What is a spiritual practice? Spirituality is a common thread that allows different orientations to thrive in 12-step programs that require a belief in a Higher Power, as a person understands. What is God or Higher Power as a recovering addict understands? How do individuals rely upon or define Higher Power If they do not accept organized religion?
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) is a little known but 35 -year- old 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can neutralize the obsessions and enable the addicted individual to become free and feel complete. Essential to recovery is Step-three, which requires a person make a “decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God or a Higher Power as they understand.”
“I believe in God. Since I was a child, I would go to church but I also choose actions that drove me away from God,” said Olivia, who is in her 16th year of recovery. ” After a car accident, the pain pills just got stronger and stronger. My day died and I took more pills. I was in a deep depression, wanted to kill myself several times, wouldn’t eat for three or four days – just drugs. My insides were burning. I did not know the lady in the mirror. Twelve-step programs help me return to God.”
What caused the transformation? Desperation, explained Olivia. “Doctors said I would have a stroke. I had to stop. I
joined Kaiser (program) and the Spirituality of 12 -steps helps me understand and remain sober. Spirituality a closer walk, a relationship with a spirit that you cannot see, feel or hear, a being that is separate from but a part of you. When I joined FA I didn’t know what I was looking for. One day I looked around and saw all the people in the room. I gained hope that it is not impossible to make a change.”
She continued. “My thinking has changed—negativity is gone and not the first thought in my mind.”
Olivia, who at age 66 did not know how to use a computer or mouse, will graduate from Laney College in December 2017. Closer to her goal of becoming a counselor.
Kaiser informed Olivia “only one in four will make it.” Olivia is determined to keep her addiction at bay and even returns four times a year to speak to newcomers at Kaiser and share her experience, strength and hope. “God gives me his work and I must ask for it.”
Olivia’s spirituality springs from a God honored through a commitment to and membership in Paradise Baptist Church.
Casey practices a different spirituality.
“To get in touch with The Spirit or Higher Power is to look inside—look at the best in yourself. It is not an organized religion,” he said. Casey interprets the Higher Power of AA’s 12–steps as a form of spirituality. In Casey’s spirituality, “All people and all nature are connected. We live in ecosystems, systems that are interdependent on each other interconnected.”
“My spirituality gets stronger and clearer with intentional practice. For example, I used to make a list of the resentments toward others that I held. Now I see how foolish it is to keep such a list— how negative,” he said.
He said he learned to let the resentments go through Spirituality.
“Spirituality and serenity make my life more peaceful. I practiced yoga for 20 years before FA. However, before FA, yoga was more of a physical practice. Now with FA ,it is a spiritual practice. Through A Way of Life (AWO L), an in-depth study of the 12-steps, my peace has expanded. Looking systematically into my feelings and seeing and recognizing the interconnectedness to other people, this is how I learn a lot about self and about becoming a better person,” Casey said.
Casey stays away from violent and aggressive people. He lets go of what other people are doing and looks closely at his own behavior. “Now, I better understand the boundaries of self-care. Daily, I try to keep my food right, my sleep right, keep things clear and organized,” he said.
His self-study has made it easier to speak in public about his journey.
“I think that through my actions and on the occasions that I have spoken to a group, I have helped people maintain and or strengthen their practice.”
The belief in a Power outside of oneself like Olivia practices or Casey’s belief in a Power for good within oneself, those beliefs led them to understand that through their spiritual practice, negativity is reduced, fears are removed, and confidence builds. Additionally, joy in the goodness of life is manifest.
(In honor of the anonymity that is the spiritual foundation of 12-step programs, Olivia and Casey are pseudonyms. The interviews occurred in Starbucks Coffee Houses. Olivia and Casey allowed a photograph.)