clean and sober

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.

A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 10

This is the tenth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend. There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

Step 10 reads: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

The principle behind Step 10 is perseverance.

Scan of original image, (C) DigitalZen

Addiction is more than the compulsion to use alcohol and other drugs.  Over time, we adjust our thoughts, our ethics, our relationships, and our ways of looking at the world in order to accommodate the necessity of getting high.  Recovery is about changing those things.  During the first nine Steps, we dealt with the reality of our past and its effects on ourselves and others.  We worked hard on our recovery, traveled a long path, and — except for one thing — the hardest parts are behind us.  That one thing is making sure that we don’t fall back into our old ways of thinking and behaving.

In AA, they have a saying: “When you sober up a horse thief, all you get is a better horse thief.”  Unless we have progressed through the steps, genuinely and carefully, we run the risk of either losing their benefits or simply avoiding many of them in the first place.  Only after sobriety has become a habit do we really gain all of its gifts.  Only then are we truly “happy, joyous and free.”

Step 10 is about turning sobriety into a habit and keeping it that way.  To begin with, many of us sat down at the end of the day and actually wrote out a brief inventory of the day, perhaps in our journal.  We listed both the skillful and unskillful ways that we handled situations, and considered our part in any controversy and how we might have handled things better.  

We might have fallen back into an arrogant attitude at work, might have avoided responsibilities, might have had an argument with a spouse or co-worker, might have been unkind or thoughtless when dealing with a child.  Whatever it is, we look honestly at our part in it, and we do what we have to do — we make it right.  We make these little amends sincerely, and we do it before the situation worsens.  That avoids developing resentments, which are much harder to deal with.

If we carry out these little exercises consistently, we find that being honest with ourselves and admitting our mistakes becomes easier.  After a time, we find that we apply our new personal standards to things before they happen.  We think about better ways to handle situations, instead of just reacting with our old addict instincts

Finally, over time, our new ways of dealing with life become new instincts, and we move out of the world of early recovery into the realm of genuine sobriety.

When do you know that you don’t want to do any more drugs?

I’ve been skipping over this question for a while, because there is no way that the answer can be anything but subjective. I can’t possibly answer it for someone else. I finally decided that it’s too important just to blow off with an excuse. Someone asked that question because they were still hurting, and someone else out there is too. Subjective it will have to be.

In my own case, I knew it some time before I got clean and sober, but I just didn’t think it was possible. I knew what happened if I went even for short periods without alcohol or a substitute, and there was no way (that I could see) to quit. But did I want to be free? Oh yes, desperately!

That’s the first part of the answer — the bottom that we talk about. The solution was forced upon me by my boss, who had a better grasp of the possibilities than I. After three weeks of detox and treatment, aftercare, a few hundred 12-step meetings and with the help of my newfound recovering friends, I was in fairly decent shape.

But the question still isn’t answered. When did the craving, the need go away? I honestly can’t say. The intensive program I was working kept me so busy that I hardly had time to think about using. At a couple of points down the line I got the impulse to have a drink or use. Looking back, I can attribute that directly to relationship and work difficulties that I still hadn’t learned to deal with in a less self-destructive way. At least one of those was a case of “drinking at” someone (except, thank goodness, I didn’t).

The desire to turn my brain off with drugs just disappeared when I wasn’t looking. At some point, I realized that I hadn’t thought about using for some time, and wasn’t especially interested in thinking about it then — and it’s been that way ever since. I don’t know if I was especially fortunate in that regard or not. Just as one person can never know (nor judge) another’s pain, so can I not relate my cravings, or lack of them, to someone else’s.

What I can do is tell you why they went away. I found better ways to cope with life. My program, the people in the 12-step rooms, the wonderful friends I made, the relationships that I developed with my wife, kids and other family, and the feeling of self-worth I got from helping others were all so much better that I couldn't imagine throwing that all away — again.

I believe there are three stages to recovery. The first occurs while we’re still using, when we decide we want out. The second is early on, when we are taking the first steps toward learning to live without drugs, and the third is the “maintenance phase,” where we keep on doing the things that helped us to begin with, and things keep getting better as a result. That’s exactly the way the 12 steps work, and I reached that point through their help. It’s not the only way, but it has worked for me and a lot of other folks I know.

And I haven’t wanted to do any more drugs for a long time now.

What about you? What was your experience? Please comment!


I've never liked the expression “slip” as applied to relapse.   It sounds so innocuous, sort of  “Ooooooh, I had a little slip.”  It ain't no little thing, and it doesn't happen when we pick up; it happens well before that.  Like the recovery process, relapse is progressive and predictable — the result of neglecting our program — and using only makes it official.

Is There A Difference Between “Clean” and “Sober”

Clean is when the drugs have left our system.

There are three aspects to sobriety:

  • Physical sobriety, where we are abstinent for a long enough time for our brains to begin to recover so that we can think more clearly and make decisions based on reality instead of confusion and fear;
  • Emotional and spiritual sobriety, where we come to terms with who we are, what we have done, and what we must do to right the wrongs we have perpetrated (to the extent possible), learn to re-connect with other people, and begin to get comfortable in our own skins; and
  • Social sobriety, where we re-enter the world by actually making things right with others, and develop socially so that we are re-integrated with the world outside the recovery community.

These things take time.  Physical recovery alone can take a couple of years after we detox, depending on the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves  Sometimes it takes months before we can even begin to think straight.

We may need help from friends, counselors, even physicians, in order to get our neurological system and lives back in order.

We need to be working on our attitude toward life and toward ourselves and the things we have done. (This is where the support groups like AA, NA and the others can be of profound importance.)

And we need to become employed, make amends for the past, renew our relationships and grieve those that are not, for one reason or another, renewable.  We need to remember — or perhaps learn for the first time — how non-addicts live and relate to each other, their jobs, their spirituality and the world at large.

As you can see, looked at this way, there is a HUGE difference between “clean” and “sober.”  Sobriety is a continuum.  It begins the moment we decide that we can no longer live the life of an addict, and continues to where we are again a part of society — and beyond.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t easy.  It isn’t even especially simple — but it is possible.

Millions of us have gotten sober in the past, and millions of us will in the future — as long as we stick with the process until it is finished.  If we forget our goals, or fail to continue to reach for them, we are soon on the way down the slippery slope of addict thinking, and a drink or a drug is not far in our future.