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Recovery: Re-visioning an Old Symbol

Recovery: Re-visioning an Old Symbol

At Rockland Recovery we believe that the 12 Steps (as presented in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous) have proven themselves to be the most tried and true method of recovery yet developed. This is not to say that the steps are the only way, or that they work for everyone. It is simply an acknowledgment that, for over 80 years, the 12 Steps have brought healing to countless numbers of people. The Big Book has itself become a powerful symbol of abstinence-based recovery. But as we move into the 21st century we can see that addiction is rapidly morphing and changing; therefore, our understanding of alcohol addiction treatment must evolve as well.

This does not mean that we are looking to abandon or re-write the Big Book. Instead, we are working to unpack many of the deeper implications of the 12 Steps and to re-contextualize them in the digital age. There are layers upon layers of hidden depth within the text, that when properly elucidated can dramatically shift one’s experience of recovery. One of the best ways to approach this dimension is through the work of C.G Jung.

Jung argued that all symbols are transient, meaning that they inevitably evolve and change. Once a symbol becomes fixed, it loses something – some aspect of its power. In our time, this is most evident in the waning authority of our religious symbols and dogma. Similarly, at Rockland Recovery we often encounter clients who have already done the 12 Steps and report that they do not work. These folks no longer resonate with the Big Book, the preeminent symbol of 12 Step recovery. They longer respond to the symbol as is, they long for something new.

Our re-visioning of the Big Book has gradually transformed our understanding of recovery altogether. We have discovered something fresh and vital at the root of the 12 Steps themselves. When we approach 12 Step recovery from the dimension of depth recovery becomes less superficial and more personal. It carries more weight and provides people with something that everyone in society is looking for, namely a deep sense meaning and connection.

Arguably the 12 Step movement may never have been born if Carl Jung had not insisted to his patient, Rowland H, that his only hope lay in the possibility of a spiritual experience. Jung is therefore rightly believed to be one of the forebearers of the 12 Step movement. It is only fitting that Jung’s work should be fully integrated into the practice of the 12 Steps. Jungian concepts like the “shadow,” “persona,” or “complex” shed invaluable light on the psychospiritual dynamics of recovery. For example, understanding the 4th Step in terms of “shadow work” serves to open us up and enables us to really understand the nature of our complexes and habitual reactive patterns. Viewing the first step as a process of not only coming to terms with powerlessness, but also with the death of our addict personas as well.

If the 12 Steps are to survive as a viable modality they must evolve and change to meet the challenges of the time. Rockland Recovery is doing by integrating Jungian psychology, dislocation theory, and contemplative practice into the recovery process. Our clients are more curious and engaged – they want to understand the deeper implications of addiction and how they came to be addicts in the first place. This approach is revitalizing our work with clients, alumni, and the larger community. It is a small but significant part of the new paradigm of treatment and recovery.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


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