The Transformational Event

Traditionally, in AA terminology, the transformational event that leads to the willingness to do the work necessary to begin the journey of recovery is called “hitting bottom.” This is when the shame, failure, and suffering caused by using drugs are simply no longer an option, no longer acceptable to the addict. The precipitating transformational motivators often come in the form of lost jobs, changed locks, criminal charges, and jail time. Bill Wilson described this as utter deflation and demoralization, which were the precipitating factors that lead to his own spiritual awakening, and eventually to the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

In many cases, if not most of the time, the motivators are of an external nature: intervention by family and friends, the law, or the boss simply leaves the suffering addict no wiggle room, and this leads to surrender and acceptance. “Okay. What do I have to do?” 

While Bill Wilson was in the hospital dying from alcoholism, around the same time that his spiritual awakening occurred, he came across the book The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. In this classic volume on the psychology of spiritual experience, James says that often the powerful transformational  experiences are preceded by  a powerful ego deflation, or what is called in spiritual circles a “dark night of the soul” (St. John of the Cross). At the point of deepest lostness and despair, the light breaks through and it is the dawn of a new day and a new level of depth and understanding. This dark night is the transformational chaos that allows the next higher order to emerge. 

This is why many recovering addicts that I have known speak of their disease of addiction as their greatest gift and blessing, because it set the groundwork and conditions for their eventual recovery and transformation. The dark energy of addictive suffering becomes the negative entropy of spiritual emergence and renewal. And very interestingly, we find that as we continue our Integral Recovery Practice, we experience new dark nights that are part and parcel of the ongoing journey of awakening and transformation. This is not a one-time deal. But as we achieve mastery, we can welcome and work with these chaotic dark spots on our journey and actually bless them as they arise, for we know that chaos is truly the mother of our individual and collective evolution.

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