If we in the Church today have one failing when it comes to addictions and recovery, it is usually one of over-estimating the spiritual illness of the addict. By this, I mean that we assume the addict is ready for high-level spiritual activity when the very foundations of the addict’s soul are rotten and decayed.
By the time the addict asks for help, the whole building is in danger of collapse, and so the work must begin at the foundations. Unfortunately, most amateurs want to start by painting the walls and replacing the windows. We read the Fathers of the Church and books written to those who are spiritually advance, and assume that the addict must do things ‘the way the Fathers teach’ not realizing that the addict is totally unprepared to engage in, let’s say, the Jesus prayer, since he hardly believes that Jesus would even help him to begin with!
Recovery begins at the very bottom, the basic assumptions of the human mind. The first thing that must happen is that the self-destructive impulses must be harnessed through a very elementary form of obedience. The 12 Steps require an addict to ‘surrender,’ and by this he must learn to listen and take directions even when these directions don’t entirely make sense to him.
From there he ‘grows’ through the later stages. St. Paul described this in the Book of Ephesians (4:11-32):
And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But ye did not so learn Christ; if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.
So, St. Paul is talking about growing out of sinful behavior in four stages: 1) the unity of the faith, 2) and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 3) unto a fullgrown man, 4) unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
The ‘unity of the Faith’ means that we as the Church come together as the Body of Christ, with all the various ministries and authorities that Christ provides us with in order to help us grow in Him. This is the first stage, where we learn to take divinely-inspired direction and become ‘faithful’ to God in the sense that we will follow Him where He directs us through others.
This is the very basis of 12 Steps: addicts must first learn to take direction, and they are not going to do so willingly at first. This does not mean that you can force an alcoholic or addict to obey, nor should you try. He must find within himself the desire to be faithful to God and the Church.
However, it is only once that he has begun to learn openness to those trying to help him that what he is doing will make sense (i.e. knowledge of the Son of God). You can spend a lot of time trying to explain recovery to an addict, but it never works. He must experience it first. This is why the Apostles were recruited simply with the words ‘Follow Me.’
Next comes emotional maturity (full-grown manhood) and finally inner peace (the fullness of Christ). Any approach with a new addict that requires either of these is simply too much for him: he must be repaired at the first two levels in order to progress. Because of conditions as they are, most of our spiritual literature and monastic admonishments approach topics at these levels, thus they are ‘over the heads’ of addicts.
We must learn to approach significant spiritual problems at the very lowest level, which is often difficult in a parish setting, which is why we need to think about larger ministries encompassing dioceses and metropolitanates, providing a refuge for addicts to go through those painful first stages in a safe place provided by the Church.