When the subject of addiction recovery is discussed and debated, one topic that often comes up is spirituality, and what it means. How spirituality is defined is a very personal choice, and one each individual makes for him or herself.
It has often been said that addiction is a disease that not only affects the mind and body, but also the spirit. So, it makes sense that recovery from addiction needs to include a spiritual component.
“Spirituality” doesn’t necessarily mean “religion,” although some people may confuse the two terms. In the context of recovery from addiction or alcoholism, spirituality has many definitions based on the individual beliefs of those involved with recovery.
“What many people think of when you say ‘spirituality’ is church, organized religion,” says Noreen Ammons, clinical director at New Life Addiction Counseling Services in Pasadena, Md.
“We sometimes have to educate clients on the meaning of the term ‘higher power,’ which is non-specific. It’s some entity people feel connected with. It could be nature, a sunset, the ocean, mountains or some other entity or power greater than themselves. It’s important for you to feel connected and not alone.”
The spiritual component which is necessary for sustained recovery can be maintained and strengthened in a number of ways, Ammons notes: through prayer, going to church, meditation, listening to music or enjoying other forms of art – “wherever people can find peace of mind and connect to the idea that there’s more to life than material things.” The New Life staff encourages clients to attend 12-step meetings as another way of making a spiritual connection.
“Without spirituality, recovery is a rough road, because you are in it by yourself, which is not necessarily a good place to be,” Ammons says.
Jim Collins, a New Life group counselor, agrees that, for an addicted person seeking help, the higher power “can evidence itself in lots of different ways. It could be a judge, a doctor, a family member… a power greater than you. At least initially, if they are telling you what to do, chances are they are a power greater than you.”
Collins offers a way to clarify the distinction between religion and spirituality: “religion needs spirituality, but spirituality does not need religion.”
“Every person who is addicted to a substance practices faith when they ingest whatever it is they are using,” Collins says. “They have faith it is not going to kill them, and that (life) is going to continue. Sometimes, they can turn that faith around into a positive.”
New Life Counselor Trish Earnest attends 12-step meetings as part of her own recovery, recommends them to recovering clients and believes in a higher power. But she is careful not to impose her own beliefs on clients. Earnest says it could be considered inappropriate for a counselor to introduce the topic of God or spirituality in a group therapy session, but it is appropriate for discussion if a client brings it up.
“I have to be careful how I approach that topic at an early stage in recovery,” Earnest says. “I do have a dialogue with the clients about spirituality, but it needs to be kept very ‘light’. Any time someone feels as though you are pushing something on them, there can be resistance. When it comes to something like God and religion there can be real resistance, and that’s not what I want to create.”