‘GOD AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM’
Explore the heart and soul of recovery.
So begin the Twelve Steps, which recognize that addiction is remarkably efficient at damaging and destroying lives. It touches everybody who loves someone in its grip—their spouses and children, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and professional colleagues—everybody. Addiction is a powerful thing—but not all-powerful. Belief in a Higher Power is central to any Twelve-Step program and to helping families heal.
“Everybody has to find their own way in recovery,” said Tom Kimball, PhD, associate professor and associate managing director at the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “But in terms of my experience, working with many people in recovery and being involved in this Collegiate Recovery Community for almost a decade, it’s virtually impossible to have hope without a connection to the spiritual. Think about it. How can you understand your achievements and accomplishments–how can you place them in perspective–without having a sense of purpose and meaning in your life? How can you understand your connection to others without a sense of who you are and why you’re here? These are essentially spiritual questions.”
In Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery (Hazelden, 2012), Kimball and Sterling Shumway, PhD, LMFT, look back over their many years of experience in working with families in recovery and condense what they’ve learned into six very basic essentials. Surprisingly, spirituality isn’t one of them. Why? Because, they believe, it’s part of all the essentials to recovery; it anchors all six.
It’s not that Kimball and Shumway or anyone else in the recovery community endorses a particular religion. In fact, they recognize that for some students in their programs, spirituality isn’t about religion at all. But they do assert that everyone has to find a personal answer to this question: If I’m going to give my will over to a Higher Power, then what kind of power would that be?
“Many of our students were already integrated into a Twelve-Step program when they came here, so spirituality is really important,” said Daniel Fred, MS, project coordinator for Nevada’s Recovery & Prevention Community (N-RAP) at the University of Nevada, Reno. “We have some students who believe primarily in themselves and their knowledge. So knowledge becomes a kind of spirituality for them. It’s great to see all these variations of the spiritual life within our students and to see how it helps them connect with each other.”
A relationship to “something bigger” can be an enormous help, not just to students in recovery, but to the families struggling to understand and support them. “Family members often say, ‘I don’t need the Twelve Steps—I’m not the addict or the alcoholic,’” Kimball explained. “But the truth is that when somebody in your family gets sick, everybody gets sick.”
Audrey Pusey, MEd, CADC, ICADC, agrees. Pusey is associate director for Residence Life and Student Conduct at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and advisor to the Healing Highlanders student organization at UCR. This student group includes those in recovery, as well as those who want to support them. “The fact is, whether or not the students are in recovery doesn’t matter because they’re all affected,” Pusey said. “Addiction is a family disease, a friend disease. I challenge you to find anybody on campus who hasn’t been touched by a drug or alcohol addiction, whether it’s somebody they know, or a family member who has passed away or has been incarcerated. And it’s not just drugs and alcohol—families are dealing with eating disorders, gambling issues, and a whole range of other addictive disorders.”
Such programs as Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, and Alateen help family members come together and work through a program of recovery. Working the Twelve Steps together helps them get beyond the “addict versus family” divide and begin to build bridges, in part by enriching their spiritual life. That’s why Kimball teaches students in his Family Dynamics of Addiction and Recovery class a carved-in-stone response to any family member who asks what they can do to help a loved one dealing with addiction: Be in recovery yourself.
“Regardless of whether your addicted family member is in treatment or recovery, what matters is that you are in recovery—that’s our message to families,” Kimball said. “Recovery will teach you what to do. The people in those rooms who have gone before you will show you the way. It’s a spiritual journey for everybody. Imagine a whole family being in recovery together: I’m an alcoholic, but Dad’s working a Twelve-Step program, and Mom’s working a Twelve-Step program, and my sister and brother are working Twelve-Step programs. Imagine the difference that could make for a family.”
At the end of the day, the Twelve Steps offer principles not just for recovery, but for living your life in a positive and meaningful way. “When you think about it, the first three steps are about honesty, humility, and turning over your will,” Kimball said. “The middle steps are really about forgiveness and redemption. The final steps are about making a commitment to service and continuing your spiritual journey. If a family is built on those principles, I’d say that’s not bad—not bad at all.”