Spirituality and Addiction
Spirituality is not Religion
“I used to always get so annoyed whenever the subject of spirituality came up. I saw myself as a rational and sceptical person, and I didn’t want to hear about any fanciful nonsense or woo. When my therapist suggested that spirituality could play a powerful role in my recovery, I automatically went on the defensive and became resistant. It took me a bit of time to realise it was my preconceived notions that were the problem and not what was being suggested.”
NOTE: Spirituality is not religion, however religion may incorporate spiritual principals and values – before making a decision about whether to embrace a spiritual recovery it is worth breaking down the raw components of what spirituality is. It is not jus an airy-fairy new-age term that people sometimes use to make themselves sound and look good. It is generally a positive attitude and philosophy that can be used in daily life as a practical tool…
Spirituality is compatible with non-belief (e.g. atheism or agnosticism). Being in nature or looking up at the star-filled sky and feeling a sense of wonder could be described as a spiritual experience. It is not necessary to adopt any new beliefs – all that is required is a sense of awe.
Problem Solving Spiritually
Adopting a Spiritual problem solving style means having a reliable managing system that supports you:
Many people in recovery from addiction/Alcoholism identify themselves a spiritual but not religious. Spirituality is a broad concept involving a connection to something bigger than ourselves, such as universal forces, or a higher power or even a group of addicts.
So What is Spirituality?
There should be no divide between practitioners of psychology and those of spirituality. After all spirituality is a form of positive psychology that helps us comprehend aspects of existence, death, and nature.
The Spiritual Ego, As Freud rightly documented religion has been a way of avoiding, denying or defending against reality and harshness of existence. Also a way to avoid accepting full responsibility for one’s behavior.
The most important thing to understand about spirituality is that it is not the same as being religious. It isn’t only believers who get to feel spiritual – atheists can also feel the same way as well. This is because spirituality is not about holding a certain set of beliefs, but feeling a sense of connectedness with something bigger. If you look up at the night sky and feel moved by the immensity of it all, you are having a spiritual experience.
“Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” Bonnie Raitt
The use of the word God in the AA literature is a block for many accessing the AA program. It is always qualified with ‘as we understand it’ more recently the word Higher Power (HP) is being used. The original text was written 80 years ago by middle-aged, middle class, Christian recovering alcoholics in America. They were trying to convey the message that much of the solution is best described as spiritual. This is to find and nurture hope, faith and a sustainable belief in oneself, also the willingness to persevere through uncertainty and setbacks in order to remain clean and sober. Many do this by accepting a form of what we now call spirituality or psychologists call positive psychology. Developing a sense of meaning and overall purpose is said to be equally important.
Direct Benefits of adopting a Spiritual attitude:
Spiritual practice also helps manage emotions and cravings, encourage a healthy relationship with self and positive thinking, decreased focus on self, and can build healthy social circles.
Loss of interest, depression, hopelessness, lack of connection with others, extreme selfish pursuits, lack of humility, meaninglessness, not trusting own intuition, loss of joy.
Daily rituals, taking sacred time, lighting a candle, daily readings of collective wisdom, daily prayer, affirmations, mindfulness and meditation, gratitude lists, and soul searching.
Synchronization, karma, higher-self, higher power, helping power, the group, inner power, Science, the Group.
Higher power or Inner power
Carl Jung – Spirituality is genetic and therefore universal in all mankind’s collective unconscious.
A philosophy for life – Buddhist practice results in increased satisfaction, study by Wisconsin Uni, Scans of a group of Buddhists brains reveal activity in left prefrontal lobe, linked to positive emotions, self-control and temperament were constantly lit-up.
William James – Philosopher said, ‘all sunshine makes a desert’ and identified himself as a sick soul, wrote about the psychology of religion, He referred to a mind-cure involving positive thinking. He introduced the spiritual-self as separate from material-self and social-self. People who commit crime often believe in God whether they practice a value system or not (Gallup poll stat).
Spirituality does mean different things to different people, but here are just some of the ways people describe it:
Spirituality Addiction Recovery
“Moments of perception can build into a lifetime of spiritual serenity, as I have excellent reason to know. Roots of reality, supplanting the neurotic underbrush, will hold fast despite the high winds of the forces which would destroy us, or which we would use to destroy ourselves.” – Bill W
Those of us who fall into addiction often describe a feeling of having a ‘hole in our soul’. It is like there is something significant missing from our life, and we need alcohol or drugs to numb this feeling of loss. After we get sober, this feeling of lack can remain, and it can lead to dangerous thoughts like ‘what is the point of staying sober?’
The most important thing spirituality can do for us is giving our life a sense of meaning and purpose – it can fill that hole in our soul. We still may not hold any firm metaphysical or religious beliefs, but the feeling of being part of something bigger can give us great strength and comfort. It becomes like a beacon that we can aim towards, and the more we allow spirituality to infuse our lives, the more we feel like we are coming home.
The biggest payoff for following a spiritual path is the development of serenity. This is an inner sense of equanimity and peace that can be there regardless of what is happening in our lives. It means we can face the future without any fear, and we become a source of comfort for our friends and family. Serenity is developed through spiritual practices such as letting go, acceptance, and self-compassion.
Being spiritual is all about living life on life’s terms, and it requires the willingness to deal with whatever comes our way. It is about thinking less about ourselves and more about other people. Most of all, spirituality is about discovering what we are and not about trying to become something we are not.
“I think a spiritual journey is not so much a journey of discovery. It’s a journey of recovery. It’s a journey of uncovering your own inner nature. It’s already there.”
Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins)
How to Find Your Spiritual Path in Recovery
One of the things you need to understand about spirituality is that there is not one path you are required to follow. Maybe you will find great comfort by embracing a religion, or maybe you will find the same comfort without ever developing any real conception of God or anything metaphysical. There is no right or wrong spiritual path in recovery, there is only your path.
There are practices that are effective for promoting our spiritual side and one of these is meditation. The Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism are most strongly associated with this practice, but there is also a long history of meditation in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – as well as pagan, Native American, and Aboriginal belief systems. Meditation is a way to quieten the mind in order to experience other states of consciousness and to escape the demands of the ego.
If you are going to be using a 12 Step Program, there is the suggestion you try to believe in a higher power. There is actually a great deal of flexibility in how you interpret this suggestion, and some people will view the power of the group as being their higher power. The important thing is not that you are believing in a specific interpretation of ‘God’, but that you stop believing you are in control and become willing to consider the possibility of something bigger.
Some of the other practices that can be useful as part of a spiritual path would include:
This post was updated April 2022.
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