Susan Cheever and Kevin Griffin —
The Spirituality of Addiction and Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson once said that the program he helped create is, "utter simplicity which encases a complete mystery." Our guests reflect on the Twelve Steps and how they resonate in their personal stories and in Buddhist and Christian teachings.

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is the author of several books, including My Name Is Bill, a biography of the co-founder of AA.

is a Buddhist dharma leader and writer. He's the author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps.

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Cheever deftly puts words around a spiritual experiece betweem two poeple in reciovery. that the mere sharing of an experience allows another to put a name on
something perhaps unnamable in themselves up to then

Where is Basil Brave Heart, the Native American Healer? He was the best segment of this show!

Trent Gilliss's picture

Hi Peter. My memory is a bit foggy since it's been seven years ago since we last released this episode, so please forgive me for the brevity. For a variety of editorial reasons, we ended up remixing this episode and had to cut Basil's portion of the interview. But, there's good news. If you notice, we archive and make available all previous versions of each episode where you can download the mp3 with Basil's powerful story. Like you, I was deeply moved by his visions and share excerpts of his story whenever I speak in public.

First off, I am going to say that I chose this topic because I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol myself, and I, being an athiest have found it hard to find a higher power and work the program of AA (alcoholics anonymous) like the Big Book and the people in the meetings tell me to. Krista Tippett interview two people during this podcast, Susan Cheever and Kevin Griffin, both who are in recovery. Susan Cheever believes in God and Kevin Griffin is Buddist. I probably won't touch much on Kevin Griffins part of the podcast because I found very little in common with his story and didn't relate as well as I did with Susan. However, I still found his contribution to be very moving and wonderful.

I found this podcast very interesting to listen to because as I have stated in the previous statement, I do not have a higher power and the program specifically states that we cannot recover without one. 20,000,000 million people, 1 in 10 over the age of 12 suffer from addiction. Whether that be drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, etc. Alcoholics Anonymous was originally started by Bill Wilson in the 1930's. At that time addiction was known to be almost always fatal because there is no cure. Bill Wilson once stated that "More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much that actor." The reason I like that quote is because it is very much true for me. I was the only one that knew how bad my addiction was and I was the only one who could do anything about it. That's what's scary. When you are in your addiction for so long, you end up giving up on the fact that you are lovable. That you are kind. That you deserve love and companionship. That you are worthy.

I grew up Lutheran and have read small parts of the Bible, but it never stuck. I always thought it was just a fictional story book. When I first entered treatment, one of my first assignments was to figure out what my higher power was going to be. And I was pissed. "How dare they tell me that I have to find something to believe in?" Susan Cheever, who was a speaker in the podcast and who is also in recovery stated "The divine could exist...in other human beings... You cannot say you must have faith in X. It can resided wherever you say it resides, as long as it is not you." That is what every body told me in the meetings of AA. I just didn't get it. I didn't understanding believing in something that I couldn't see. So I just played along and pretended that I had a higher power. It didn't work. After 8 months of sobriety, I ended up relapsing while living in my sober house and then was sent back to treatment by my case manager. I was so mad at myself and at them because I felt that they had given up on me. But in all reality, I gave up on myself. And it was the best decision I ever made. I have been sober ever since.

Susan Cheever was asked why AA is effective for so many millions of people. She said that in her experience during addiction, people who are addicts show a lack of faith and live a very fear based life. She said that there is a lack of trust. That was all too true for me. I started using at the age of twelve and when I first entered the rooms of AA at the age of 19, I was completely shut off to the world. Like Susan, I had a lack of trust. I didn't think that anybody deserved to know anything about me. I was not about to tell a bunch of people I didn't know how I felt. When I re-entered the rooms at the age of 21, after my relapse, I realized that the sharing wasn't for them. The sharing was for me. Every time I spoke in a meeting, I felt relief and knew that these people, these strangers, were me, we have been through the same feelings and have experienced that same loss. We were grieving our best friend. The heroine addict was grieving the loss of the drug, the alcoholic was grieving the loss of the drink. There is a sort of intimacy to AA and addiction that only fellow addicts understand. That was when I was the closest to ever finding a higher power. For a while I used AA as my higher power.

Susan Cheever talked about story telling in AA and how it helps us relate to other people. This is important because for so many years, we felt alone and that the drug or drink was our only friend. It helps us feel that we are not alone and that it didn't only happen to me. It helps us connect with other people and it aids us in helping other people along with ourselves. My sponsor once told me "Kayla, you are not terminally unique." That was the single best sentence that anyone has ever told me. Even though AA and the Big Book tell us in step two "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity," I never found a higher power that works for me. And for years, I struggled with this. But I came to the realization that everybody's recovery looks a little different and AA helps you recover in a way that works for you. What works for me, doesn't work for my fiance who is also in recovery. What works for him, probably doesn't work anyone else either and that's okay. It is okay to be different and it is okay to find your own way to recover.

Having started a class that asked us to listen to an On Being episode and post our opinions of it on a discussion board, I chose this one. I had recently gone through a relapse with my significant other, this subject seemed to hit home. Listening to how content and happy these speakers were, gave me great hope. I found that my significant others faith seemed to be crumbled. I didn't know what to say, what to do, or how to help. After listening to this podcast I was able to hear that sometimes it isn't the cure that helped them the most, but the journey they took and the things they learned on that journey that has healed them so well. I couldn't just plop him down in a church pew, even if it was the church he grew up in, because that may not have been what he needed. Maybe finding Buddhism, Islam, or Atheism would be what he needed. I just needed to know that the journey was something he needed to take. Thank you for the great interviews on such a touching topic.