Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of recovery and one that keeps me up at night from time to time is the concept of “Spiritual Axiom.” What is Spiritual Axiom? “Bill Wilson wrote on page 92 in the book, Twelve Steps, and Twelve Traditions, ‘It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.'”
To me, this sounds like a major cop-out. The “Spiritual Axiom” is defeatist because it confirms what so many people with trauma believe: that there’s something wrong with them. In my life, I’ve seen two groups of people hold such beliefs: relinquishees and people with addiction (or those who belong to both of those groups). In other words, people who are most vulnerable and have been perhaps the biggest victims of unfortunate circumstances are led to believe by certain recovery programs and therapies that their “problem” has something to do with them, with how they are. This, to me, sounds ridiculous. Frankly, it sounds like the belief that some of us hold about the original sin – a baby being born into the world and having to repent for something she hasn’t done (it’s a baby, people!) by getting baptized before being allowed to join the herd.
How is it different telling someone with addiction that her reactions to situations have something to do with how faulty she is? And moreover, with how inadequate her spiritual Axiom is? To someone who’s already joined the world with a crushed ego and sense of self, those kinds of suggestions are more damaging than anything.
Sure, I believe it’s important to examine our reactions. People with trauma and/or addiction are not in any way excused from having to observe their behaviors and try to correct them, but let’s do those things from the place of empowerment rather than assumption. Consider your negative actions to be products of your traumatized brain and some negative thought patterns instead of assaulting your identity and character. You react to things in a certain way because you’re triggered, not because you’re a terrible person. With time, in recovery, you will learn different, healthy reactions, but don’t ever condemn yourself for how you respond to things while also struggling with keeping your head above the water in the new reality of being sober and sane.
There is a lot of freedom in seeing your recovery as a result of work that you do—whether through therapy, recovery sessions, your individual practice—rather than something that’s granted to you because you have a “good” character and are a “good” member of an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous. We are all good people, we’ve just had different starts and different challenges along the way, and none of that had to do with how well we observe or how we don’t observe spiritual teachings. That false kind of spirituality takes away our independence and forever teaches us that there’s something wrong with us. But there is nothing wrong with us; we are evolving creatures with different challenges. And we are perfect in all of our imperfections.
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