RECOVERY TODAY / AUGUST 2010
by Fr. Bill Wigmore
When I was in treatment for alcoholism many years ago, a counselor asked me a question that helped change my life. He began by saying that my alcoholism was not unlike having an inoperable cancer that was killing me. Then he asked me this life-changing-question. He asked, “If you had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and if you had also been told that there was a chance and once chance only to survive – and if that one chance meant following the directions laid out in the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Cancer Survivors Anonymous” – then the question he had for me was this: “Would I be approaching that book and following those directions any differently than I was?” The guy had me cold!
What I learned that day was actually the depth of my denial.
• Was my alcoholism really, as the Big Book says, “of the hopeless variety?”
• Had I really placed myself “beyond human aid” and was I truly in need of God’s help to recover?
Having a felt experience of the hopelessness of addiction is key to recovery. The Big Book’s clear message is that unless & until we fully realize and admit “to our innermost selves” the extent of our hopelessness, we’re probably not going to make much real progress with the Program. The spiritual hope that is recovery rests paradoxically on our acceptance of the physical and mental hopelessness of our addiction.
Perhaps a quick review of that word hopeless as it appears in the first few chapters of the Big Book can be of some help.
• In the Doctor’s Opinion it says: “Unless a person can experience an entire psychic change, there is little hope of recovery.”
• In Bill’s Story it says that same doctor had declared him “hopeless” and that he concurred with his diagnosis.
• Later in the book he adds, “the alcoholic suffers from a hopeless condition of mind and body and once established, an addict’s thinking pattern places him beyond human aid.”
• The chapter concludes: “We had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.”
And while there are a dozen more references to being “100% hopeless,” I’ll end the list where the Big Book quotes the great psychiatrist Carl Jung in saying to his alcoholic patient Rowland Hazard, “In the doctor’s judgment he was utterly hopeless….”
Hopeless is a tough verdict for our egos to accept and I suspect the word may well border on being downright “un-American!” “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” we say. “Ain’t nothing you can’t do if you just set your mind to it!” I’ve seen so many die who couldn’t get over that spiritual hurdle of hopelessness.
And yet experiencing hopelessness seems to be the pre-requisite for experiencing the miracle of recovery. If there’s no hopelessness – there’s no reason to have to turn toward and begin trusting in God instead of ourselves – and if there’s no turning and trusting in God and no “cleaning house,” then there’s no miracle of recovery. The miracle starts with that change in our own consciousness and not with a change in God.
There’s an old story in the Sufi tradition that tries to make this spiritual point.
Once upon a time there was a seeker who went from land to land in search of seeing true religion. And finally the seeker came across a tribe that seemed to meet his test. The story says, “the members of the tribe were known for the goodness of their lives, and for the singleness of their hearts, and for the sincerity of their service.”
“I see all of that,” the seeker said, “and I’m impressed by it. But before I become a disciple, I have one question to ask. Does your God work miracles?”
The Elder of tribe answered him saying, “Well it all depends on what you mean by a miracle. Some people call it a miracle when God does the will of the people. We call it a miracle when people do the will of God.”
Alcoholics and addicts seeking and doing the will of God in their lives is a miracle. It’s the miracle that brings recovery from addiction - and hope to the hopeless.
Fr. Bill Wigmore is President/CEO of Austin Recovery.
Send comments, questions and treatment scholarship donations to:
Fr. Bill Wigmore, President/CEO / Austin Recovery / 8402 Cross Park Dr. /Austin, Texas 78754
or email: BillW@AustinRecovery.org