Into the Abyss Part II

The Inner Work: Trusting G-d & Cleaning House

The famed 12 step programs are founded upon a theory that behind chronic and repeated patterns of addiction and dependence is a spiritual “malady” (or dysfunction) in the sufferer. They posit that this existential and spiritual un-wellness is what causes individuals to perpetually slip back into unwanted habit patterns and related addictions. That, the reason why addicts and alcoholics return to their addictions, even years after fully disengaging from them, is because they are driven by a spiritual hunger. They are overcome by an obsession which pines for relief from the existential pain of their reality, and instead of actual relief, settle for the superficial one they experience in the problem substance or behavior they struggle with. (Then, once they reengage, they trigger and become ensnared in the trap of addiction).

Therefore, the 12 step philosophy posits, that the only viable long term solution which can yield some measure of sustainable permanence is one that enables the sufferer to engage a spiritual life, healing their existential pain and nurturing their spiritual needs. The spiritual life which the 12 steps prescribes is one of accountability and self reflection (step 10), proactive aspirational meditation and prayer (step 11) and a life of service and action fueled by spiritual principles (Step 12).

That’s only three steps though, where do the first nine come in?

When we are seeking to emerge out of the abyss of a dependent pattern of “misbehavior” (behavior that doesn’t meet our ideal), we cannot begin to authentically live a spiritual life, in a real way, just willy nilly. No doubt we can all begin to practice a spiritual way of life at any point, but in order to immerse ourselves in a spiritual way of life, we must first develop a trust in G-d and clean house, we must do ‘the inner work’. The individual struggling must first strip away the layers of cynicism which hold them back from a relationship with whatever they understand G-d to be (Trust G-d), and then, must clear out the toxic energy of hate, resentment, fear and shame (Clean House), in order to create a vessel where spirituality can truly enter their lives.

This is objective of the first nine steps of the 12 step program. To enable a person to feel a new sense of openness for a spiritual journey, ready to begin the path toward a truly spiritual life. In the first three steps, they seek to address this first aspect, Trust G-d. Then, in steps five through nine, they focus on the Cleaning House aspect.

This sort of focus; on developing an optimistic faithfulness and clearing out emotional baggage, is obviously not limited to the 12 steps , it is also the earmark of good psycho-therapy, strong self-development models, and the measured and informed practice of the teachings of Kabbalah, Machshava, Mussar and Chassidus, the schools of study of the inner world of Torah. Any successful system of structured and organized growth entails both of these elements; a reduction in cynicism and a cleaning out of the blockages which obstruct forward movement.

The same concept holds true here. The exercises we will suggest in future articles are spiritual in nature and anyone can practice them, but, a real solution will only take hold when we make ourselves fit to receive. This does not mean we need to be perfect, in the sense of a complete reversal of the past, and a complete annihilation of the chance of setbacks in the future, to make progress. It means that the road to success must start with a concerted effort to disengage from the sort of emotional and cognitive resistances which block us off from progress. It means developing the conviction that we are committed to make a real, though likely imperfect, effort to rectify past mistakes and prevent future ones, with a willingness to further perfect those as that becomes possible. It means fostering an ability to look the world in the eye with humility and self acceptance. Finally, it means embracing our inherent worth and esteem, that we deserve to live well and to do better, that our destiny is one of perpetual growth and development.

These, will free us from the trap of self loathing and self pity. They will strip away the delusions that everything will be great forever, just because its going well for a few minutes or days. They will protect us from the trap of thinking that all is lost just because things have not been going well for a bit.

To have the success we are talking about means having the ability to look at ourselves through the window of truth and honesty, both when it is exhilarating and when it is uncomfortable. To look  for the good, and be willing see where the good has not yet been revealed. These are the keys to moving forward, the only foundation upon which a permanent solution can take hold and stay, one day at a time.

A spiritual solution is not a buzz and it is not a streak. A spiritual solution is one that sustains the heavy winds life throws at it, because it stands on a foundation of self honesty and self acceptance. These are only possible when a person has engaged their inner work, establishing a faithful and trusting optimism, and stripping away toxic layers of shame and hate which block our path toward truth.

Therefore, if you have not yet begun this sort of work, start there. It doesn’t need to finish before you can move on, but it surely must begin. Whether in the context of religious texts and philosophies,[1] the 12 steps, psycho-therapy, or some other self development plan, or any and all of the above, the key is that a real effort must be made.

The attitudes and perspectives we will discuss ahead will only take shape in the mind of someone who has made an earnest effort to do their inner work, to heal their inner conflicts and pain. Anyone who has done this work will tell you that it does not mean you are perfect, and it really doesn’t have an end. The inner work is a perpetual journey that never ends. Yet, there is a stark separation between the mind of someone who has done the inner work (made earnest attempts and progress at fostering faithful and trusting optimism, and weeding out hate and shame, replacing those with the developed skill of forgiveness and acceptance) and one that has not.

Get a good therapist that will help you develop forward minded growth while honoring the significance of the past. Join a self development program that doesn’t wash over the reality of what was before, and also inspires you to move towards what you could be. Join a 12 step program and get a sponsor (a fellow 12 stepper who will willingly share their experience of their journey, so you can have your own). Find a mentor, (i.e. mashpia), who has done the work themselves and can help show you a path toward the same for yourself. Or, do all of them, because most often peoples journey entails multiple avenues. The main thing is to stop looking for a quick fix, a short long way. Doing the inner work, the long short way, always pays dividends, and it makes real and sustained spiritual progress possible.

About the Author
Menachem Poznanski, LCSW is director of The Living Room, a clubhouse for Jewish young adults in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Menachem is co-author of Stepping out of the Abyss: A Jewish guide to the 12 steps (Mosaica, 2017) and the editor of both Consciously and The Light Revealed, two social media initiatives focused on the messages of Jewish recovery and spirituality. Menachem resides in Cedarhurst, NY with his wife Naomi and their children, Zoe and Tani.
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