Spirituality as a cure for alcoholism
Jung recommended spirituality as a cure for alcoholism and he is considered to have had an indirect role in establishing Alcoholics Anonymous. Jung once treated an American patient (Rowland Hazard III), suffering from chronic alcoholism. After working with the patient for some time and achieving no significant progress, Jung told the man that his alcoholic condition was near to hopeless, save only the possibility of a spiritual experience. Jung noted that occasionally such experiences had been known to reform alcoholics where all else had failed.
Rowland took Jung’s advice seriously and set about seeking a personal spiritual experience. He returned home to the United States and joined a First-Century Christian evangelical movement known as the Oxford Group (later known as Moral Re-Armament). He also told other alcoholics what Jung had told him about the importance of a spiritual experience. One of the alcoholics he brought into the Oxford Group was Ebby Thacher, a long-time friend and drinking buddy of Bill Wilson, later co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Thacher told Wilson about the Oxford Group, and through them Wilson became aware of Hazard’s experience with Jung. The influence of Jung thus indirectly found its way into the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original twelve-step program, and from there into the whole twelve-step recovery movement, although AA as a whole is not Jungian and Jung had no role in the formation of that approach or the twelve steps.
The above claims are documented in the letters of Jung and Bill W., excerpts of which can be found in Pass It On, published by Alcoholics Anonymous. Although the detail of this story is disputed by some historians, Jung himself discussed an Oxford Group member, who may have been the same person, in talks given around 1940. The remarks were distributed privately in transcript form, from shorthand taken by an attender (Jung reportedly approved the transcript), and later recorded in Volume 18 of his Collected Works, The Symbolic Life („For instance, when a member of the Oxford Group comes to me in order to get treatment, I say, ‘You are in the Oxford Group; so long as you are there, you settle your affair with the Oxford Group. I can’t do it better than Jesus.'” Jung goes on to state that he has seen similar cures among Roman Catholics).
Dear Mr. W.
Your letter has been very welcome indeed.
I had no news from Rowland H. anymore and often wondered what has been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason that I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.
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.*
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?
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. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.
I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.
These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.
You see, „alcohol” in Latin is „spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
Thanking you again for your kind letter
C. G. Jung*
„As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” (Psalms 42:1)