What Is My Experience of a Spiritual Experience?

By Rick W.

Let me start off by sharing what our books tells us one looks like:

“Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”

the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism”

“a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone.”

Now, if you are anything like me, the first time you heard the phrase “spiritual experience” as a newcomer, you might have cringed just a little.  Like so many who come to the rooms, I came in with some background (yeah, I’ll just call it that instead of “baggage”) about God.  Anytime I heard the word spiritual, my twisted brain immediately went to God, and at that time, the next thought was church, and then the next thought was…. I’m outta here.  I had had a somewhat negative experience with organized religion that I simply wasn’t ready to embrace anything (even if it looked like it might save my life) that was even remotely related to church.

I’m grateful today that I’ve had some incredibly wise and loving men and women in my life who told me to come all the way in, sit all the way down and shut all the way up.  These amazing members of the Fellowship showed me, both through the teaching of the book and through their own example that the chapter We Agnostics provided me the road map to begin to reimagine what a Higher Power could look like for me.  They began to teach me that I got to wipe the slate clean and start over if I wanted to – and boy did I ever want to when I finally learned I could.

One of the biggest aha moments I’ve had though was when I had a sponsor point out to me that in the first paragraph of page 567 (4th Edition) what Bill’s definition of a spiritual experience was.  It was only two words – personality change.  He went on to point out that the word God was nowhere in that first paragraph which was just fine by me.  Of course, he did point out that further on down the page, Bill starts to use the word God – but in the actual definition, the word God was nowhere to be found.  What a relief that was.  I mean, it was hard to embrace the idea that the word spiritual (connected to the word experience) did not immediately use the word God as part of its definition.

Once I finally wrapped my arms around that, then, I had to begin to open up to what a personality change was going to look like in my life.  That’s where the other writings above came in.  I wasn’t all that sure what a “huge emotional displacement” was, but it wasn’t that big a leap for me to see what “ideas, emotions and attitudes that were once the guiding force of my life” were.  In looking back at my life prior to coming to the rooms, I could see that every single decision I made in my life before A.A. was fraught with very twisted ideas, massively screwed up emotions, and incredibly bad attitudes.  I was being taught that if I was ever going to have any hope of becoming a recovered alcoholic (which our book tells us we can and will become once we’ve experienced this personality change), those things had to be cast aside so that a new set of conceptions and motives could take over.

In my experience, I’ve found what our literature goes on to tell us will happen to be true.  I’ve experienced a profound alteration in my reaction to life and in the manner in which I live my life.  The amount of acceptance I have today for all of the things that are going on around me (in a COVID-19 world) honestly blows my mind.  I don’t find it necessary to get involved in all of the political arguments that I used to revel in; I am much better today at loving people right where they are instead of placing unrealistic expectations on them like I used to; and if my 113 over 64 consistent blood pressure reading is any indication of the peace and calm I feel today – I have not one iota of fear about my future.  It’s clear to me today that this profound alteration could not have come about as a result of anything I could do on my own – it was way above my paygrade.  And while Bill’s definition of a spiritual experience is a personality change, today, I know that that personality change only came as a result of remembering that somewhere along the line I took Step 2 and came to believe in a Power that was much greater than I – and then took Step 3 and turned over my ideas, emotions and attitudes to that Power.

I am so very grateful that the way Bill eased me into it was by simply stating in no uncertain terms that I needed to change (the same man will drink again).  For some reason, THAT made sense to me.  As I embraced that change, I began to become more and more comfortable with the idea that that change did not come from me, but from a loving God who only wants the best for me.  So today, when I am told that I must have vital spiritual experiences to get, keep, and give away this precious gift that was given to me – I interpret that as I must have vital personality changes that WILL provide a profound alteration in the way I react to my life.