People can attest just about anything to being the reason why someone “became” an addict. However, for those of us who make it into the rooms of a 12 step program on the journey of recovery, we are often surprised, and to be honest, sometimes even doubtful, when we hear that what was really our problem, was that we were spiritually sick.
We are told that we have to find some sort of spirituality in order to continue to stay sober, which makes many of us, well… super uncomfortable. The whole… God thing, is honestly one of the most common reasons why many people don’t move forward with the program.
However, before you go running into the hills, remembering every Sunday spent in Church or every time you had to get dressed up to attend temple for holidays or those awful panty hose and uncomfortable seats, be comforted in knowing that Spirituality and Religion are two TOTALLY different things. Let me explain.
What is Spirituality?
Okay, so the definition of spirituality is so wide and diverse, that it is honestly pretty hard to define in one sentence. So here are a few quotes from “spiritual peoples” to help put things into a little bit of perspective:
- “Spirituality is a brave search for the truth about existence, fearlessly peering into the mysterious nature of life”
- “Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it” – Jack Kornfield
- “I looked in temples, churches, and mosques, but I found the Divine within my heart” – Rumi
- “The essence of spiritual life is simply to use our free will properly” – Radhanath Swami
- Religion is the belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience” – Deepak Chopra
And my personal favorite:
- “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals itself in the slight details we are able to perceive without frail and feeble mind” – Albert Einstein
Long story short, the major difference between spirituality and religion, is that spirituality can be much more all-encompassing than any religion you have tried, or avoided, which is exactly what 12 step programs intended when they discuss a Higher Power.
The Higher Power Thing
For a long time, for most people struggling with addiction, there was always a power struggle with control. Using was the only way many of us knew how to feel like we were in control, or completely out of control, whichever we liked to feel more. Ask almost any clean and sober addict or alcoholic if they have a control problem, and they will probably laugh and tell you a funny story about how their control issues have gotten them into trouble in the past or even in their current life!
The importance of a Higher Power is that we are able to surrender our control to something else. Let’s be real here, the idea of giving control to another human being probably makes you cringe as much as it does for me, but that is why our Higher Power is something OTHER than any individual human. Your HP, should you choose to accept it, should be something, ANYTHING, that is totally out of your control, something with more power than you, and something that wants the best for you.
If you are having a hard time figuring out just what you want your HP to look like, try a couple of these on for size!:
- Gravity – no matter how hard you try, you cannot control gravity, it controls the tides, time, speed, the earth’s rotation, pretty much everything.
- Nature – meditate on how strong and sturdy nature is. When humans are dead and gone, the earth will grow from us, forever creating new life.
- The Ocean – massive, mysterious, deep, and full of life. Definitely out of your control and more powerful than any of us.
- The Universe – we honestly don’t even know just how massive it really is, and it is pretty unfathomable when we really think about how everything that makes up our being is the same stuff that makes up the entire rest of the universe (Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Hydrogen, to be precise)
Or hey, you might even choose to re-embrace the religion you were raised in or looking into a new one, which is awesome too!
Whatever you chose to make your Higher Power, the most important factor is not only that it should be something YOU have no power over, but it should be something you feel connected to in some way or another.
Why is Spirituality Important for Sobriety?
If you take all of the 12 steps together and condense them into one basic idea, it is pretty much, to stop being selfish. Now you might be thinking, “Who, ME?” and the answer is, yes, you, but not just you. All of us, everyone. Human beings are somewhat designed to be selfish, it was an evolved defense mechanism that was designed to help us stay alive.
However, for addicts and alcoholics, our instinctual desires to be safe, protected, and to get what we need, began to get a little out of whack somewhere along the line, which put is into a position of developing a simultaneously inflated and deflated ego, which is either constantly putting us down, or putting us above everyone else. Re-read that a few times for good measure.
So the reason spirituality is so important in sobriety is because spirituality primarily helps us to be “other-oriented” or in other words, to stop thinking about ourselves all the time. The whole purpose of the 12th step usually consists of going out and helping other people to get sober.
The step literally promises that we will have had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the previous 11 steps, and now our job is to go out and live everything we’ve learned. Well, what we have learned in the previous 11 steps was:
- How to surrender our problems to something else
- How to let go, accept, and forgive the BS of the past
- How to be better people, just a little, every day
If you look at any form of spiritual practice and even most religions, they all somewhat promote these ideals, which are basically just encouraging humans to be kind to each other and try to make life a little bit easier for someone else, each day. This, in turn, makes our lives exponentially easier because we no longer have to fight everyone and everything. Instead, we are turning our problems over to our Higher Power, and learning to become a little more spiritual, every day.
Important side note, no matter what form of spirituality or religion you choose to embark with, remember to be gentle with yourself! You are not a guru, or the pope, what you are, is an addict looking for a better life. Some days are going to be beautiful, and some days you are going to just be grateful you didn’t get high, but no matter what, your spirituality will work with you as long as you work with it!
It can be overwhelming even thinking about going to rehab, never mind actually doing it. However, if you are suffering from even just one of these signs, reaching out for help is the best chance you have to put an end to your substance use disorder for good.
Do not ignore yourself and your needs. You are worth getting the appropriate treatment so that you no longer have to live in this dangerous cycle of abuse. Reach out to us right now. We can help.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.