Saturday, February 5, 2011

Addiction-"To Miss the Mark"

Stephen T. Prystash, LMFT
License: MF-24093
28364 Vincent Moraga Dr.
Temecula, CA. 92590
(951) 318-7020

The purpose of this series of blogs is an attempt to put forth the many years of applied therapeutic experience and research I have conducted regarding the role of "spirituality" in the recovery from addictive disorders. The concept of spirituality is obviously a subjective notion. To some, the term engenders anger and is dismissed as voodoo and ignorant. To others it is confusing; shrouded in myth and convoluted by religious fundamentalism. One's response to spiritual matters is generally determined by their own life experiences with formal religions, circumstances under which they were reared and the general karmic role "fate' has played in their lives. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people, most of these variables have been paired with negative/painful life experiences such as abusive parents or clergy, molest, abandonment, sudden and unexplainable loss of a loved one, or perhaps religious instruction that simply does not make common sense or "add up" to them. Consequently, one's perception of God and spiritual matters is often times confused with a plethora of negative emotions such as anger, shame, guilt and so forth. In any case, an individuals understanding of spirituality is an experience that is unique to them and clouded with the cognitive distortions that results from a life of negative and traumatic experiences. As Rabbi Harold Kushner has written, "God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it sees something different."

Unfortunately, the subjective and generally erroneous perceptions one forms in regard to spiritual matters places a person in what Gregor Bateson has termed a "Double-Bind" or no-win situation with who we really are as humans; spiritual beings. To begin to understand the nature of the Double-Bind, it is helpful to start with Carl Jung's theory of his Individuation Process. Briefly put, Individuation is a developmental model of life that evolves from ego formation (i.e. who one is in the world as perceived by the senses and how one functions in it in a relatively adapted manner) as a young person to an innate and unconscious "Need" to understand who one is as an existential/spiritual phenomenon as the notion of the finite inevitability of life takes root and grows. The matter of Double-Bind is further complicated by a western culture that has dominated a world epistemology that places significant emphasis on materialism, immediate gratification and bodily pleasures.

The result of Double-Bind tends to have a hypnotic and confusing affect; forming no end of neurotic and pathological psychological manifestations as one attempts to subconsciously make sense of the contradictions and cognitive distortions that results from painful and traumatic life experiences and the conditioning from a material and hedonistic culture on one end of the spectrum and Jung's notion of a "Collective Unconscious" that constantly drives us to understand and accept who we are as spiritual beings on the opposing end of the continuum.

With the above in mind, the addictive phenomenon makes some seemingly paradoxical sense. This was put forth by William James in 1902 (Varieties of Religious Experience) when he stated,"The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts of dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its rotary from the chill periphery of thing to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and unfettered it stands in place of symphony concerts and of literature; and is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of only in the fleeting earlier phases of what is in its totality so degrading and poisoning. The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must be placed in that larger whole."

Also recognizing the initially mystical, but ultimately destructive result of addition, Jung wrote to Bill Wilson (co founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), "....craving for alcohol is the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in the medieval language: the union with God...You see, 'alcohol' in Latin is 'spritus' and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

Experience has taught me that breaking the trance state of the Double-Bind is the first step in forming a more correct life epistemology. To do so, one simply has to admit to conscious process that it exists. In so doing, the subconscious becomes conscious and the hypnotic spell is broken. After that it becomes possible to begin understanding the source of a craving for addictive substances that is, in reality, a spiritual quest and that this journey has little to do with formal and dogmatic religious practices. It is ultimately a contemplative and mystical process.

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