Spirituality in addiction recovery, Part 1

What is the role of spirituality in addiction recovery? Part 1

Spirituality in addiction recovery, Part 1/2

Here we will discuss the concept of all concepts in recovery from alcoholism and addiction: The role of spirituality in recovery.

Here are a few questions about spirituality in recovery we’ll address in this article.

  1. What is spirituality? How are you defining it or framing it here?
  2. What’s the difference between spirituality and religion?
  3. What is a spiritual experience? Is it exactly the same thing as a spiritual awakening?
  4. Is a spiritual awakening required in order to successfully recover from alcoholism/addiction?
  5. Do I have to adopt someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs?
  6. Can a recovering addict be spiritual if he happens to be an atheist, agnostic, or if he currently chooses a non-theistic Higher Power (e.g., AA itself, an AA group, a “Group of Drunks,” the proverbial light bulb, and so on)?
  7. Are you having trouble with the God thing and/or the spirituality of the program?

We will attempt to answer these questions and more. We’ll look at what the literature has` to say about spirituality as well as how the word is variously defined today. Upcoming articles will address specific spiritual principles, such as the principles behind the steps, spiritual practices in recovery, and so on.

The nature of the beast: Challenges in covering this subject matter

We believe all of us — writers, contributors, editors, and readers alike — can acknowledge at the outset that spirituality can be a complex and sensitive topic, and that these questions probably do not have one right answer. Compounding the complications of and sensitivity to the subject at hand is the fact that spiritual concepts are in some ways dependent upon one’s particular beliefs. In spite of these challenges we have chosen to address this vital theme and pledge to do our level best to provide reasonable, accurate answers.

Let’s go ahead and lay down a disclaimer that, like anyone else, we do not have all the answers, and, in an effort to cover basic aspects of spirituality in recovery in a reasonably open-minded manner, we fully accept that the points we make and the perspectives we describe may or may not represent ultimate reality or absolute truth. Isn’t it possible that real open-mindedness must include the genuine realization and understanding that, regardless of how attached a man may be to his particular worldview, beliefs, and opinions (e.g., those regarding religion, philosophy, politics, and everything else), they almost certainly do not mirror Reality or Ultimate Truth? Maybe genuine open-mindedness cannot exist without the understanding that, as humans, we are not privy to what’s behind the curtain of Reality. Can one who clings and grasps tightly to opinions and beliefs, refusing to consider alternatives, really be said to be open minded? May all our views continue to evolve and become more inclusive with ongoing experience, sobriety, and spiritual practice!

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Appendix II: Spiritual Experience, p.568 (Quote by William Paley, often misattributed to Herbert Spencer)

First in a series of articles about spirituality in recovery

Due to the breadth, depth, and vital importance of this subject, this will be the first in a series of articles concerning spirituality in recovery. Other characteristics of the nature of the topic also give weight to the notion of a series of articles; these characteristics might include preconceived ideas and concepts about spirituality, its degree of relation to organized religion, and the loaded, baggage-heavy nature of beliefs and opinions about spirituality in general.

A list of 177 mentions of spirituality in the literature (Source: 164 and More)

1. What is spirituality? How are you defining or framing it here?

Spirituality is not an easy concept to define. Perhaps the difficulty in defining spirituality is that its meaning is in no small part dependent upon the beliefs, religious or not, of each individual. Thanks to the availability of information today, the array of possible belief systems and spiritual paths available to most of us in the West is staggering when compared to what was obtainable in 1930s America. The visible spiritual landscape has blossomed in all directions since the Big Book was written.

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Of course, we can’t discuss spirituality as being a particular object or thing; it isn’t a specimen that can be analyzed and dissected. Spirituality is more of a dimension of human experience, and a crucial one at that, seemingly without boundaries. As such, spirituality itself is not subject to the typical protocols of scientific investigation. (However, the effects on the human body of certain spiritual practices can certainly be measured, and a number of interesting studies have been performed in the last couple of decades… mindfulness meditation studies, prayer studies, and more… but these are perhaps a subject for a future article.)

Spiritual vs. worldly

There’s a very simple litmus test for whether a particular individual tends toward worldliness or spirituality. Briefly put, worldly folks look outward while the spiritual look inward. Those who are worldly seek happiness, comfort, and inner peace through external things like careers, possessions, relationships, club memberships, social status, and so on. Those who are spiritual engage in an inner search for meaning and peace through acceptance, surrender, ego deflation, and so on, gaining a brand new, healthy perspective in the process.

This simple definition or characteristic of the spiritually minded goes hand in hand with the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

… deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God… We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us… If our testimony… encourages you to search diligently within yourself… then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway.
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, We Agnostics, p.55

Drastic changes in attitude are always a part of successful recovery, and they manifest themselves outwardly in all sorts of ways:

To be spiritual means to mature to a point beyond limited self-interest and anxiety about self. By its very nature, spirituality moves outward toward love, …citizenship, and mystical participation in the whole of life. It turns outward toward ritual, meditation, retreat, community, and the spiritual arts — all means of transcending the self. Out of that spiritual identification with a greater existence comes a deep-seated desire to protect, serve, and contribute, a positive and creative sense of moral responsiveness. (Article in Spirituality & Health magazine by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul)

Most definitions of spirituality seem to fit into one of these categories:

  • The basic feeling of being self-aware and in relationship, interdependent, or as one with others, nature, Higher Power, God, the universe. etc.
  • Underlying principles, such as ethics, morals, emotions, intuition, values, virtues, etc.
  • Activities and beliefs relating to a specific religion, spiritual path, or a combination of these
  • One’s journey of personal development, growth, and the development of wisdom; seeing the close relationship of inner thoughts/imagination/experience and outer manifestations

One writer said, “Spirituality can be thought of as the active ingredient of major world religions (and some humanistic ideologies too).” Perhaps spirituality is the active ingredient in all positive personal transformations, whether we realize it or not.

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives. (Anonymous)

Spirituality in direct relation to Higher Power

One common definition of spirituality often heard in the Dickson, TN recovery community is, that which strengthens or celebrates the relationship between the individual and his/her Higher Power. While an excellent definition in some respects, when taken at face value, defining spirituality in this way seems to imply or even require the individual to have a specific concept of a Higher Power. Going by this definition, can atheists and agnostics be spiritual?

What about others — say, folks to whom spirituality is a brand new concept — who do not yet have a concept of a Higher Power? Are they incapable of expressing spirituality in their actions simply because they presently lack a specific conception of God or a Higher Power? In practice, and as we at Discovery Place see on a daily basis, having an issue with “the whole God thing” is very common. Where does this definition leave them?

Interpreted broadly — and seemingly in line with what the founders of AA envisioned — this definition can work for any honest, open-minded, willing person who (1) Realizes that (s)he is not God and cannot recover alone, and (2) Approaches the subject in a manner that’s free of defiance or belligerent denial.

We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable. (Big Book, Spiritual Appendix, p.568)

More definitions of spirituality are shown later in this article.

2. What’s the difference between spirituality and religion?

Religion is about community, shared beliefs (often an agreed-upon “statement of faith” [1]), shared rituals, and mutual support.

Religion is any cultural system of worship, including designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, places, ethics, or organizations, that relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental. (Religion – Wikipedia)

Religion is optional, whereas spirituality is a requirement – not only in successful, long-term recovery from drugs/alcohol, but in any type of awakening from a state of ignorance toward wisdom and truth of the way things are.

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Religion as defined by the Free Dictionary:
1.a. The belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers, regarded as creating and governing the universe: respect for religion.
1.b. A particular variety of such belief, especially when organized into a system of doctrine and practice: the world’s many religions.
1.c. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order: a widow who went into religion and became a nun.
3. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion: a person for whom art became a religion.

Spirituality is about living life in surrender to reality, understanding that much of what society teaches us is simply untrue and thus gaining a healthier perspective on life; living on a spiritual basis helps us meet each moment with curiosity, appreciation, wonder, gratitude, mindfulness, humility, and love.

Spirituality is simply the journey along the Broad Highway of discovering the authentic self without any trimmings or labels, conveying to genuine practitioners a deeper meaning of life, a fertile source of values, and more, whatever one’s religion or lack thereof.

In seeking life’s meaning, religion and spirituality often come together. Spirituality highlights qualities such as caring, kindness, compassion, tolerance, service, and community, and, in its truest sense, so does religion. But where religion is necessarily molded by its specific teachings, beliefs, traditions, and rituals, spirituality is defined by what is real in our own experience, arising from an inner search within ourselves, the finding of our own truth. At their depth, spiritual experiences, and eventually awakenings, are completely subjective phenomena.

…difference between religion and spirituality… Religion can be defined as “belief in God or gods to be worshipped, usually expressed in conduct and ritual” or “any specific system of belief, worship, etc., often involving a code of ethics.” Spirituality can be defined as “the quality or fact of being spiritual, non-physical” or “predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone.” To put it briefly, religion is a set of beliefs and rituals that claim to get a person in a right relationship with God, and spirituality is a focus on spiritual things and the spiritual world instead of physical/earthly things. (What is the difference between religion and spirituality? from popular Christian resource GotQuestions.com)

Please stay tuned for part two of this article about the role of spirituality and spiritual principles in addiction recovery. Thanks for reading!

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