Addiction and Recovery: Alcoholics Anonymous and the Deflation of the Ego

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March 14, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

I had the opportunity to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting earlier today, held locally in Orange County.  I want to discuss my impressions from this experience.

First, I was struck by the vulnerability evidenced in virtually every “share” this morning.   The thought occurred to me that this kind of humility, and openness to admitting one’s faltering, would seem to be at the core of religious teachings (e.g., the Judeo-Christian); yet seems glaringly absent in much of my own experience in church attendance and involvement.

If such vulnerability does not, in fact, characterize conventional religious observance, why not?  My own observation is that authentic spirituality can, and often does, degenerate quickly enough into simply another expression of what the Judeo-Christian tradition calls “pride”; and what psychology would call the “ego.”  If the ego is what one author calls the “false, mind-made self,” then we can find plenty of evidence of that ego most everywhere, including in church and temple contexts.

To this point, I asked a couple of the A.A. members after the meeting: “Why doesn’t pride or self-centeredness creep into A.A. meetings more than what I’ve experienced to date?”  Two answers: 1) built right into the 12 steps is a radical dismantling of the prideful ego, and 2) the “12 traditions” guard the integrity of A.A. from megalomaniacs, the intrusion of media, celebrity worship, or other forms of ego-based drama.

Regarding the former — the “deflation of the ego” — A.A.’s Big Book diagnoses alcoholism (and other addictions) as being at the core a function of self-centered thinking and behaving.  What I experienced today, a radical form of honesty and interpersonal respect, is evidence of what happens when the ego is sufficiently cleared out; and in its place, self-forgiveness and loving-kindness take root in the personality of the sincere seeker.

Regarding the latter, the 12 Traditions are in place to protect against the natural entropy which most often occurs in human organizations (be they political, religious, or otherwise); a kind of devolving toward the lowest common denominator, whose foundation is in the individual ego, with its insatiable urge toward power and control.

All I know for sure is that what I witnessed today — from one authentic self-disclosure to the next — is the opposite of power moves and controlling maneuvers.  Here instead was a group of growth-directed men and women, committed to emptying out the ego/self by turning to a “Higher Power” of each individual’s own understanding.  Even this latter inclusivity, and encouragement to find one’s own spiritual basis within, underscores the simple message of A.A.: no self (ego), no problem!

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