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In 1961 Dr. Carl Jung and  Bill W., a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) exchanged letters. I had not read those letters until today, and I want to discuss them with you. All quotes in the following discussion are from Bill W’s Grapevine Writings: The Language of the Heart (AA, 1988).

Carl Jung, as many of you know, was one of the “three founding fathers of psychiatry ” along with  Freud  and Adler (p. 282). In contrast, very few know that Carl Jung was instrumental in contributing to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. His 1961 correspondence with Bill W. was about a patient Dr. Jung had treated over 30 years before. The particular encounter between psychiatrist and patient in question had a strong influence on the development of AA’ s program of recovery.

According to their correspondence, Dr. Jung saw this patient in 1931. He told the patient his case was hopeless  and that medical and psychiatric interventions could not help him. In his letter to Bill W., Jung shared an important insight about alcoholics (p. 280):

“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

I found it impressive that such a famous psychiatrist could remember an encounter with one client in great detail for over 30 years. Jung’s insight about the craving for alcohol being similar to that of spiritual hunger was profound to me because I have been listening to people in recovery since 1981, and I cannot tell you how many of them describe their addiction as an attempt to “fill an emptiness” and to find that which will make them whole. Many have also expressed surprise and gratitude when they find following the spiritual pathway of the 12 steps  “fills them up” and takes away that hunger. Jung didn’t stop with insight. He went beyond identifying the problem and, thankfully for those in AA, began identifying a solution. Here’s Jung’s description of how to go about finding  “union with God” (p. 280-281): “The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is, that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding”.  He went on to say  that both grace “or personal and honest contact with friends” (p. 280) might be helpful in attaining such a union with God.

The patient consequently got involved  with a religious group called the Oxford Group and an Episcopal priest—and stayed sober.  The patient shared his experience, and Bill W. realized he needed to have  a “spiritual experience” if he were to stay sober. This chain of events along with Bill W’s own “spiritual awakening” led Bill W. to envision “a society of alcoholics, each identifying with and transmitting his experience to the next—chain style. If each sufferer were to carry the news of the scientific hopelessness of alcoholism to each new prospect, he might be able to lay every newcomer wide open to a transforming spiritual experience” (p. 279).  Thus, the idea for AA was born.

To many of you, this may have been a boring bit of history, but sometimes something seemingly mundane can help create a miracle. Now I know the spiritual/recovery focus of this ongoing blog is “right on target.”

I hope you will read and share your comments about how addiction recovery and spirituality are interrelated—-both in the past and in the present. May God bless and keep you.