Guest Blog: Spiritual Direction and Twelve Step Recovery
Please meet my colleague, Diane Cameron. Diane is a Recovery Coach and Spiritual Director in Albany, New York. She is a fierce advocate for women in recovery and is the author of, Out of The Woods—A Women’s Guide to Long-term Recovery.
“In Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs we talk a lot about God and a Higher Power. We call AA (and Alanon, NA, OA and the other sister programs) spiritual programs but we don’t often talk about Spiritual Direction.
But it turns out, that outside of meetings, people with many years of recovery will credit spiritual retreats and working with a Spiritual Director with playing an important part of long recovery. After all, when you have 10 or 15 or 25 years of experience, you “get it,” that this is indeed a spiritual program.
It occurred to me more than once (in that way that we keep seeing new things in the Big Book over time) that the wording of Step 12 says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps…” and that it does not say, “having stopped drinking as a result of these steps.” Twelve-step recovery is not about not drinking; it is about having a spiritual awakening and then, in that awakened state, we see our lives become changed and we begin to have a relationship with our Higher Power. And it is out of that state that we no longer need drugs or alcohol or food or gambling, etc.
Right now, as I write this, I feel the vulnerability of even talking about spirituality. Maybe you do too? Our spiritual lives are very intimate. In the same way that we don’t talk openly about our sex lives with many people, we often don’t talk about our spiritual lives in specific detail either. So, who can we turn to when we do have questions or wonderings about what really goes on between you and your Higher Power?
I’ve come to see that a Spiritual Director is not a sponsor and not a therapist and maybe not even professional clergy. Over the years I have worked with three different Spiritual Directors. One was a nun, one a former minister, and one a really compassionate and spiritual woman who had been trained in Spiritual Direction. All had some experience with the Twelve Steps and recovery programs.
In a way, a Spiritual Director is a lot like a couple’s counselor. Think of it this way: If I am trying to have a genuine relationship with my Higher Power, then anything that might come up in a human relationship will come up in my relationship with God as well. I will have love most of the time, but I may also have anger, frustration and times of just not feeling close anymore. What to do?
My Spiritual Director asks me, “Are you talking to Him?” “Are you listening to Him?” And she reminds me that I can express all of my feelings –even anger—when I am in a genuine relationship with my Higher Power.
The best gift I have received in working with a Spiritual Director as part of my recovery program, is receiving the reassurance that I am doing “it” right. And that “it” might be prayer, meditation, or decision making. I love learning about new spiritual practices from my Spiritual Director.
Just as I need to keep changing it up in my physical fitness program, I also need to try new things with my spiritual practices as well. For example, this past month I have been working with The Examen—a form of questioning prayer that Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught to his followers, and which—I was delighted to learn—is the basis of our AA Tenth Step Daily Inventory.
I love the anecdote we sometimes hear in meetings about the newcomer who wants to know more about the “spiritual part” of the program, and the old-timer who replies, “Oh, beloved, there is no spiritual part of the AA program; the AA program is spiritual.”
I am grateful to have the guidance of a Spiritual Director to always keep me moving forward in my spiritual life.
How about you? How do you keep your relationship with your Higher Power growing and intimate over the years? If you have been part of a Twelve Step program– or have a loved one who is—you might consider integrating Spiritual Direction with recovery.”
Please reach out to Diane to learn more at Diane Cameron.