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Transforming Addiction

Transforming Addiction: The Role of Spirituality in Learning Recovery from Addiction
by Victoria Marie, PhD
Saarbrücken, Germany: Scholars’ Press, 2014
144 pages
Reviewed by Jacqueline Leksen

In this rich resource for spiritual directors and those who train and supervise them, pastor and scholar Victoria Marie brings to readers a wealth of knowledge and experience with the publication of her doctoral dissertation focusing on spirituality and its role in the transformation that occurs in recovery from addiction. With a unique perspective, blending personal experience and scholarship, Marie lets us listen in as recovering addicts—each of them now mentors, outreach workers, and counselors—tell the stories of their journey into addiction and their ongoing experience in recovery.

Marie describes herself as an African American (Canadian) Catholic woman and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Joy, a group living a simple lifestyle of solidarity with the poor. Her research was carried out in the Downtown Eastside-Strathcona area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with this focus question: “What can this study tell us about the role of spirituality in the process of recovery from addictions?” (5).  

Following the clearly articulated theological foundation of her work in social justice is an important discussion of how it feels to be categorized as “Other” because of ethnicity, poverty, and gender (11–17). This section deserves to be required reading for all who work in arenas of soul-tending. She writes of “the relationship between spiritual beliefs and the risk of substance abuse,” with one study indicating that “the more affirming and positive one’s childhood religion, the stronger one’s spirituality in recovery” (7). Her research also looks at factors leading to addiction, finding insight there into what might also trigger a relapse (126).

The book’s second chapter provides an extensive literature review that includes pertinent discussion of marginalization and dislocation, identity reconstruction and recovery, racism, twelve-step influence, spirituality, and sobriety, followed by a chapter explaining the author’s methodology. Included are charts with the demographics of each of the thirteen participants and one listing the cause of addiction as identified by each respondent (50), along with the number of adverse childhood experiences that each endured. As the research subjects tell their childhood narratives, articulating how their own “attempts to relieve emotional pain and physical pain; attempts to cope with stress and loss; and genetic or biochemical predisposition” led to their addictions (126), spiritual directors will recognize themes they have heard in their own work as sacred listeners.

A chapter on recovery processes includes learning recovery, budding spirituality, surrender, self-assessment and responsibility, spirituality, willingness to change, and non-complacency, followed by a discussion of the manifestations of spirituality, the importance of service, and what she terms the “We-ness of spirituality and recovery” (121). The final chapter contains conclusions, appendices, and an extensive bibliography. Ten years after her research, ten of the thirteen participants remained clean and sober; contact was lost with the remaining three.

Marie’s profound book has given me a renewed appreciation of the work of recovery for those whose lives have been impacted by addictions. The spiritual direction community will find clarifying insight and wisdom for their work of accompanying spiritual directees.

Jacqueline Leksen companions people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, including clergy, people in recovery, and those who struggle with poverty and homelessness in Seattle and Lynnwood, Washington, USA. Her interest in the field of addiction and recovery grows out of earlier work as a registered nurse in an alcohol and drug treatment center, where it was her privilege to witness the transformation of patients during early and ongoing recovery.

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