Alyssa Murdocco is a third-year Adler University Vancouver student pursuing a master’s degree in counselling psychology. She was one of three winners of the 2016-2017 Student Affairs Essay Contest centered on spirituality and social justice. The following is a version of her essay in which she reflects on an experience that stemmed from her introductory course on addictive disorders.
I set out to attend my first Al-Anon meeting on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.
The mission was part of my professor’s assignment in an introductory course on addictive disorders. Students were directed to attend a 12-step meeting affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and report their experiences.
I chose to join an Al-Anon meeting, which seeks to support the loved ones of those struggling with alcoholism. Since I had never been to any such gathering, I did not know what to expect. I felt an overwhelming sense of nervousness.
The group is open to professionals and students, but I knew my reasons were far less personal than other attendees’. I was worried they may find my presence offensive or hurtful; that I would be subject to backlash. My biggest hope was that I would feel welcomed.
When the meeting ended, I found myself relieved. I did not experience the catastrophic outcome I had construed in my head. Instead, people greeted me warmly, were respectful, and gave me space to settle in. The leader of the group also made sure to introduce the meeting by reminding people that the group was open to all persons, despite any religious references to “God” that will arise throughout. She seemed to advocate for making meetings spiritual – rather than religious – events.
Although my experience was positive, it is likely that some might not feel comfortable with this group’s setup. Those who are non-believers or worshippers of another “God” may find it difficult to feel included and participate in meetings. Nevertheless, Al-Anon appeared to be on the right track. Despite their use of religious language, it seemed that their focus was to promote inclusiveness so that individuals from all walks of life would feel welcomed. Not only does this approach contribute to building healthier communities, it helps promote justice within our society.
Mosak and Dreikurs (2000) explored the notion that spirituality itself is fundamental to individual health. They argued that Alfred Adler – the founder of individual psychology – alluded to spirituality as one of five basic life tasks. In this context, spirituality involves forming a relationship with a higher power and the search for life meaning (Mosak & Dreikurs, 2000).
Through my experience at Al-Anon, I discovered what it was like to embrace my spiritual side in a different context. As people told their stories, there was a warmth surging throughout my body. I noticed my breathing was getting deeper, and I slowly started embracing my connection to that which could not accurately be described in words. By the time I walked out the back door, I was lifted in a way I had not felt in a very long time. It is easy to see why some believe that groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are likely more helpful for those struggling with alcoholism than psychotherapists themselves (Mosak & Dreikurs, 2000).
However, I do not believe such profoundness would have been possible without the congregation of accepting and open-minded others; there was a certain energy in the room that appeared reflective of the individuals within it. This proposal would likely not surprise Adlerians. Proponents of individual psychology support the notion of gemeinschaftsgefühl, or a feeling of community (Murdock, 2013).
According to Adler, humans are social creatures who have a basic need to feel included by others (Murdock, 2013). As a self-proclaimed introvert and celebrant of solitude, I was once skeptical of this idea, believing that perhaps only the intrinsically weak rely on others. Despite my own need for significant amounts of personal space, I recently learned that I, too, have my limits. In a typical week, my parents are home after work hours. With this, comes verbal bantering and heavy footsteps that creak within the ceiling above my basement suite. I used to think that a perfect week meant basking in the silence of a house that I had all to myself. One week, however, my parents decided to leave on vacation, and
I discovered that I overestimated my need for independence. The first few days were magical and relaxing; I listened to music, roamed my space freely, and felt an overall sense of calm. Then, everything started to change. The house became quiet – too quiet. I realized I missed connecting with my parents when I came home from a long day. I missed having others to talk to and share stories with. Most of all, though, I missed the mere presence of loving human beings with whom I felt safe.
Indeed, achieving a strong sense of well-being and spirituality can only be made possible through togetherness; meditation itself cannot save the lonely soul. Individuals must come together to promote inclusivity and create a sense of belonging within the community. The fact that we are living during a time when epidemics such as Islamophobia and racism are still permeating society means that Adler’s notion of gemeinschaftsgefühl may be just as important now as it has been historically. Neglecting others means we are neglecting ourselves.
For true spiritual healing to transpire, we must open our hearts and minds and have faith in the power of unity among people.
- Al-Anon Family Groups (AAFG). (2017). About Al-Anon family group meetings. Retrieved from http://al-anon.org/about-group-meetings
- Mosak, H., & Dreikurs, R. (2000). Spirituality: The fifth life task. Individual Psychology 56(3), 257-265.
- Murdock, N. L. (2013). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: A case approach. Boston, MA: Pearson