For my fourth assignment, my guide, Santos, had told me to find out what I could about alcohol and addiction and get back to him. What I ended up bringing him was nearly a PhD dissertation on alcohol, addiction, suffering, escape, and mental health, that filled a whole notebook.
What did I learn then? Is alcoholism a disease?
Life is a disease.
That might be. The cure for both of them is the same.
Santos wanted me to go back to The Doctor’s Opinion in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, then read Bill’s Story again. He also had another book for me called As Bill Sees It, full of short passages from Bill W.’s writings, and he told me to read the second page.
The next time we met up he wanted to hear about my spiritual awakening. I told him I hadn’t had one and he laughed. Of course, I had. I couldn’t see how much I’d changed in only a month, but I had. That puzzled and encouraged me.
Since I’d already read the eight pages of The Doctor’s Opinion about five times, I knew right where he wanted me to look. Dr. William Silksworth writes that once a psychic change occurs, even the worst alcoholic may be able to control their desire for alcohol and begin to solve problems that had previously brought them to despair. He adds that it seems to take more than human power to bring about this psychic change.
Then I read Bill’s Story again. After early successes in the military and on Wall Street, his alcoholism had him unemployed, living with his wife’s parents, drinking two bottles of bathtub gin a day, and suffering from violent shakes every morning. Although he made a number of resolves to quit drinking, he found that though his will was strong in some areas, he had no control over his cravings for alcohol. He would completely give in without a fight, like a puppet being yanked around by the strings.
Then he happened to meet a friend who’d gotten sober by finding religion. Because of his experiences with religion growing up, and the hypocrisy of those who sometimes advocate it the most, this prompted cynicism from Bill, until his friend shared that he was free to come up with his own conception of God. This was something entirely different. Bill came to believe in a Higher Power of his own understanding and cried out to it. What happened next, he records in As Bill Sees It.
He is lying there in a terrible depression. His pride is crushed. He calls to God to show himself, claiming that he’s ready to do anything. Then the room fills with a great white light. Bill feels like he’s standing on a mountain and that what is blowing all around him is not wind, but spirit. At once, he’s free. He returns to a new world and a new consciousness, and never drinks again.
A spiritual awakening is an experience that brings insight into the spiritual dimension of reality. It results in a greater sense of purpose in life and the search for something bigger than one’s self. People who undergo a spiritual awakening undergo a psychic change, and in a sense are born again as different beings with a new mission.
The most famous example of this in the Bible is the case of the Apostle Paul, who started off his career as Saul, zealously persecuting the early Christians. Then one day as he traveled to Damascus to roundup more Christians, he was suddenly knocked to the ground by a blinding light. At the same time, he heard the voice of Jesus, asking why he was persecuting him. At that point Saul is blind. Jesus tells him to go into the city, and after three days has a Christian named Ananias come and pray for him. Ananias baptizes Saul in the Holy Spirit and scales fall from his eyes. He can now see again, and after changing his name to Paul, goes on to become the prominent evangelist of the early Christian church.
Other well-known cases of spiritual awakenings are Moses upon witnessing the burning bush, Mormon founder Joseph Smith being shown the golden plates by the angel Moroni, Prince Siddhartha attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree and becoming the Buddha, Richard Alpert meeting his guru and being dubbed Ram Dass, and Billy Batson speaking the magic word Shazam, and changing into Captain Marvel. There are countless stories through the ages about people having transformative experiences after an encounter with the divine.
Santos asked me to write about my spiritual awakening, and though I’d been chasing after them my whole life, studying the great religions, traveling to sacred places, taking any substance I thought would change my perception, I didn’t think I’d had one. Maybe I had. I didn’t feel like a prophet stumbling down from a mountaintop with his face shining like a beacon, but something had changed that was worth following up on. I decided to write about that.