On Black Friday, the holiday music began to once again fill the airwaves. A traditional Christmas favorite, Joy to the World, hails “Let heaven and nature sing!” again and again.
Does this simple lyric truly capture the essence of recovery? the harmony between heavenly virtue and physical instinct. Virtue incarnate from the heavens above to negate vice in the world.
Moral Shortcomings As The Gateway To Addiction
The founding fathers of Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) viewed alcoholism as a spiritual malady. Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. took certain steps to identify and correct their own moral shortcomings in order to attain lasting sobriety.
They used their success to help countless other people with alcoholism; their work lives on today in the 118,305 AA meeting groups worldwide. Countless other 12-step groups have also emerged, as the process can work for any addiction or other negative behavior.
Cure The Shortcomings, Cure The Addiction
The 12-step solution Bill and Bob described includes taking a personal moral inventory , which summarized in their the book Alcoholics Anonymous. This inventory invites people to examine all aspects of their lives and to determine the how-when-and-why behind their anger, fear and resentments.
“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, but we have also been spiritually sick.
When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry.
We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases, it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened.”
The next part of the moral inventory is to examine one’s own role in each resentment and to use the seven vices (also called the seven deadly sins)pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth to see where one’s own selfish instincts imposed on another person.
The theory is that when people pervert or misuse their natural instincts, it most often creates ongoing disharmony, fear, guilt, making serenity impossible until amends are made.
Making direct amends to all those who have been harmed is generally considered to be scary, but a meaningful process.
Those who have completed the 12-steps are promised a “spiritual awakening,” in which the spiritual malady is lifted, along with the desire to return to addiction. But the process of recovery does not stop there, as it requires ongoing maintenance to prevent the return to past patterns of thinking and behaving. A return to such patterns is the pathway to relapse.
Replacing Vice With Virtue
In addition to the usual recommendations for maintaining recovery, considering the flip side of the seven vices, the seven virtues, helps the individual stay focused on positive thoughts and behaviors and keep out of trouble. The seven vices can be preempted by simply practicing their corresponding virtues. Below are seven virtues to overcome the natural instincts that cause people to be their own worst enemy and their self-will to run riot:
1. Pride – Prudence (sound judgment)
2. Greed – Justice (fairness)
3. Lust – Faith (trust)
4. Anger – Fortitude (resilience)
5. Gluttony – Temperance (self-restraint)
6. Envy – Hope (anticipation for something)
7. Sloth – Charity (voluntary giving)
Case in point ‘ Betty C. was insanely jealous of her daughter-in-law, who she felt stole her perfect, firstborn son from her. Her envy, grief, anger and self-pity were triggering thoughts about drinking again after 22 years of sobriety.
She acted out her feelings in the most vicious ways, constantly trying to sabotage the poor girl in every way possible. She was causing chaos in her son’s marriage and her son begged her to see a therapist.
The therapist encouraged Betty to respect the boundaries of her son’s household and focus on making the most of the visits she would have with her son.
Rather than barging into his home unannounced and criticizing her daughter-in-law, she would wait until the couple was coming over and prepare delicious meals and special treats, so they would want to visit her often.
Today, things are better, and Betty is looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild. Having turned her focus toward anticipating positive time with her son and his new wife, Betty is too busy to behave destructively. The thoughts about drinking again also vanished.
Staying busy focusing on positive virtues leaves no time for vices, and the rewards are great. In fact, for people in recovery, practicing these and other virtues are critical to avoiding relapse. Virtuous living also allows humans to experience the gifts of life, love, and learning that their Creator intended for them to enjoy.
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