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Turning Points: Making Meaning Through Ritual

By: Rev. Jack Abel, Senior Director of Spiritual Care

1 Your Role
I want to learn about treatment options for:

2 Basic Information
The Person is:
years old

graduated high school

3 Condition Information
Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.
Over a century ago, anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep observed that human beings use rituals to mark moments of passage. We are familiar with these in grand and terrible ways: marriages, graduations, funerals. In recovery, however, it can be beneficial to mark lesser milestones along the way – as we “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny,” taking “one day at a time.”

Many people think that ritual is difficult, or that it requires a pastor, priest, minister, rabbi, shaman, or other practitioner. While it may contribute to the meaningfulness of a ritual to involve our faith leaders, there is no reason individuals, families, or small groups cannot create and treasure ritual experience in a “do-it-yourself” way.

Two of the rites of passage we experience in twelve step recovery are annual “coin” celebrations, and – arguably more importantly – the sharing of our fourth step inventory in the fifth step experience. The eighth step amends do not always have a ritual feel, but sometimes are very much that way. We feel different afterwards, as if something deep within us and our meaning world has changed. Morning and evening practice, or prayer “throughout the day, whenever we are agitated or doubtful,” can have a small or even micro-ritual feel and form.

To mark these experiences in recovery as ritual, particularly if we are not formally trained in ritual process, it can be helpful to understand the simple architecture that most rituals exhibit. The structure is not obscure: it’s essence is “beginning, middle, and end.” We mark that a ritual is taking place, we have reflection and action in the “middle” process, and we celebrate or signify that the ritual has ended. Even complex ceremonies, like a wedding, funeral, coronation, or graduation, is built out of components and within a grand beginning/middle/end structure.

Perhaps the deepest observation within the preceding “how to” paragraph is the expansion of the word “middle” to “reflection and action.” In rituals, we look back and move forward. In looking back, it can be very helpful to call upon whatever serves as wisdom for us: a reading from our recovery literature, a passage from poetry or scripture that comes to mind, even something we learned from a mentor or elder. In moving forward, we may burn or shred a document, light, merge, or extinguish a candle flame, create an artifact or artistic object, say a prayer, or take time in meditation – do something. This is part of what makes a ritual: it is a meaningful enacting that we can look back to and identify as “what took place when.”

Right now, you have begun what can be a ritual experience, in opening yourself to this small article in the Caron Connection. We have reflected on the wisdom of ritual practice. Take a moment in this second to say a prayer of gratitude and express an intention. Then, when you are ready, move forward with your intention. As another tradition is fond of saying, “this is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”