Spirituality: Sobriety’s Peaceful Paradox

By Ken Wells - 04/13/2016



Spirituality: Sobriety’s Peaceful Paradox


Addiction is an invite to become spiritual. In the midst of chaos, denial and deception, there is this beckoning toward truth. The word spiritual is a conundrum. It is a paradox- an “unsettling contradiction”. Some describe spirituality as “trying to nail jelly to a tree”. Others suggest that it is about vulnerability. It can feel like being emotionally naked in front of another. It is about a certain kind of brokenness. Its truth can have a certain coldness and rawness to it. It can be bittersweet. Often, it is presented as sweet peace wrapped in discomfort, even in the presence of being exposed.

Ernst Kurtz, in the Spirituality of Imperfection, indicates that to be spiritual is not about religion and not about therapy. If not, then what the heck is it? He cites that it comes from the “wound” in life. Spirituality comes from our “torn-to-pieces-hood”. It’s in the pus of human failure and repeated destructive behavior. It can be likened to stretching out a tender and sore muscle that begs you to leave it alone. That which we would least like to embrace is the place we are invited to stand. Spirituality demands that I lean into the painful wound. Carl Jung is credited with “the only way out is through the pain”. It’s a contradiction that brings me/you to life as “being” and less about “doing”.

Addiction is painful. It hurts me and others in a profound way. It leaves human carnage in its path. Yet, in the presence of shattered living, spirituality utilizes the pain of addiction as a catalyst to bring us closer to what is real no matter how hard I try to deny it. It demands that I lean into the pain in order to heal. It means I have to scrub the wound. It all sounds so contradictory. I want to do the opposite. Yet, spirituality demands that I embrace the pain of betrayal, the agony of disclosure and the annoyance and inconvenience of consequences. This can include but not limited to incarceration, losses of all types, and the painful tedium of ongoing assessments. It demands the engagement of mistrust of others toward you because of your destructive behavior. It requires that I surrender to the reality that each day I am a beginner in spirit lest I settle into resentment, bitterness and defensiveness toward those who don’t trust me.

Spirituality silently and irrepressibly tells us that we are not in control. Its message can be sweet but only if we embrace what feels bitter.

To myself I will say … “Nah, Nah,Nah”— “I want something better”- “enough is enough!” “I will ignore surrender and force my way to a better place!”- From this space, spirituality takes on a different face. It can even bite back or so it seems. It is not a separate entity trying to break individual stubbornness. Rather, it is the other side of who we are that confronts the resistance and refusal to recognize the limitations of the wounded-ness that comes with addiction.

Spirituality is not about having the answer. It is not fenced in by words. It’s about “am-ness”. Kurtz expressed “it is about a way that we “be”. It’s about emptying (kenosis) from all that we do to embrace simply what we may be. It stirs groundlessness and ongoing uncertainty. It is reality whether we choose isolation and destruction or positive life giving experience. To use a worn out phrase, “it is what it is”.

Metaphors, images and stories become the language of spiritual awareness. For this reason, nothing is more powerful in healing than the story of human brokenness. As the poet T.S. Eliot described “we shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. We share our stories of brokenness again and again so that spiritually we shall know the place for the first time.

Ken Wells is a PCS staff therapist, lecturer, and author of The Clarification Packet. He facilitates Men’s Leadership Weekends held throughout the year. He can be reached at pcs@pcsintensive.com for additional information.

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