Over the past forty three years I have been involved in the most successful healing program in the history of mankind. The program has saved my life and the lives of millions. It’s a program that is always successful at healing those afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. The program has founding principles which distinguish it from all other disciplines of healing and care. The program is a design for living that can be successfully applied to many other diseases and life problems. In fact, it’s twelve steps have been utilized in over a hundred different programs dealing with everything from gambling to overeating and compulsive debting.
Over the past fifty-six years I have worked in the healing professions. My first real job being at Children’s Hospital in Boston in 1965. Over the years I have worked with developmentally disabled, physically disabled, psychiatric patients, street kids, high school dropouts, displaced homemakers, the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts, I have taught reading to people who could not read. By combining my experience in both venues with my own personal recovery and my professional life in human services, I have developed some strong ideas about caring, loving, and spirituality and their importance in healing mind, body and spirit. They are not new ideas, but they are often forgotten in this high tech, clinical buzzword filled milieu of treatment of both medical and emotional ills. This article will discuss one area but many of the ideas expressed here can be applied across the broad spectrum of human illness and healing.
Most treatment programs today do a fine job of bringing their participants to the table of tools necessary to achieve complete and continuous sobriety. They present a table full of all the best that psychology, addictionology and self-help programs have to offer. The approach is virtually the same whether an inner city court ordered program or the finest most expensive “spa” treatment center. All treatment is successful if the participant is willing and unsuccessful if he is not. The key to treatment is to bring clients to the point of willingness necessary to pick up the tools at their disposal.
Over seventy years ago two hopeless drunks discovered, with God’s guidance, a concept that has healed millions of alcoholics. They developed a program of recovery that can be universally applied. The three main principles to which all success can be attributed are: finding God, cleaning house and helping others. Treatment is mostly concerned with the middle principle. It”s the only one of the three that focuses inward. It’s where the self-centered nature of the alcoholic likes to hang out, for loosely interpreted, cleaning house is “all about me”. “All about me” is what had been killing us. Treatment does discuss spirituality and guides participants towards finding a Higher Power by sometimes even having “Spirituality Groups” as part of their program. But the one principle which is virtually ignored by most treatment programs is the “helping others” component.
This component is the great discovery of the founders of AA. To ignore is to deprive the primary principle of healing to those we are teaching to stay sober. About twenty years ago I worked in a “Children’s Home” in Maine,.an excellent facility for emotionally disturbed children. I worked with boys aged ten to fourteen in a homelike cottage. We had a “team” approach and all the professionals would meet twice a week in a room to discuss the kids cases. One day there was a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, a social worker, a teacher, a nurse, a nutritionist and all of the workers concerned with the care of the boys in the cottage. We were discussing a boy who had become violently out of control for no apparent reason. No one could understand how to quiet him when he had these tantrums.
There was one person in the room, a matronly LPN who worked the night shift. After about a forty-five minutes discussion with all the professionals weighing in she said that she knew how to quiet him down. There was a rocking chair in the living room and she would sit this ten-year old on her lap and rock him and sing to him and hold him. He would cry and finally fall asleep. She had the key, just as Bill and Bob had the key. We all have the key when we reach down inside our hearts and help others.
I have a modest proposal for all my friends in the treatment field and the caring professions and it is simply this: build into your programs a component that allows your clients to get outside of themselves and help those who are sick and suffering from something other than addiction. Many, like those who are hungry, homeless, terminally ill or aged have no choice about their circumstances. By allowing your clients to learn this third principle “help others” their own eagerness to clean house and find God will be greatly enhanced. You will be truly treating the root of their disease…self-centeredness. There are so many worthy causes, wonderful opportunities to serve others and so much need in this country and world.
As I spent the last month watching my father recover from a life threatening illness I was impressed by the level of care of the nursing staff in the ICU, the surgical recovery floor and the rehabilitation facility. I was so fortunate to be with my Dad as he was surrounded by family. I to walked by room after room of lonely elderly people who were at their final home. Taking a moment to smile, to say hello to talk to the men and women in their wheelchairs in the hall ways it occurred to me what a wonderful opportunity for recovering people to provide love and service. A novel feature of this facility is that it houses a day care center for staff. By mixing the children with the elderly residents, there were many smiles and much healing energy apparent.
This energy is possessed by all of us and when we learn to get outside of ourselves and help others we are healed of any and all problems. Is it no wonder that the people we elevated to iconic spiritual levels such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, Martin Luther King are all people who have devoted their lives to the service of others. It seems that everyone in the treatment industry is looking for the latest, newest stateof-the-art approaches to addiction. Theories and modalities abound as we continue to seek the very best treatment opportunities for our clients. Sometimes its hard to keep up with the buzz words and the terminology and the new acronyms. Each facility seeks to have a new unique approach that set them aside from or above all the others. By going back to the basics in human relationships and permitting their clients to find the joy in helping others we will truyly give them the most healing tools in the spiritual tool kit: Love and Service.`