An excerpt from
12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery

by Allen Berger, PhD., Hazelden Publishing

Don’t Confuse a Spiritual Solution with a Spiritual Bypass

The spirituality to be discovered and uncovered through working the Twelve Steps offers a remarkable way of life. But believing that you don’t need to deal with personal issues because you have found an all-encompassing “spiritual solution” to your problems—a spiritual bypass—is simply a way to avoid the, at times, painful, difficult, and muddy work of self-discovery and healing.

Because we consistently practice sidestepping our discomfort or pain, it becomes an automatic response, a habitual way of functioning. When avoidance manifests itself in the context of our spirituality and recovery, it’s called a spiritual bypass. It’s is usually toxic to our full recovery because it interferes with our personal transformation.

Dr. Ingrid Mathieu’s Recovering Spirituality (2011) was the first book to discuss spiritual bypass as it relates to recovery in AA, and it remains a valuable resource. But those of us who suffer from addiction haven’t cornered the market on using spirituality to avoid dealing with ourselves. It’s tendency has been observed and discussed by several noteworthy spiritual teachers and psychotherapists.

In his book Toward a Psychology of Awakening, John Welwood defined spiritual bypassing as. . . using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional “unfinished business,” to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks, all in the name of enlightenment. (2002, p. 207)

Can you see how problematic a spiritual bypass would be in Stage II recovery? It is during this phase of recovery that the issues we have been avoiding usually come to the surface. In fact, I tell my clients that when long-buried issues surface in this phase of recovery, it doesn’t mean something is wrong. Quite the opposite! It indicates that something is right about our recovery. Because our sense of self is growing, we are now ready to face the many issues we’ve been avoiding.

Bill Wilson knew that we had to face who we had become in order to move toward the self we truly are. When discussing Step Five in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, he wrote, “To those of us who have made progress in AA, it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are followed by a sincere attempt to become what we can be.”

PART TWO: Spirituality as Avoidance (Luther’s Story)

PART THREE: Summary: Digging in the Muck