Recovery should not become an ideology


Andrew Sullivan points to a recent talk by the pope discussing how faith is lost when it becomes an ideology.

The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought…

I think the same can be said of recovery. There are real threats to recovery, commercialization and erosion of conceptual boundaries that, in the long term, might render the term meaningless, lead to backlash and make it more difficult to organize and mobilize recovering people. At the same time, turning recovery into ideology is, at least, an equal threat.

It’s important that the word recovery means something, but the humility of AA literature, Bill Wilson’s writings and the 12 traditions certainly offer valuable experience and wisdom.

Howard Wetsman, who is a critic of the irrational exuberance (my words) for the current crop of addiction treatment medications, wrestled with this issue a while back. (original post)

What we’re imagining is a complete cure. This is not a method for, let’s say, alcoholics not to drink, but an actual cure that would take away the illness and allow people with addiction to use just like normal people. This is because the imagined cure takes away the symptoms and the special response. They feel like normal people, and they’d have a normal person’s reaction to, say, a couple of drinks. It wouldn’t do for them what it does for the person with addiction. I’m not saying such a thing exists or that stem cells would or even could provide such a cure, but it’s my thought experiment so I get to make up anything I want.

So what would the mainstream Addiction Medicine doctor think of this? Well, to be honest, their first response would probably be fear for their job or resentment that neurosurgeons would get all their business, but after they got over that they’d realize that their greatest wish had come true; addiction would be gone. I think they’d be deliriously happy… as soon as they found another job.

But what about some of the members of the group I joined? Would they be happy? I doubt it. When discussing addiction treatment with them I heard such things as the necessity of suffering, the primacy of the spiritual experience, the necessity for gratitude for the illness as a way to a better relationship with God. I heard some of these doctors say that medication for addiction was counter to the point of recovery, because the patient would then be robbed of the opportunity to turn their pain into spiritual growth.

7 thoughts on “Recovery should not become an ideology

  1. …’the faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology’ – so “be cautious and weary – yet that 3 year sobriety mark!”


  2. “spiritual malady?” “chronic disease?” ” physical allergy?” ask the identified patient… Is it important? Fundamentally, imo, it is a personal and individual crisis. Customizing a rigid approach on a case basis is profoundly difficult if what one wants is a profitable business model instead of personal recovery of the sort we see that results from AA. The grapevine is littered with ridiculous and pathetic stories of those who would reinvent the wheel. As the individual progresses in recovery, everything changes, how could it not? Ideology is the enemy of recovery in my experience.


  3. I see addiction as the damaged form of a gift. An addictive personality is a creative personality, damaged by an unhappy youth, and further distorted by the experience of self-medication gone wrong. That combination of events turns it into a disease of brain development, which leads to a panicked attempt to hide or hide from the result, leading to the dishonesty that some have called a spiritual disease. Can the addiction be eliminated without damaging the creative side of the mind, and without cutting off the necessary spiritual recovery of the ability to be honest? if so, I see no problem. But if not, it’s not worth it.


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