The term spiritual bypass is attributed to well-known author and lecturer, John Welwood. He defined a spiritual bypass as the tendency of jumping to a higher power or some other spiritual force prematurely in an effort to avoid having to actually deal with reality. Take for example the failure to deal with critical health, financial, work or legal issues after stabilizing in recovery, and after sufficient time free of the effects of a substance or behavior. Often times, folks will use the spiritual bypass to avoid dealing with underlying emotions that make us feel uncomfortable. In essence, spiritual bypass is another term for avoidance, denial or whatever you want to call not dealing with truth.
I often have to remind myself that incorporating a spiritual practice into my recovery does not necessarily mean only focusing on those things that make me feel good. Often times, my greatest spiritual growth comes from things that are unpleasant, and require me to step out of my comfort zone in order to deal with. Moreover, I recognize that a spiritual bypass also takes me out of the present and into the past, future, or some other place far away from where I am physically located. To deal with uncomfortable issues, it is critical to stay in the present.
First Time Around – Spiritual Bypass
A good example of my personal use of a spiritual bypass was my tendency during my first time in recovery to not address financial amends that needed to be made. When I would receive certified letters from the I.R.S., I would put them in the drawer and let them accumulate. I didn’t open them, did not respond and never reached out to resolve the issue. All the while, I would go to meetings and share about my “spiritual growth,” “working steps” and the virtues of “the program.” Although I told people I was working steps, I wasn’t really, and I had no intention to. It is very easy to talk the talk, especially at meetings, while not practicing the principles in all of our affairs. Eventually, given my recovery lacked a proper foundation, just like a house of cards, things collapsed in around me. I could hide the letters in the drawer, but eventually, liens were filed and things caught up with me and contributed to my relapse.
I use financial amends as an example, but the same pattern of bullshitting myself and others applied in almost all other aspects of my life and recovery.
This Time Around – Spiritual Growth
This time around, I recognized that I had to deal with my financial amends right up front. I took working the steps incredibly seriously. My financial issues were a major part of my fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and tenth steps. I do not believe that anything is an “outside issue” as every aspect of my life impacts my ability to stay sober and/or desire for a drink or drugs. It is impossible to compartmentalize recovery and succeed. We must take into consideration those issues that are often thought of as “outside issues” such as nutrition, exercise, addressing financial amends, and figuring out work-related issues, personal relationships, etc., so that our recovery has a strong foundation.
By doing everything wrong in recovery the first time around, I was able to use my failures to achieve success this time around.
I made a list of creditors, wrote them letters explaining my situation and sent minimal good-faith payments. I promised that when things got better, I would pay in full. In regard to the I.R.S., I physically went to my local office and again explained my situation. I also made good-faith payments, and then paid additional amounts over time, as I was able to do so. I worked incredibly hard, and about three and a half years into my recovery. I eventually paid off all my consumer debt, back taxes, interest and penalties. The thought of giving all my money to the government rather than putting it in my pocket made me so miserable, but after I made the payments, I felt so much better. I started to track my credit rating and saw it improve slowly over time as I paid off credit card and other debt in a timely manner. I am up to date on my taxes, and no longer get certified mail from the I.R.S. and State of New York. No more unannounced visits by tax agents looking to discuss my back taxes with me.
Similar to how I handled my financial amends, I jumped right into step work, applied what I was learning to all the relevant “outside issues” that needed adjustment and gave it my best. The results have been far in excess of what I thought I was capable of and confirm that the more effort I put in, the more benefit I get out.
A Spiritual Bypass Is Not Sober Behavior
I now recognize that it wasn’t sober to put the certified letters in the drawer and then go to a meeting and espouse my new lifestyle, the virtues of my step work (which I wasn’t actually doing) and my purported spiritual connection. I was lying to myself, and lying to others and eventually, the house of cards collapsed in on me. Rather than retreating from challenges that I don’t find pleasant, I now try to engage those challenges head on, without fear, and as honestly as possible. That leads to spiritual growth.
Had I not dealt with my financial amends, Spiritual Adrenaline would never have become a reality. My back taxes would have caught up with me and liens would have come down, which would have precluded my investing in Spiritual Adrenaline and seeing my vision come alive
Real spiritual growth is hard. It’s uncomfortable. We grow from things that are hard and uncomfortable. In the AA publication The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it states that “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress.” I humbly concur.
If you are feeling uncomfortable, you’re likely moving in the right direction.
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