Practical spirituality for a complicated world.

I received many comments on a recent response to a reader who was concerned about a relative's alcoholism. Many of us know that our community has a severe problem with alcohol related illness, accidents and deaths. I would like today's column to be one of those you


can cut out of the paper and keep for future reference. If you, or someone you know, doesn't have a drinking problem, chances are you will one day have a relative, friend, neighbour, or co-worker who has a problem with alcohol.

Alcohol is the most abused substance in our culture, if not the entire world. It is also one of the most addictive drugs you will ever encounter. Alcohol kills and maims more people, as well as destroying more lives, careers, and families, than all illegal drugs combined. The stereotype of a hopeless alcoholic, lying in the gutter, while apt in some cases, is generally a false one. Most alcoholics and problem drinkers continue functioning to some degree, however they always leave much chaos, confusion and pain in their wakes. Alcoholism and problem drinking manifest in as many ways as there are alcoholics or problem drinkers. It is difficult to compose a profile which fits all alcoholics. However, they all have one thing in common, that being a physical-emotional dependence on alcohol.

Back in 1994, my first book,

Your Companion to 12 Step Recovery

, was published and released internationally. It was a thrilling experience for me. I received letters from people in England, Australia, Canada, Israel, and many of the states in the US, thanking me for writing the book.  They related to my alternative metaphysical spiritual approach to the traditional 12 Steps of AA. Although I never identify myself as a member of a specific 12 Step fellowship, I write quite openly about my experiences on the merry-go-round of addictive behaviour. For many years, I have been a student of metaphysics and the Vedic philosophy of India. Most 12 Step meetings are geared toward a traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of spirituality. This is natural, considering the development of the 12 Steps within a culture that was, and remains overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian. To their credit, the founders of AA went above and beyond the call of duty in presenting the philosophy of recovery in a way that would be accessible to all people. Up until that time, alcoholism was widely viewed as a moral failure. Finally, some people began to see that despite whatever moral or ethical lapses there might be, it was crucial to be aware of the physical aspects of the equation. This led them to also begin examining the spiritual desolation resulting from alcohol abuse. Eventually, the medical establishment, which had always abandoned alcoholics as 'untreatable', reclaimed treatment by labeling it as a disease. Nowadays, of course, just about everything is some type of disorder, treatable by medication, and naturally, licensed professionals. The problem is that many licensed professionals create treatment programmes that are merely reflections of their own personal dysfunction.

It is my belief that alcoholism, problem drinking, compulsive eating, drug addiction, or any type of obsessive-compulsive behaviour is an outer manifestation of an inner malaise of the spirit. The 12 Step philosophy of AA tells us that alcoholism is a spiritual affliction needing a spiritual treatment. This is not to ignore the physical aspects of alcoholism, but to say that its roots, its genesis is in the spirit. AA's greatest strength is in addressing the spiritual components of both alcoholism and recovery. During my many years of counseling and teaching in this field, I have never encountered anyone who maintained recovery without a strong 12 Step foundation. I didn't say there aren't any, but that I've never seen them.  Also, I didn't say that I've never known anyone who stopped drinking without the 12 Steps, because to stop drinking is only the beginning. Recovery involves much, much more than abstinence. Recovery is an entire way of life, built upon a relationship with a Higher Power, honesty, justice, sharing, and responsibility for one's actions. I find it most ironic that the Creator brought this beautiful gift to the planet through such seemingly unworthy vessels as hopeless drunks. It proves that the Creator is compassionate. It also shows that the Creator has a great sense of humour.

In the 1980's, it became fashionable to speak of alcoholism as a family disease. I prefer to discuss it as being part of a family dynamic. I really don't feel the need to classify everything as a disease, but then, I'm not billing Medicare or insurance companies. You're getting this information today without paying me a single penny. This will cause some people to devalue it, and ignore what I have to say. Others will read it, say "That's nice", and put it away. Some might use it as a weapon to attack someone they dislike. All those actions would be a waste of time and energy. I am not writing today's column for any reason but to remind myself that the challenges facing us as individuals, as families, and as a culture, are spiritual in nature, and the solutions will likewise need to be spiritual. Not religious. Not political. But, spiritual.

Alcoholism is a problem, but it is not The Problem. Drug addiction is a problem, but it is not The Problem. Compulsive eating is a problem, but it is not The Problem. Addictions to religion and politics are problems, but not The Problem. What then, is The Problem? Quite simply, The Problem is alienation from one's spiritual centre and from the Creator. Today, there is an over reliance on technology, ego sense pleasures, and the bogus philosophy of materialism, that causes misery at every turn. When people feel empty inside, they use drugs, food, alcohol, political and religious fanaticism, sex, shopping, work, and any number of things, to fill and satisfy themselves. It never works, but only makes things worse. In 12 Steps, they say, "We all have a God shaped hole inside us, that only God can fill". Yes, that says it fairly well, I think.

I continue to be amazed by the lengths to which people will go to avoid the subject of God. They are, to paraphrase an old song from Urban Cowboy, "Looking for God in all the Wrong Places". It's understandable, for many, many people have been so terribly wounded and abused by religion. They have a problem discussing God because it reminds them of an abusive past. The good news is that God has very little to do with religion. The Creator of the Universe is far, far beyond human power structures. It is your birthright to search for God, to connect with your spirit, to use the spiritual techniques and resources which speak to your own spirit. It will save you plenty of time and energy if you will keep this in mind: You will not find God in a bottle, sex, a drug, a jungle vine, fried food (one of my favourite ego detours), shopping, or any material world pursuit.  Even though our karmic histories bring us into this material world to work out our own individual themes, there is one basic goal we all share: We are all here to establish a personal relationship with the Creator and make our way back to the Spiritual Sky. Everything else is but stage props, and any prop that interferes with your personal relationship with the Creator needs to go.

Oh, and one final thing...Think for yourself...I could be wrong about all this. OM

To ask Robert a question, visit his website at, email or send mail to PO Box 33, Santa Fe, NM 87504.