Spirituality is an important part of recovery and one that can be left to the side for individuals who are secular or agnostic. But, while most-famous for its link to 12-Step programs and Alcoholics Anonymous, spirituality is an element of human nature and one that applies whether or not you believe in a higher power. In fact, 12-Step groups are more and more often using looser definitions of “higher power”, allowing individuals to find their spiritual awakening in aspects of themselves that are not the physical.
Spiritual awakening and spirituality are widely regarded as important in influencing positive outcomes in recovery. This “awakening” is also something different for many people, but typically involves simply recognizing that sense of the deeper self, which is typically impossible while suffering from a substance use disorder. If you’re about to go into treatment, are going to a 12-step program, or are otherwise wondering what a spiritual awakening is in recovery and how it affects you, keep reading.
The Spiritual Element of Recovery
Any time you talk to someone going through recovery or who has been in recovery for a long time, you’ll hear phrases like “I found myself”, “I found deeper meaning in life”, “I realized the beauty of life”. These phrases all sound like they’re about different things, but they mostly refer to spirituality.
Addiction and recovery very much have a spiritual element, although this heavily depends on your definition of spirituality. For example, one definition reads:
“Modern usages tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”, often in a context separate from organized religious institutions, such as a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaning, religious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”.
People who are able to find a deeper meaning in life through any reason are better able to find external motivation and validation, thereby giving themselves the tools to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
This is especially relevant considering that substance abuse contributes to a blunting of spirituality and the emotional ability to feel. GABA receptor stimulation, emotional blunting, and changes in the reward circuitry of the brain mean that individuals struggling with substance use disorder are often incapable of understanding or feeling spirituality. Returning to that point of being able to achieve external validation, feel external love, and contribute to personal growth for reasons other than personal gain are very much linked to positive increases in mental health and physical health.
12 Step and Spiritual Awakening
A Spiritual Awakening is one of the 12 Steps, and it involves the stage where individuals cease to seek internal validation or validation from substances and instead seek it from a higher power. Depending on the individual 12-step group, this “higher power” can be specifically defined as the Christian God. This is heavily dependent on the organization and its members. Religion and spirituality have been important aspects of AA and 12-Step from the beginning.
In 1943, Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous was quoted as saying, “An alcoholic is a fellow who is ‘trying to get his religion out of a bottle,’ when what he really wants is unity within himself, unity with God. . .”
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So, What is a Spiritual Awakening in Recovery?
A spiritual awakening is defined as a return to the spiritual self, which typically means moving to a stage where fulfillment and meaning are no longer found in substances but rather in other aspects of life. Depending on the individual this can encompass a range of changes and mental states. For most, it will cover the same series of shifts that encompass moving away from drugs and alcohol and towards finding joy and fulfillment in life.
Here, a spiritual awakening is best-defined as the process of becoming aware of and seeking out emotional and physical truths. This process is not something that immediately occurs, and many people won’t reach this stage for years after recovery. Instead, it’s about healing, growing into a new place, and learning that validation and motivation come from tiny things about life. Spiritual awakening can come from self-improvement, support from your friends, family, or 12-step group, and therapy. It’s a process of finding meaning, whether that meaning is in God, another religion, your friends and family, or even your own sense of self and your determination. The important thing is that it is the process of unbecoming an addict who used a substance to find a reason to live and finding your own personality, motivation, and outlook.
Investment in the Self – Persons often achieve a spiritual awakening through continuous investment in the self, investment into personal growth, and investment into learning new behaviors to replace old ones. Even the process of consistently going to behavioral therapy and self-help groups requires a level of self-awareness and introspection that promotes spirituality. Realizing what you lack and what you need means realizing what you want and where you want to be and why. These factors are a large part of spirituality, and your ability to do them naturally indicates a spiritual awakening.
A Positive Outlook – Most of us enter recovery as selfish addicts. We are difficult, stubborn, resistant to change, and possibly even willing to defend our beliefs violently. As we experience treatment and recovery, that changes. As you experience your spiritual awakening, your mood lifts, your perception of yourself improves, and you’ll find yourself looking at the future as a positive thing you can affect and improve.
Importantly, no one can define spirituality for you. However, accepting, embracing, and participating in your spirituality will improve your recovery outcomes and it will improve your life.
Your spiritual awakening can take many forms and many paths. It’s up to you where you go, how you get there, and how long it takes. But, you shouldn’t rush it. Life happens at its own pace, and you can’t heal faster than your body is ready to. If you haven’t, it’s important to seek out a rehabilitation program, where behavioral therapy, trauma therapy like EMDR, relationship therapy, and counseling can put you on the right track. If you’ve already gone to rehabilitation, it’s crucial to continue that support with self-help groups, diverse social circles, and continued self-improvement. No matter where you are, good luck on your journey of recovery.