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The Transcendental Experience Of The 12 Steps

William James wrote Varieties of Religious Experience in which he closely examined the many ways people experience spirituality and religion. The authors of Alcoholics Anonymous who drafted the 12 steps were heavily influenced by James’ work. In appendix ii, titled “Spiritual Experience” of the book, the authors cite James and his perspective on the “educational variety” of spiritual experiences, “Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the ‘educational variety’ because they develop slowly over time.” Working the 12 steps has a distinct purpose: to have a spiritual experience. In doing so, the authors believed, a person can be so inspired that they won’t pick up a drink or a drug again, and that they will commence to live a life progressing along spiritual lines. It’s “the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism” the authors believe happens as a result of a spiritual experience.

Transformation and change through transcendental experiences is not new. Prayer, meditation, and other forms of spiritual ritual have been poetically described as ecstatic or bringing about ecstasy. People feel connected to something bigger than themselves when they are in the midst of a spiritual experience. From feelings of unity, a primary theme in AA, to feelings of awe and inspiration, they experience a momentary pause in time where the many concerns of their humanity slip away. For alcoholics, this is a priceless experience. Alcoholism is larger than life. Caught within the man-made world, being trapped in the vertigo of alcoholism is remarkably limiting. Isolation, separation, and delusion create a hardened barrier between an alcoholic and their ability to remain curious about life. The spiritual experience is not novel as a solution to alcoholism.

Being struck by something so inspiring as to create a life-altering change like not picking up a drink or a drug again is a profound experience, proven by science. Research shows that transcendental spiritual experiences which take someone out of self and into a realm of understanding beyond the self has a long-term effect. Studies have found that their are higher levels of being content with life, feeling more meaning in life, and greater senses of bonding to others after a spiritual experience. This is no more evidenced than a career alcoholic of many years spending a few months in meetings working the steps with a sponsor and coming to realize they never have to drink again. Alcoholics, renown for their selfishness and self-centeredness, are able to gain the perspective necessary to realize their alcoholism, their recovery, and their lives, are about more than them. The 12 steps focus on service for this reason- to essentially pass the pathway toward transcendence to others.


The Big Book states that “…any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts.” At Enlightened Solutions, we are integrating the spiritual experience of the 12 steps into every facet of our program. From evidence based clinical practices to healing holistic treatments, our comprehensive partial care programs are effective in changing lives for the better.

Call us for more information on our dual diagnosis treatment programs: 833-801-5483.

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