HJ: The parallels between addictions, the 12 steps, ego dramas, and spirituality become quite apparent in this latest piece from the talented writer Joy Sydney Williams. Addictions to drugs are extreme manifestations of the spiritual crises many find themselves in at this time. They tend to be quite overt and destructive and hence cannot be ignored. The work that must be done is in ones face (and usually the face of everyone else involved). However, when overt addictions are not present (as in the case of drugs), they can be much harder to identify and recognize — especially when society at large collectively reinforces them and deems them acceptable to a certain degree. I am not referring here to alcohol or even cigarettes (depending on your culture), but rather the more deceptive and harder to identify ‘ego addictions/dramas’ we all face at some point in our lives. This is truly where the real work is done and where we address the root causes of all of the shortcomings, drama and suffering in our lives.
Just like the 12 steps, facing our ego dramas requires us to become brutally honest with ourselves and leave no stone unturned in our quest for healing and a higher spiritual awareness/existence. Therefore one can use the 12 steps as a framework for dealing with ego dramas and spiritual ‘recovery’ when one has decided that they have truly ‘had enough’, once and for all.
Joy’s artful exploration of the 12 steps also integrates the profound wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred, ancient Indian text leading the reader through a truly unique and transformative process.
By Joy Sydney Williams | JoySydneyWilliams.com
(This article is dedicated to my father, sober for more than 20 years until his dying day; thanks for never giving up, Dad.)
How does the classic 12 Step Program started by Alcoholics Anonymous help people recover from all sorts of addictions with such a high success rate, and what ancient secrets does it hold for the transformation of human consciousness? I believe the power of this program is due to its hidden roots in timeless, universal spiritual principles that awaken higher consciousness in the participants. Furthermore, the 12 Steps have a great number of similarities with the Bhagavad Gita, a popular, ancient Indian scripture. To me, the 12 Steps are one of today’s most practical applications of the timeless Gita, and both can be beneficial to everyone. Let me illustrate how the classic 12 Steps can unfold a process of spiritual awakening to higher levels of consciousness; once you see the striking parallels of this recovery process with the Gita, you can enjoy a wild ride down a whole new rabbit hole of discovery.
What Does One Need to Recover From to Reach Higher Consciousness?
We are all addicted to something, whether we want to admit it or not. There are billions of external things that we can choose to habitually rely on for our happiness, so in reality there are billions of things that we can become addicted to. Some addictions may appear to be positive ones if they make us healthier and happier people for some time, but generally most addictions are not beneficial because the nature of addiction is that it’s a pattern we cannot escape even when we want to. It bypasses our ability to make a conscious decisions about what we really want and need, and that is why addictions are so dangerous.
The most obviously harmful addictions may be drugs and alcohol, but beyond these is an underlying, more subtle cause for most of our suffering: the attachment to our personal collection of expectations and desires. Without addressing this deeper issue, no recovery can be a lasting one. We don’t know how to be happy and content in every situation; we put external conditions on our happiness that must be met, otherwise we become angry, depressed or worse. Our emotional state is often a puppet controlled by the words of others- it takes just a few negative words of insult to create an incredible turmoil inside of our minds that can last for hours, days, and even years. We habitually search for happiness and fulfillment where we will never find it: outside of ourselves. Even though we know that everything in this world is temporary, including our own bodies, we are obsessed with trying to make temporary things last forever and we are furious when they do not. We expect people to treat us with respect no matter how we behave, and we may even curse those who disagree with our opinions. Aren’t these behaviors, which arise from the untamed ego, a form of madness? Yet the worst part is that we generally believe that there is nothing wrong with us and that we aren’t addicted to anything; we delude ourselves into thinking that everyone ELSE is responsible for our problems until a crisis comes into our lives to prove us wrong. Isn’t there a better way to live and be truly happy? How do we begin to recover from our egotistical addictions in order to experience our divine nature and connection to the expansive universe? There are so many higher levels of consciousness that we can experience if we aren’t stuck in the mental prison of our addictions; if we choose, we CAN be happy all of the time and feel an intense bliss that no one and nothing can possibly take away from us. In reality, there are no limits to what we can become except the limits we impose upon ourselves.
How Do the 12 Steps and the Gita Assist Recovery?
As a spiritual seeker, I’ve found the 12 Steps to be an excellent, practical description of the traditional spiritual quest for higher consciousness that’s common to virtually every ancient mystic tradition in the world’s history. This age-old, universal process effectively aids introspection in positive, constructive ways with an external support system. After my experiences with the 12 Steps in my own life, I understand the Bhagavad Gita even better. The Gita is a dialogue between a warrior named Arjun and his mentor, Sri Krishna, and it effectively represents how addicts of all types find the strength to conquer their inner demons.
I was first introduced to the 12 Step program at the age of 2, when my father brought me to his AA meetings on the occasions when he couldn’t find a sitter. I was too young to know what was going on; to me, it just seemed like everyone was just hanging out. I later came to understand that those meetings saved my father’s life, and therefore, my life as well. My Dad, an alcoholic before I was born, remained sober during my entire life. I remember well the conversations we had when I was 18, when he explained to me that the 12 Step process was so effective even atheists and agnostics could benefit from it. He insisted that the only thing necessary was a belief in a power greater than yourself that could help you; furthermore, he felt these steps could be applied to solve any problem in life. I had no idea how much the 12 steps could lead to a transformation of consciousness, or how much they had in common with the Bhagavad Gita, until after my father’s death.
Initially I became part of Al-anon, the 12 Step program for families of alcoholics, later in life when I needed support for the inner demons I was facing as a young adult. I had been painfully surprised when a few months after I’d begun meditating, a series of events unfolded that led me to a real spiritual master and, consequently, the exposure of an incredible pile of mental and emotional garbage that I had been carrying around unconsciously all my life. I began to see things about myself that I never wanted to admit before, and it was overwhelming. No one had explained to me that what I was going through was a natural part of the spiritual journey; that was a later revelation.
Step One: Realizing You Have a Problem That You Can’t Fix Alone.
It doesn’t feel like it at the time it happens, but truly, having your life fall apart is the greatest possible blessing because it leads you to the first, most important step. For an alcoholic or drug addict, the “rock bottom” point you hit is black-and-white obvious: doctors warn that if you use one more time, then you will die. Your body loses all tolerance for the drug and drinks, and what once gave you so much pleasure is now purely poison to your system. It’s literally Hell for the addict, who stands on the brink of death wondering why he or she should bother trying to continue on with life at all. For Arjun in the Gita, his addictions are personified as his family members and teachers that oppose him on the battlefield and threaten to take over and destroy his kingdom against all reason. Arjun, like the classic addict, is very attached to the very people who are his worst enemies, and he displays the same hopelessness of “rock bottom” when he realizes that what he loves has finally come to kill him, yet he doesn’t even have the will to resist death.
For someone like me, addicted to other destructive emotional behaviors, the “rock bottom” point was obvious as well in a different way. Although physically I was in average health, I had totally lost my will to live and all of my self-respect. It wasn’t just that a few things had gone wrong in life; everything was wrong and I couldn’t see a way out of it. I had been chasing dreams that I didn’t even want anymore, and I’d lost friends, lovers, money, scholarships and a job in the process. Although I’d only begun learning a very basic form of meditation, it clearly wasn’t going to be enough to combat my self-destructive nature. In the void of loss, a buried instinct that I didn’t know I had suddenly emerged. That fateful night, I was guided intuitively to meet my personal mentor, and I felt her encouragement when I decided to follow my Dad’s sage advice and try the 12 Steps through Al-anon. When you reach that point of ultimate vulnerability, you cannot continue alone and you know it. For this reason, the classic guru-disciple relationship has endured for millenias, and in the 12 Steps, members have the support of not just a personal sponsor to mentor them, but also a group of people in the meetings that are committed to supporting each other too. This leads us to the next part…
Step Two: Coming to Believe There is a Power Greater Than Yourself That Can, and Wants, to Help You.
This step is difficult for many because it seems to require a leap of faith. Yet, when you’re at your lowest point in life, you are often in the best position possible to listen for the first time to your intuition. A higher power, as I discovered, is not actually separate from yourself; it’s just that we don’t know who or what we really are. That quiet little voice inside, that we ignore almost our entire life, is the wise, intuitive voice of our inner guru, and it will lead us to the people and situations that can help us the most if we just shut up and listen. The warrior Arjuna in the Gita had been friends with his mentor Krishna for a long time, but only after hitting his low point did he really begin to fully listen to the advice that Krishna had to give him. Likewise, I had also believed in God my whole life, but it didn’t save me from the pit I fell into because belief without action cannot transform your life.
Real teaching happens by example. When I met my spiritual teacher and experienced this unconditional love that required no explanation and didn’t reject anyone or anything, it was like having living proof in front of me that God was real. In 12 step groups, all the members know when you arrive is that you need help, and that’s all they care about. They accept you and give you what you can’t give yourself: acceptance, tolerance, and unconditional support. With such an inspiring group of people working together purely for each other’s mutual benefit, no strings attached, it no longer becomes difficult to believe in a Higher Power. You don’t even have to put a name on it to feel it. When you find yourself face to face with people that can support you in such a pure way, then you can begin to see yourself differently. Slowly you start to truly love yourself, and a profound healing process begins to unfold within your psyche after the next step…surrender, or in other words, true acceptance.
Continued in Part 2 here: The 12 Steps to Higher Consciousness: The Keys to Inner Peace