Mapping Spirituality and Alcoholics Anonymous

Fourth edition (2001) of the Big Book, basic text of A.A. It has helped millions of men and women recover from alcoholism. Chapters describing the A.A. recovery program remain unchanged.

This project aims to map the patterns of adaption of spirituality through the infamous “Twelve Steps” as a commonplace in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) programs in the eight wards of the District of Colombia. In their website aa.org, Alcoholics Anonymous provides information and resources for victims of substance abuse. More importantly, it defines the Twelve steps or principals found in their basic text that have helped millions recover from alcoholism. For example, they write, “A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole”. In this passage, aa.org recognizes that the principals found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, their basic text since 1939, are rooted in spirituality for its founder was of the Oxford Group, evangelical movement that believed in emphasizing universal spiritual values in daily living. For aa.org, then, spirituality is an essential part of the recovery program because it leads to long-term sobriety.

In order to determine what alcoholics are finding common ground in it is important to define spirituality in terms of Alcoholics Anonymous. In aa.org’s document Frequently Asked Questions About A.A., they answer 44 of the most frequently asked questions about Alcoholics Anonymous. More specifically, they answer the question of: Is A.A. a religious society? They write, “A.A. is not a religious society, since it requires no definite religious belief as a condition of membership. Although it has been endorsed and approved by many religious leaders, it is not allied with any organization or sect… The A.A. program of recovery from alcoholism is undeniably based on acceptance of certain spiritual values. A.A. suggests that to achieve and maintain sobriety, alcoholics need to accept and depend upon another Power recognized as greater than themselves. Some alcoholics choose to consider the A.A. group itself as the power greater than themselves; for many others, this Power is God — as they, individually, understand Him; still others rely upon entirely different concepts of a “Higher Power”. In this passage, the A.A. society clarifies that their spiritual program is based on depending on a higher power which is open for personal interpretation. For Alcoholics Anonymous, then, the ability of their spiritual principles and values to adapt to different backgrounds is what allows spirituality to work as a commonplace for alcoholics.

A map of DC with its wards outlined. Provided by the District of Colombia Office of Planning.

This project focuses on spirituality in the District of Colombia (DC) and therefore to map spirituality, A.A. centers that incorporate the Twelve Steps were chosen. The District of Colombia is officially divided into eight wards and therefore this project will look at eight A.A. centers and the spirituality in their programs. In DC.gov, the office of planning provides a series of maps of the wards or regions that DC has been divided into. More specifically, it provides an interactive map that I used to verify that each of the centers I had chosen belonged to a specific distinct ward. The centers chosen and their respective wards will be listed here now:

For more information about each individual center visit my time mapper here.

Using the definition that spirituality is amorphous in the sense that each individual has the ability to choose what a higher power means to them, I have identified three adaptions to spirituality in terms of A.A. in DC which all share the common goal of sobriety.

The serenity prayer framed on the Dupont Circle Club’s wall.

The first adaption is institutions that take a religious focus by assigning God as the higher power that will guide you to abstinence. In wards one, two, and four, Walker Memorial Baptist Church, The Dupont Circle Club, and Takoma Baptist Church respectively use the Twelve Steps program with God as its higher power. For example, in their website Takoma Baptists Church advertises that they offer Twelve Step Recovery Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every Wednesday at 7:30pm with a mission to provide hope and healing through a personal relationship to God. Moreover, the Dupont Circle Club makes provides a variety of 12-Step Recovery groups and as a form of encouragement for its members has religious prayers or verses that go with the values of A.A. framed on the walls. For institutions like these, then, achieving and maintaining sobriety is based on turning oneself over to the hands of God.

The second adaption is a little more liberal in nature because it takes a form of meditation and combines it with Twelve Step recovery. Located in the third Ward of the District of Colombia, Shambhala Meditation Center opens its doors to all those interested in exploring the relationship between Shambhala Buddhist meditation and Twelve Steps recovery programs. The center holds a “Heart of Recovery” group every Wednesday from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. The center takes the basic principles of A.A.’s Twelve Steps and adapts them to fit with Shambhala meditation creating a unique road to sobriety.

The third adaption are centers that are more flexible in their interpretations of a “higher power” in the sense that they leave the interpreting to their members. In wards five, six, seven, and eight, CATAADA House, Clean and Sober Streets, The Better Way Program, and Federal City Recovery Services all employ a more flexible Twelve Step program. For example, CATAADA House is a free alcohol/drug intervention and prevention program that stresses the need for spiritual support when recovering. It promotes spiritual growth by employing the Twelve Step program that calls for the recovering individual to turn their life over to God or a higher power to attain recovery. Programs, like this stress spirituality but don’t define it like religious institutions would opening up spirituality as a commonplace even further.

By mapping spirituality through the different adaptions of the Twelve Step programs in the District of Colombia, it is evident how since its foundation Alcoholics Anonymous has morphed to include individuals with all kinds of backgrounds that suffer from substance abuse.

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