The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast

Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality in recovery with Dr Wendy Dossett

December 22, 2020 Dr James Morris & Dr Wendy Dossett Season 1 Episode 3
The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast
Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality in recovery with Dr Wendy Dossett
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode we talk to Dr Wendy Dossett, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Chester,  about spirituality in recovery. This is discussed in terms of its interpretations through Alcoholics Anonymous as well spirituality in Buddhist-orientated recovery movements.

Issues include how people make sense of their 'higher power' and how this may function in recovery, as well as other issues such as stigma, the 'disease model' and the pros and cons of self-labelling as 'an alcoholic' in different contexts.

Wendy draws on her experience over the last eight years of researching the ways members of Twelve Step Fellowships talk about spirituality. Her project is called the Higher Power Project which you can find more about here

James Morris:

Thanks so much for joining me Wendy, this is a subject that I'm really interested in, I'm sure lots of listeners will be as well. But could you tell me in a general sense about how you see spirituality in the context of recovery?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Sure, James, thanks for having me on. I think there's two ways of looking at that question. There's a historical way of looking at it thinking about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, which really is the the organisation that introduced the idea of spirituality into recovery. But there's also looking at the the kind of experience of addiction itself, and how people experience that as a state of powerlessness over a substance and how the search for a higher power to enable them to recover is is a part of that. I mean, a is Alcoholics Anonymous, there are so many myths about it on there, and there's so much speculation about it, you know, my view is always that probably no two meetings are the same. And I've even attended, you know, non religious or secular a meeting. So yeah, just tell us a bit more about AI and spirituality within that. So he started in the in the 1930s, in post prohibition, America, so its language is very much linked to that context. And the experience of the early members of ACA was that they felt that they didn't have the willpower themselves to to establish abstinence and recovery from addiction. So therefore, a higher power would be be necessary. And for that, for them at that time, it was obvious that that higher power would be, you know, the God of Christianity, the Protestant context in which they lived and thoughts very much kind of dictated that. So that's, that's the heritage of, of Alcoholics Anonymous, but what I find interesting in my research is to explore ways in which contemporary members of a who are not in that, you know, 1930s American context interpret that that idea, we're in a society that has, to a certain extent become secularised. So what does that concept of higher power mean to contemporary members of AA? Do they want that concept? Do they interpret it in different ways? What influences their concept of higher power? And I've discovered there's huge diversity. So what you say about no team meetings are ever the same? I think that's true, but also no two concepts of higher power are ever the same.

James Morris:

Yeah, super interesting, because there's a few sayings that are perhaps not part of the 12 steps, or the big book that are very commonly used. And I think, I don't know, does the idea of you interpret the higher power in your own way is a really important thing, I think, particularly in contemporary terms, is that right? And if so, what are the common ways that people tend to do

Dr Wendy Dossett:

yeah, I mean, that that that is certainly central, I think people have a misconception that AA tells people they must believe in this, that and the other but in fact, people are invited to kind of engage with that concept of higher power in in ways that suit them. So the vast majority of the people that I've interviewed in my research reject the idea that there's anything religious about their concept of higher power for many of them it is simply the group and the power of friendship that they experience in a meetings so there's there's this phrase that's often used; 'group of drunks' (GOD), so it's the idea of higher power is not a supernatural being but it's it's the power of identification. It's the power of mutual support and encouragement, it's that experience of coming out of shame and denial, and being able to live live a new life. So the idea of higher power, you know, is interpreted in so many ways. For example, people often use the the kind of metaphor it's like the force in Star Wars or people want to identify nature as their higher power as a kind of source of meditation or seeing themselves in a in a wider context as part of the universe all kinds of different ideas. One participant talked about her cat as her higher power and I think it's I'm quite interested in how how easily we stigmatise people for their beliefs, but for that participant, she was casting around for an idea of unconditional love in her life. And therefore she you know, she focused naturally on on the one sentient being in her life that offered her unconditional love, and that made a great difference to her. We also found that people's ideas of higher power changed over time during their recovery. So they might have a very kind of definite idea of a higher power that was enabling them to stay to stay sober in the early days. And that might change over time become less personal, more abstract, over years in recovery. But I think what's most interesting is that people do very, very different things with this idea. So there is no, you must believe this, or you must believe that the environment is kind of a workshop in which people work out their own idea of a higher power. Everybody that we interviewed, certainly said that, that a higher power was essential to their recovery and their experience of of addiction was an experience of powerlessness. So exerting their willpower again and again, over over the substance, and failing to get any purchase on it. So it was an experience of despair of personal willpower, and the need for a higher power. But for some people, that higher power was simply a better version of themselves, it wasn't necessarily something outside of themselves, it was just drawing on a on a power that they felt was untapped within them.

James Morris:

So interesting. And, you know, I really like the example of the cat, because I think in many ways, for me, it's the idea of social connection and meaning, again, in in whichever way you kind of want to interpret that, but you know, I think that to me, is my sort of understanding of spirituality is that there being something more than than science and physics that that As humans, we are in need of something more than just being able to understand everything in terms of mathematics, or the rules of scientific positivism, or whatever, that those, those social connections and meanings are so important. And that's, I think, in this broader recovery literature, that this whole kind of process of social identity change, you know, removing yourself from from situations and appears where drug or alcohol use is expected to one in which you know, it's it's supported and encouraged not to use or drink. And with that comes a whole set of different meanings and social connections. And that's in a way the sort of motivation but the idea of spirituality as a way of finding meaning in your life, however you interpret that or how that's going to work for you. Is that on the right lines, would you say from Sure? I mean, you're talking about what what clinicians would call adaptive social networks, aren't you?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, I mean, you can talk about it in that in that clinical way, or members of 12 step fellowships would talk about it in terms of identification, spirituality, finding meaning for sure. They're just two different ways of talking about the same experience. JOHN Kelly, the Harvard academic who who studies the mechanisms of behavioural change in in Alcoholics Anonymous notes that it's it's people taking responsibility, getting involved in, in service becoming mean meaningful members of a community where often they have been ostracised from many other communities on the basis of, you know, their addictive behaviours, they find a place they find belonging, they find meaning, and they take responsibility, they discover that the awful things that they feel that they have done are the very things that enable them to connect with others in a non non judgmental way. And as a community members of AARP are able to help each other to address shame and guilt and to rebuild lives as a consequence. And it's, it's certainly possible to call that spirituality it's, it's possible to use clinical language as well. But it's, it's the same, the same phenomenon that's, that's happening,

James Morris:

As you know, I'm always kind of talking about the paradigms of alcohol problems. And I think because of the that history, and particularly in terms of the disease model, that that's a way that a lot of people make sense of alcohol problems is literally it's sort of embodiment as a disease. And yeah, I suppose it's the language and understandings that people have or make sense of or drawn to, and they're different experiences may mean that often people are talking about the same thing but in very different ways. So yeah, I'm always trying to reflect on on my own perhaps clinical or more public health lens in which I see see things. Can you talk a bit more about that then in terms of the way things like disease or other aspects of of a or spirituality are interpreted?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, sure. So I don't think that the the members of a that I've spoken to although they talk about what they've experienced in addiction as an illness, most of the people that we've spoken to wouldn't necessarily mean that in, in clinical terms as a brain disease, the kinds of discussions that are had in some public health environments, what they mean is they they experienced it as something they literally couldn't help. And I think that's really important that they're not talking in clinical terms, they're not entering a debate about whether their condition is technically a disease or not, they're talking about a first person experience of being wholly unable, you know, wanting very much to behave differently, but being wholly unable to do that. And then when they join a community, which which uses that language of illness, that that's a powerful way to overcome shame. And people realise that that what was what was going on, you know, they were powerless over that. That doesn't mean they can't become accountable for it. And of course, the 12 step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous is all about becoming accountable. But it's, it's a very powerful way of dealing with shame and shame. Shame is a dangerous thing in addiction, because, you know, members of Alcoholics Anonymous will say, you know, it's shame that keeps them drinking. So thinking of it in a functional way, calling the problem an illness, at least in this context, is is a way that people can can overcome shame. Now I know your work James has been absolutely fantastic in in addressing wider stigma issues and house prevents people from from seeking help, and of course, calling calling people alcoholics or, you know, the way that that term disease is used sometimes to demean or belittle or stigmatise people that can be really problematic, but you know, especially in a kind of public discourse sense, but internally within the 12 step fellowships that language it's it's not used in a professional sense, it's, it's used as a way to help people to manage their shame enough to be able to bring about the changes that that the 12 step programme kind of enables them today.

James Morris:

So yeah, super, super important. I was going to come on to that in the sense that Yeah, sort of self identifying and making sense of something, and putting a name on something that, you know, addiction, again, that's sort of academic or public debates, and may be very circular in some ways, because it's such a complex and uniquely personal experience, that there isn't perhaps a way of defining it in a way that's going to make sense for everybody. So that personal sense making process is, is obviously, so important. And people are going to, you know, just try and make sense of it in the way that works for them. And obviously, that is such an important part of AA. I mean, one of my favourite papers is the Hill and Leeming paper where they talk about how people kind of wrestle with the alcoholic identity. But for a lot of people, it's, you know, it's always going to be an important part of kind of putting a name on something and maybe making sense of that process. But yeah, I think you're absolutely right, that it's really important to distinguish and recognise that for many people, that's a really important part of the process. Yeah, I suppose what I'm interested in is the way in which may be I might say that terminology or disease disease labelling kind of maybe spills over into to other discourses where it's perhaps, like you say, harmful in terms of stigma, or othering other people and particularly in the way that I think heavy drinkers who don't self identify maybe are drawn to the idea of it being a disease, because that means they themselves, they'll place themselves on the non disease side of this false binary. So it's great that you can articulate so well how for a lot of people it is so important to be able to use that label and it may be done in a metaphorical or very personal way that you know, or just within the confines of a meeting and not ever used elsewhere.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

I think that's right. I think also, you know, when when people set self identify as as alcoholic in a in an a meeting, what they're, what they're doing that so that's a move of humility, and you know, which is would be thought of as a as a spiritual virtue, it's also a move of equality. So there's no kind of social hierarchy as there is in the outside world within an AA meeting. So to kind of statement of solidarity, equality, humility, you know, people say that they It's an element of their identity that they need to remember. And it's helpful to you term about themselves to remember, you know, oh, yes, I, you know, I am an alcoholic, therefore I can't I can't drink safely, people find that I use just a useful thing to say. But it's it's much more than that it's got these, you know, some might say spiritual characteristics. So, you know, I do think it's, it's unfortunate when that does spill out into public discourse. I mean, I'm listening with great interest to the current storyline on the Archers on radio four, where Alice, I don't know if you listen to it, but Alice, I don't know. Yeah. So she's, they're, they're using that term alcoholic in very definite terms. And this is an environment where, you know, she, she's not going to meetings or anything, she's just being labelled as an alcoholic by her partner as if that was a meaningful label. And I think it is thought to be a meaningful label in a lot of wider discourse. And, you know, I, I think your work in pushing back against that is, is so important. But at the same time, you know, within the, within the context of Alcoholics Anonymous, it's really interesting to know what's going on there when people do identify in that way, and it is very important to people to be free to identify in that way. Absolutely. So, you know, the kind of anti stigma effort needs to be kind of very directed, in that sense that it doesn't take away people's right to first person identify in that way. And if that, if that feels right, to them, and important to them?

James Morris:

Absolutely, yeah, it's really, it's really just to not push that label on to someone else, I think, you know, just like the example you're giving there in the Archers. And I think for a lot of people, when they view someone else's having an alcohol problem, they might kind of mistakenly assume that the only the only necessary changes for them just to admit that they they are an alcoholic, and then that would somehow unlock you know, that the recovery, whereas, you know, we've kind of touched on that, it's more that that's for some people part of the process of recovery, rather than it's just the simple attaching or recognising the label coming out of this idea of denial, that's the only issue. That's, that's, that's kind of misleading, and of course, owning that alcoholic identity might be very threatening and put someone off, whereas maybe it's a bit of a gradual process. And I suppose, you know, my, my instinct would be that many people kind of step tentatively into recovery networks or a and, and then they realise it's a safe or very welcoming space, or they try some different meetings. And throughout that process, they become more safe, and then understand it's a way of alleviating shame and getting social spore finding their meanings.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, certainly. And if you're looking at it from a 12 step perspective, the the admission and acceptance of the alcoholic identity, that's, that's seen as simply the first step. So that's, you've got a long way to go still, if, you know, if ou're working a 12 step rogramme. But equally, there re problems with, because I think you're really onto something when you sew admission on on the one hand of the kind of that there is a problem and that label alcoholic can be a m ssive barrier that actually pre ents people from ack owledging that they that the e is a problem.

James Morris:

Well it's a high threshold. And I think going back to the stigma point is that people know that once you have that alcoholic identity, however, that might make you feel you know, in the eyes of society, you're going to be labelled on caste and judged as 'other'. And I think that's why stigma is so important. The threat to be, you know, placed into the outgroup by society is so potentially harmful and damaging, and, of course, that's why it's anonymous to try and protect people from that. But you know, it's hard in a very alcohol saturated society to I suppose, always maintain that anonymity? If, if that's going to be the choice, so I think, yeah, you know, the, the benefits are undeniable of for people who engage in it that many of them will find a life changing recovery. But that kind of uncertainty or apprehension is very normal in the sense of the huge kind of complexities and implications for other people who are drinkers or heavy drinkers that exists in the wider society, how they'll respond to that.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, you're you're right. And I think that there is a kind of othering and outgrouping of people but that there is also strength in that in the sense that, you know, sometimes people will, we'll talk about how, in, in alcoholics anonymous people understand each other in a way that people in the outside world can't. And there's there is the kind of social identity strength in that, you know, regardless of whether it's actually true or not, you know, that that sense of it's us against the rest of the world actually, can be a very powerful motivator. So that other ring does have a kind of another side to it.

James Morris:

So yeah, again, even in some of the literature, again, taking us off more academic perspective, you know, that is recognised, I think in in amongst stigmatised groups, that there is perhaps an added psychological resource from that, by their solidarity together in exactly as you say, knowing that they need to come together to kind of face the threats and judgement of the biggest social ingroup. So that that's really important. Yeah,

Dr Wendy Dossett:

You mentioned anonymity there. And, of course, that that's a controversial idea that also has spiritual roots, or could be interpreted in spiritual terms. So it's controversial because of the problem that it has led to there being, you know, a lack of visible recovery within within communities. I think many outsiders think that this is driven by shame. And it's, you know, having alcohol problems is a terrible secret or whatever. But in fact, within a anonymity is, is seen as a spiritual principle. And again, it's about humility. It's saying, you know, I'm not going to go out into the, the outside world and trumpet about my my achievements with my with my recovery, because the recovery is, is not my work, it's the work of a higher power, or, you know, I'm not going to Trump it my recovery out there, because if something were to happen, and I were to, you know, start drinking again, then I potentially bring the the fellowship and the 12 steps into disrepute. So you know, that there's a kind of sense of, of humility and responsibility embedded into that anonymity context. And I think the perception from the outside world that it's all about secrecy and shame is unfortunate, really, I think that's a misunderstanding of the concept.

James Morris:

That's really that's really super interesting. And I've listened to a few podcasts with Russell Brand and I think he really tries to, you know, he kind of struggles with that, if my understanding is kind of right, that he's this very influential, worldwide celebrity, essentially. And he's obviously, you know, I think he's an incredibly insightful, intelligent person with so many interesting ideas, of course, a lot of which I might not agree with, necessarily, but I think he really talks about in some of his podcasts that reason why he talks about this is comes with maybe a cost that it's almost that he always tries to separate the fact that he should, you know, he's not trying to do this as part of feeding his own ego, but it's, it's about sharing his experience. And kind of I think that's really powerful in many ways, because certainly in terms of stigma that I think is hearing humanising narratives, you know, understanding that addiction problems are ultimately about people. And I think that's why the sort of spirituality question really appeals to me is that I do see addiction, despite all the social psychology or behaviourism, as ultimately a problem of living that life is, is difficult and challenging and stressful as sentient beings. And addiction is almost a normal mechanism or response to that, in many ways. I think humanising narratives are really important in that, but as you say, like it's really important not to typecast the anonymity in terms of shame or protecting people, but rather, there's something a bit deeper to that. That's, that's really interesting.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, I mean, I, I think it's a dilemma for, for many people in recovery about, you know, how much to talk about it, how much to own it in the public space, you know, there are private spaces and public spaces. And you know, there's it's quite tricky, I think, to know and it's, you know, interesting observing people interpreting these concepts very differently from each other, but the visible recovery movement is a growing movement. And I think that's a very good thing. I think there are risks associated with that, you know, that people are at risk of kind of ending up on on ego trips about it, but, but in general, the more stories of recovery that can be told and the greater diversity of it recovery experience. That we hear about within culture, that that's a good thing. I mean, there's a kind of meta narrative of recovery that things were all for. I did this and things got better, which has some value. But But the problem is people's stories are always far more complicated than that. And I think, you know, there needs to be more and more diverse recovery stories available within culture, generally, to open up space for people who the 12 step programme is not is not attractive to some people. So what what are they going to do what, you know, what's their recovery story going to be? And there are lots of lots of other options available to people, lots of other ways of talking about these processes.

James Morris:

Totally. And that's partly the aim of the show, but also the Adrian, why Adrian Charles kind of story is so interesting, because you know, on the first episode, we did with him he says, you know, he's cut down his drinking. And obviously, he he says that people come up to him, and they can't compute this idea of moderation, they don't understand what he's doing is a form of recovery. So even the word recovery itself is complicated, isn't it? Because it sort of stereotypes certain ideas of things, you know, particularly abstinence and meetings and those kinds of things. But yeah, I really agree that we need narratives that diversify the understanding of recovery in a much broader and individualised way. And perhaps spiritual as well.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, I mean, the term floating signifier is a good one with the with these terms, like spirituality and recovery, they tend to mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, there's no kind of firm understanding of what these terms mean. And they're deployed in in ways that, you know, can cause all kinds of difficulties really say all this, this is recovery. And this isn't? Well, what that tells us is what you think recovery is not, not whether this is recovery, or it isn't because there are there aren't shared standard ideas of what these things mean. But what I think that means that we all need to talk to each other a lot more than we do, and be less defensive about about particular approaches, and to look for the similarities across different approaches, there's a kind of idea of very strong in the states that you can get sober through a or you could get sober in a rational way. And that I think, is a false binary, between, you know, different approaches that actually have an awful lot in common and their rich cultural resources. And there should be lots of them, you know, so that people can find the ways that that suit themselves and speak to their own experience of, you know, their difficulty with with substances or whatever it is, and their own worldviews. You know, it's you can't make people believe certain things, you know, you can't make people believe anything, you know, people either resonate with certain ideas, or they don't. So there has to be kind of vast array of different ways of talking about this process.

James Morris:

Yeah, I really agree. I think there's some really important points in that. And again, it goes back to that idea of sharing stories and humanising narratives that enable people to, you know, empathise in some way and allow people to find their own ways of of making sense or kind of recovery in inverted commas. And I think within the context of perhaps a meetings, that's a big part of it, isn't it that people are encouraged? Are they not to find what they identify and what other people say and be self compassionate and understanding and that perhaps, in many ways, is a key strength of not only a but it's a philosophy that should run throughout any professional or informal recovery programme? Isn't it that understanding and space for that person to make sense of it in their own way?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yes, absolutely. And being non judgmental, and having a space where you can hear lots of different voices, I think is is essential. And, you know, that's my my research on a in the UK shows me that, that for the most part, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, that is the case. And you know, there are diverse voices, there isn't the kind of schismatic issues that run through the situation in the US, for example, where, you know, he tends to be expressed in in ways that are much more obviously associated with Protestant Christianity and therefore that because that alienates some people that is growth of the atheist or agnostic free thinker, style of VA, and that's, that's good because that creates diversity. But in in the UK, we're seeing much less of that there are atheists meetings in the UK, but they're not in any anything Like this, the same numbers, and I think that's because atheists in NA are welcomed and as part of the mainstream so there isn't there isn't that need for for schism, you know, it's quite acceptable to to have a concept of a higher power that is simply the group, there's no no requirement to have any kind of theological or metaphysical idea of what a higher power is, although, of course, many people do have those ideas,

James Morris:

That's super interesting as well. And that that's one way in which people are supported or encouraged or allowed to make sense of it in their own way. And I suppose that relates to the way in which people might have described the idea of alcohol problems or alcoholism as a disease in the folk sense that, you know, these are kind of more metaphors, or maybe, as you say, floating signifiers, that it's not a dogmatic thing of you must do it in this way, that that's suddenly in most cases, it would be more a real encouragement of people being allowed to make sense of it in ways that make sense to them, or even finding meetings that really speak to what works for them, or they relate to more. And you've looked quite a bit now the idea of Buddhism as a form of spirituality or recovery, because there's quite a few groups or kind of Buddhist based recovery organisations. Could you talk about about Buddhism and spirituality as a recovery process or movement?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah, I think this is this is something that's a really interesting kind of development in in the recovery field. So mindfulness is widely used as a kind of recovery technique in all kinds of sorts of treatment settings, that that wouldn't consider themselves spiritual in any way. But of course, mindfulness has has a long history in Buddhism, but there are also other explicitly Buddhist forms of recovery. So there are Buddhist interpretations of the 12 steps, for instance, so Kevin Gryphon, an American writer who his experience was, was 12 step initially, but he was a Buddhist and he thought about higher power in very Buddhist terms, what would that be? Yeah, higher power is as the teachings the Dharma in Buddhism. So the teachings or the truth about the way things are all the idea of karma, that you know, you reap what you sow, one thing leads to another and kind of understanding that as the nature of reality is, that is a way of understanding addiction, you know, if you act in this way, there will be consequences for for you and others. So he uses those ideas as as higher power and he interprets the 12 steps. So he is a strongly kind of 12 step influenced thinker, but he he interprets those through through his Buddhist practice, basically. But then there are other forms of Buddhist recovery that don't refer to the 12 steps. So there's an organisation called recovery Dharma, which takes the idea of meetings and mutual aid. So there are recovery Dharma meetings all over the world. There's, there's some in the UK, and they use Buddhist teachings. Key in the Buddhist worldview is the idea of suffering and the idea of attachment and craving and how attachment and craving leads to suffering and kind of analysing that process in the context of First Person experience of addiction and kind of supportively sharing about that in meetings and talking about that. So Recovery Dharma meetings function very similarly, actually, to a meetings but they don't use the 12 steps. They don't they don't have a concept of higher power, unlike Kevin Griffin, but they're they're becoming increasingly popular. There's also another Buddhist approach where a vow is taken. So vows are very kind of powerful ideas in Buddhism, there's an idea of the vow made by a bodhisattva that you know, they will become awakened and and help others to become awakened. So in this other form of Buddhist recovery popularised by the teacher, Vince Cullen, he talks about making a vow not to take intoxicants. So there are five precepts in Buddhism kind of practised all over the Buddhist world. And the fifth of those precepts is to avoid intoxicants which which cloud the mind and lead to carelessness or heedlessness. So kind of mindfulness based understanding of kind of the consequences of taking substances that cloud the mind. So Vince teaches about the power of making a vow to avoid those substances. So his his approach is a once and for all, Val, whereas Kevin Griffin's, which is much more aligned with the 12 step world is much more that day at a time approach that you find in a. So there's a whole variety of different Buddhist ways of engaging in addiction recovery. It's not one, what is the Buddhist way? There are lots of different but it's approaches to this. And then they're becoming, you know, much more well, then there's another type called the eight step approach created by two members of the Buddhist group Triratna. So a black British woman could Valerie-Mason John, and a psychiatrist called Paramabandu Groves, so the eight step programme, which obviously draws on the idea of a step approach to recovery, but it's thinking much more in terms of mindfulness as as a way of thinking about addiction as a way of interrogating experience and developing a kind of more wholesome way of living.

James Morris:

As you were talking, I kept thinking about the ways in which these kind of Buddhist derived ideas or applications have been sort of, I think, in your paper reviewing all of this, it's what's it called a neoliberal supplements or something - the idea is that that you know, that these things are being kind of taken from Buddhism and used in ways in which presents a lot of kind of difficult questions. I mean, I like the term mindful drinking, because I think it's a good way of encouraging people to think about what's going on when they drink, what's their physiological reactions, and how does that affect their, you know, psychological state? That's certainly how I've boiled it down in very simple terms. But yeah, it's a contradiction in terms in some ways, when you're talking about, like, vows around non intoxicating substances that, you know, the idea of my for drinking is paradoxical. In that sense, surely?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

You know, Buddhism is very diverse in the kind of possible responses that you could have. It's interesting, you should raise that about neoliberalism. So in in the academic literature, there's a kind of strong critique of spirituality that I find really powerful and interesting, and always important to consider, because we've been talking about spirituality is almost as if it's an unambiguously good thing. Hmm. And I think it's worth kind of reflecting on that. So, you know, some of the critiques of spirituality are that we live in this kind of capitalist rat race, and spiritual techniques are ways of enabling us to deal with the negative effects of that, enabling us to cope, but therefore keeping that whole capitalist rat race thing going, rather than setting up a critique of it. So I think when you talk about spirituality, the importance of acceptance, and the importance of forgiveness, and these are really important concepts, but I think we need to remember that they have a kind of shadow side, as well. So if we accept absolutely everything, then we don't actually make changes as individuals and at a social level that needs to be made. So we never address social injustice, or the kinds of in justices that lead to addiction, you know, we know that addiction is far more prevalent in communities that are disenfranchised, that are poor, that don't have access to resources. So if we say all well, acceptance is the key to everything, we're never going to address those issues. So that critique of spirituality as being potentially at least a kind of facilitator of of neoliberalism is is a really important critique. And there's also a concept called spiritual bypassing, which I think he needs to be heard more really, in, in the literature that it is possible to kind of see spirituality just as a kind of self soothing thing. And of course, self soothing is important and self care is important. But if that's all it is, it can become very self serving, and it becomes all about the self feeling, okay? Rather than having the courage to make the changes in life that either as an individual you might want to do or the social level, you know, people Pat themselves on the back for being spiritual. I think that that is potentially problematic.

James Morris:

Yeah, I think that's really thought provoking. And it just reminds me of, I think some of these groups of philosophies or whatever, are quite focused on on addressing that on a in terms of, you know, what, what can you do for others rather than yourself?

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Yeah. So the 12 step programme, for instance, is a very kind of hardcore moral discipline. So obviously not everybody in a or the other 12 step fellowships decide that they want to work the 12 steps, they're free to or not as they choose. But if they do choose that route, then it is a very challenging process to look at, you know, once past to consider the wrongs that have been done to others to become committed to, to change to actually make amends where that is possible to do so. And I mean, members of a will talk about this as a spiritual thing that amends may take a lifetime amends may be impossible to completely make, but this is actually about action in the outside world, it's not simply sitting one to one with a counsellor, and reflecting beneficial, though, that is, of course, this is about kind of living in a different way, many people might hear that and think, Wow, that sounds really kind of moralistic. But in fact, the people who who work the programme will say that the power of doing that has enabled them to come out of shame, to, to become comfortable in their own skin to get to get some self respect back that has been lost in in the process of addiction to become useful in society to actually see the reality of all other people that they may have harmed, and to become accountable for that to live differently. And then, so those are really to do with steps four to nine, and then steps 1011 and 12, are about kind of the ongoing effort to to reach out to other people who are still suffering and to help. So that to me, is not a kind of neoliberal, you know, let's all get our stress relief and you know, feel better, after a bit of meditation, it's something you know, kind of far more outward looking than that. But in saying that, I don't want to belittle stress relief, and self self soothing, and all of those kinds of practices, self care, because those are absolutely crucial. If you if you are going to do anything else, people who who experienced addiction report how difficult it is to to relax, to sleep, you know, all of those things, and kind of learning new techniques to do those things is absolutely crucial parts of recovery. And those techniques are one at delivering that it's just I think it's problematic if it stops there.

James Morris:

I think that's really nicely put in that we want people to find their way out of addiction or find recovery in whatever way works for them. And for that to reach as many people as possible, even if it might look or sound completely different to that. But at the same time Exactly. As he said, we have to think about what are the structural what are the wider drivers and determinants of that. And we absolutely know that the increasing inequality, this kind of focus on mindless consumerism and trying to make yourself feel better in the moment that's being kind of fed from us a much more meta level is working against us in terms of driving addiction. And plus, I think, as I understand it, kind of Bruce Alexander and lots of kind of authors who talk about that. So I think that's been fantastic. So much food for thought for me, particularly, and we'll kind of leave it there.

Dr Wendy Dossett:

Thanks for having me on.

Intro
Alcoholics Anonymous
A 'higher power'
Addiction as 'disease'?
Stigma and shame
Alcoholic labelling & stigma
Humility and spirituality in AA
Diversifying recovery stories
Buddhism and recovery
Spirituality and the modern world