steps do not conflict with their beliefs.
  •   Alcoholics Anonymous has spread around the world and is working well in many non-Christian countries.
  •   Joining AA does not require learning any theology,  creed,  or catechism. Atheists are welcome and do well in the program. Atheists and agnostics are advised to use the group as their higher power because most in the AA group are sober.
  •   In more than 60 years, not one documented or reported fight or act of violence based on arguments over spirituality has occurred between AA members (Chappel, 2003).

In his book Bill W (1975), Robert Thompsen tells of Bill Wilson’s spiritual awakening that started Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill was in his fourth detoxification from alcohol. He was at his wits’ end.
He knew he was dying, but he wanted to live. Dr. Silkworth, his physician,
was getting ready to discharge him,  and Bill knew that he would drink.
Ebby, a member of a new recovery group called the Oxford Group, repeated
his pat formula: realize you are licked, admit it and be willing to turn your
life over to the care of God.  But there was a problem,  a big problem.  Bill
didn’t know God. When Ebby left the room Bill felt alone, lost and terrified.
He saw no place to turn. His pride had always been based on what he could
do. Now he could do nothing. The cancer of alcohol had already killed his
mind, his will, his spirit, and it was only a matter of time before it would
kill his body. Yet at this moment, with the last vestige of pride, the last trace
of obstinacy crushed out of him, he knew he wanted to live.

His fingers relaxed a little on the footboard, his arms slowly reached out
and up. “I want,” he said aloud. “I want.”

Ever since infancy, they said, he’d been reaching out this way, arms up,
fingers spread, and as far back as he could remember he’d been saying just
that. But always before it had been an unfinished sentence. Now it had its
ending. He wanted to live. He would do anything, anything, to be allowed
to go on living.

“Oh, God,” he cried, and it was the sound not of a man, but of a trapped
and crippled animal.  “If there is a God,  show me.  Show me.  Give me
some sign.”

As he formed the words, in that very instant he was aware first of a light,
a great white light that filled the room, then he suddenly seemed caught up
in a kind of joy, an ecstasy such as he would never find words to describe. It
was as though he were standing high on a mountaintop and a strong clear
wind blew against him, around him, through him- but it seemed a wind not
of air,  but of spirit- and as this happened he had the feeling that he was
stepping into another world, a new world of consciousness, and everywhere
now there was a wondrous feeling of Presence which all his life he had been
seeking. Never before had he ever felt so complete, so satisfied, so embraced.
This happened. And it happened as suddenly and as definitely as one may
receive a shock from an electrode, or feel heat when a hand is placed close to
a flame.  Then when it passed,  when the light slowly dimmed,  and the ec-
stasy subsided- and whether this was a matter of minutes, or much longer,
he never knew; he was beyond any reckoning of time- the sense of Presence
was still there about him,  within him.  And with it there was still another
sense, a sense of rightness. No matter how wrong things seemed to be, they
were as they were meant to be. There could be no doubt of ultimate order in
the universe, the cosmos was not dead matter, but a part of the living Pres-
ence, just as he was part of it. Now, in place of the light, the exaltation, he
was filled with a peace such as he had never known.  (Thompsen,  1975,
pp. 222–223)

Bill had found a relationship better than his relationship with alcohol.

This experience was to transform his life and lead millions of addicts into recovery. A relationship with a higher power is not all you need to help an alcoholic stay sober; it’s just the most powerful tool you can use.


Robert R. Perkinson,  PHD
Helping Your Clients Find the Road to Recovery

Alcoholism - Treatment.  I.  Title.
RC565.P375 - 2004
616.86’10651- dc22

Provided by ArmMed Media