Spirituality and Recovery: An Insider’s Guide

It's safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is - and from their point of view, they may be right.If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an addict, or your loved one or friend or employee is. You probably have your own ideas of what constitutes addiction. They may be informed by education or ignorance, experience or listening to others. They may be sympathetic or condemning. However, it’s safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is—and from their point of view, they may be right.

But we who have struggled with the monkey on our back know things about addiction that no one else knows. That’s not to say that we’re any smarter about it, it just means that we, too, have our point of view, and from the inside it’s rarely pleasant. We beat ourselves up, we focus on our regret, on resentments, on past and present mistakes, about the things we missed out on, on how we were treated, on how the world is being run, on our future. It would be enough to make us crazy, if we weren’t already. And that’s because, as the title implies, “addiction is the opposite of spirituality.”

Okay, fine. But what is spirituality? Well, the spirituality I mean is the “human spirit,” not related to religion at all, although they compliment each other well in some cases. As far as this addict is concerned, spirituality is those things of the spirit that are missing from all addicts to one degree or another.

For example, there’s tolerance, the willingness to let others do their own thing. Most addicts are control freaks, and want to direct the show. Tolerance, in addition to promoting harmony, allows the other party to learn. Few of us learn from the mistakes of others. We claim to, but in reality we’re bit players in every story but our own, and other folks’ mistakes rarely teach us much. When screw up ourselves, the lesson tends to stick. Tolerant folks mostly ignore things that aren’t their business.

Patience goes along with tolerance. It’s the darndest thing: people insist on doing things their own way, not ours. We aren’t going to change that unless we’re both wearing uniforms, and maybe not even then. Some drivers are slow getting away from red lights. (Of course, we never are.) Some speakers go on and on in meetings about things that bore us. Tough. Do we really think they’re on the edge of their chairs waiting for drops of gold to drip from our lips? The package will get here when FedEx delivers it. Our significant other will stop talking eventually, then it’s our turn to yammer. Patience helps us get through boring, frustrating, “painful” moments without getting riled up or angry or annoyed.

Then there’s forgiveness. There’s a saying  “resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Rarely do others worry about our resentments; we’re the ones who do the worrying. We eat ourselves up over things that others did “to” us, not realizing that we are the ones making ourselves miserable. Forgiveness is being willing to let go. If we’re still stewing about something someone did, or didn’t do, who are we hurting? Chances are good that the other party has forgotten all about it. How dare they? Well, who cares? That’s what forgiveness is about. We don’t have to let the guy near our entertainment equipment again, but letting go of the stuff he stole from us last year helps us, not him. If we can’t do that, we need to talk to a shrink, because the TV is gone, gone, gone.

the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality.Compassion and love, the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality. People have to let us learn to love them, but we can be compassionate towards anyone we meet. Give the bum a dollar. Don’t decide you know what he’s going to do with it, just imagine how it feels out there in the rain with that sign. Be patient with the old lady digging for change in the grocery line, and consider how hard it must be to live on a limited income—and to be old and know it isn’t going to change.

Responsibility strengthens relationships. It’s doing our part, whether it’s showing up to chair that 7:00 A.M. meeting, or staying after work a bit to make sure our job is done properly. It’s being dependable, and taking our share of whatever load, doing what we can for everyone’s benefit.

All of these things lead to harmony, the feeling that everything is sailing along as it should. Not that everything’s perfect—that’s not harmony, it’s delusion—but just the feeling that things are going okay. No one’s rubbing on anyone’s nerves too badly; we’re in a good space, so that getting cut off in traffic is just another unskillful driver, not a personal affront…stuff like that.

And on rare occasions, we simply feel wonderful, for no particular reason. That’s joy. It doesn’t happen very often, but if we pay attention to the other things we’ve discussed, it happens more frequently than we might think.

We don't have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn't us.If we use the opposites of all the things I’ve discussed, we can pretty much put together a picture of an active addict, or an addict who isn’t in recovery. When we say recovery programs are spiritual, we’re talking about changing from our previous ways of looking at life to the more skillful ways we’re talking about here. We become spiritual by practicing spirituality, not by just going to church. We say “practice,” because these things are skills that can be learned, and if we want to be happy and stay sober, we need to learn them. We don’t have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn’t us.

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