spirituality in recovery

Why did I have so much spirituality before I got clean, and now I can’t seem to get it back?

We go through a lot of changes when we get clean and sober.  After all, our whole world is turned around.  We go from total self-involvement to learning to depend on and to help others.  Our priorities shift from finding mood-altering chemicals to trying to get them mostly out of our minds.  We begin to look at our past realistically, and we start learning to forgive ourselves and move on with our lives.

We also have post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) to deal with.  Those issues can range from an inability to sit still and think about much of anything, to depression — occasionally both in the same person.  They are caused by changes in our brain as it repairs itself and returns to something like normal, and they can go on for months, alternating relatively good periods with some pretty uncomfortable times.  But millions have gotten through PAWS successfully.  With the help of our program, so can we.

Recovery takes time.  Getting to something like normal takes time.  And time takes time.  We are accustomed to getting what we want when we want it, and having immediate results from the getting.  Suddenly we are being told that we’re “right where you’re supposed to be,” and we don’t like hearing it one bit.  We still what what we want, when we want it.  As the old joke goes, “God, please grant me the gift of patience…right now!”

So it’s not too surprising that we find ourselves unable to focus on spiritual things.  In fact, our concepts of spirituality may themselves be undergoing changes, and considering the other changes happening in our lives, that’s hardly a surprise either.

The best thing for us to do is follow suggestions, remember that we have the rest of our lives to develop both our sobriety and a spiritual way of life, and simply not worry about it for the time being.  If we get up in the morning with the realization that we’re not hurting, and are grateful for it; if we try to do the next right thing as often as we can; if we sit down at the end of the day, consider our successes and failures, and remember that we have tomorrow to improve; if we remember to be thankful for a day without getting high and the prospect of another one tomorrow, then we have done all we need to do to insure that our spiritual life will develop, in it’s own time.

Just like recovery, spiritual growth is a process, not an event.

Questions from Newcomers: Will it be harder to recover if you don’t believe in God?

If we believe in a loving god who cares what happens to us, looks after us, and answers prayers, the peace that our belief brings will unquestionably be a great support in recovery.  On the other hand, if we believe that a god will take care of us simply because we ask, without our putting any effort into our recovery process, then it is quite possible that believing could hinder our recovery.  Likewise, if we were raised to believe in a harsh, punishing god who will make us pay for our transgressions, we may find that we are emotionally unable to deal with the implications and may so totally reject the “God Thing” (as many of us call it) that we end up throwing our recovery out with our religious beliefs.

We tell newcomers that their god can be a tree, doorknob or the group because, in reality, religion is a non-issue when it comes to the nuts and bolts of recovery.  In order to have a shot at recovering, we need to acknowledge that “our best thinking got us here,” (to quote another recovery cliché) and accept that we really don’t know how to do it.  That, in turn, leads to the inescapable conclusion that we need to stop trying to do things our way and let someone else help us.  This can be really hard for addicts and alcoholics who spent years defending their every behavior, but it is absolutely essential if we are going to escape our active addictions.

If we decide that “God as we understood Him” is the god of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, or one or more of the many gods associated with the Hindu faith, or the Wiccan goddess, that’s fine.  We can turn our will and our life over to the care of that entity, in the sense that we become humble enough to trust the recovery process, and listen to people who know what they’re talking about.  The comfort that we get from our beliefs will be a help as long as we don’t think that religion is all we need.

Recovery is about being honest with ourselves and those around us, open — both in the sense of accepting input from others and letting them know a little about who we are — and willing to “go to any lengths” to develop the qualities we need in order to recover.  It is about learning forgiveness, compassion, tolerance (even of people who believe differently from us), humility, acceptance, and the other things that are involved in living with and around other people.  It is about eventually becoming able to re-enter society and live a functional, productive life.  The “spirituality” that we talk about in recovery is not religion, it is the development of the human spirit.  It is about becoming comfortable in our own skin — about not needing to turn our brains off in order to achieve a reasonable degree of comfort, happiness and, occasionally, joy.  It is about learning that we don’t have to feel good all the time, and appreciating the times that aren’t so good along with the better ones.  After all, aren't most of them — even the bad ones — better than when we were using alcohol and other drugs?  The difference is that, like the rest of humanity, we're actually present in our lives, not hiding from them.

We can see that it is quite possible to achieve the qualities needed for recovery without believing in a metaphysical presence.  That is not to say that belief is not desirable or helpful, if that’s where our head is coming from, but many of us have recovered successfully without religious beliefs.    We also need to be really careful to insure that our objection to the beliefs of others (which are really none of our business) doesn't become an excuse to avoid the recovery process.  That's killed a lot of addicts.  Denial isn't a river in Africa.

“To thine own self be true” is the key.  Most of us were square pegs.  We need to learn that it’s OK — that we don’t have to fit into openings made for other shapes, and that we don't need chemicals for lubrication.  Learning that, and appreciating ourselves for who and what we really are, is what recovery is all about.