This year I will be 71 and that, unquestionably, qualifies me as an older adult. I have been fortunate enough to facilitate the Non-Residential Older Adult Program with The Retreat during the past 5 years. I am almost 20 years recovered from "a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body". I have always believed in a Divine Creator yet until 19 years ago had little-to-no belief in myself. Today I believe in myself and understand more fully the old adage continue "with age comes experience."
I hear many questions about the differences between older and younger adults in recovery. As I look back on my own life, I am in awe that I was born and raised in an alcoholic family, then somehow survived a long using history of my own. It is through that history, and my subsequent recovery, that I have come to understand what makes the biggest difference between the generations in recovery: the spirituality of experience.
The spirituality of experience is the idea that as I age, I develop a larger store of possible spiritual encounters: encounters with others, with myself, and with a Power greater than myself, encounters that remind me of my own powerlessness. When I was young I felt "bullet proof" like I would live forever. I no longer feel invincible. As I aged and used, consequences got worse, but I "thought I knew everything".
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states "alcohol is a great persuader". Eventually, the illusion of control over my life began to shatter. Life's lessons continued to teach me I was in deep denial about alcohol and drugs. I realized, through the spirituality of experience, that addiction was at the foundation of all that was going wrong for me. I was isolating. I needed to share life with others and I needed to trust my own inner experience.
Risk factors for substance abuse in older adults are remarkably similar to everyday experiences of aging and include personal loss, physical setbacks, slowing down, illness, home life, tedium, change, new surroundings, pain, mental health, self-image, and financial/legal pressures. As time goes on these factors tend to intensify and my own experience continues to teach me spiritual lessons: “you are not alone", "life is hard", and "pay attention". The spirituality of experience refines and deepens wisdom through grace.