Specialist in addiction medicine since 1973, author of The Twelve Step Pathway - A Heroic Journey of Recovery


A review of Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr

Posted on February 26, 2023, tagged as Richard Rohr, addiction, spirituality

A review of Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr, Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021

Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the Roman Catholic church who has been gifted with deep spiritual awareness along with superb communication skills. Thus, he has been able to educate and inspire people for many years, people who were suffering and seeking to make sense of their lives. In 2011 he brought new insights into the problem of addictions with the publication of this marvelous book. It was updated and reissued in 2021. He draws on his life experience as a priest, educator, and counselor in this effort. He shares pearls of wisdom gleaned from the Bible as well as from some of my spiritual mentors including Meister Eckhart, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Thomas Merton.

Father Rohr understands addiction as excessive attachment to anything which feeds the ego (e.g. wealth, power, sex) or provides an escape from life (e.g. alcohol, food, gambling).Even religion can be an addiction. He rightly says that because of the denial involved in such a process the afflicted person, group, or society is unable to see the situation for what it has become. Such attachments squeeze the spiritual breath out of people, groups, and even whole societies. Father Rohr understands that many people are unable to find the spiritual answer to their addictions in the church—that the spiritual solution for such people is in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or other Twelve Step fellowship. He says that the way out of the addictive dilemma must be a spiritual one, but seldom do persons with addictions find religion to be an effective starting point on their journey of healing. In this regard, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous provides the spiritual community and plan of action that meets this need. As Father Richard says, and as often been heard at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there.” He emphasizes the importance of ego reduction, of moving the center of awareness from the head to the heart where we are most likely to make a personal connection with a Higher Power, whether called God or not. He says that learning to pray is the work of moving the effort from the head to the heart where we can feel the spiritual energy rather than thinking about it. His book provides a valuable understanding of recovery as a spiritual pathway, guided by the Twelve Steps. My hope is that this book finds its way to the millions of people who are involved at any stage of recovery from addiction, or indeed any life circumstance which has brought on suffering.