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When people hear the word spirituality, it’s often conflated with images of organized religion, secretive rituals, and weekly mass. While this may be the case for some people, it certainly isn’t always the case. Spirituality and religion are two separate entities, and I find it important to make a distinction when addressing spirituality with people in recovery. Spirituality and recovery regarding addiction go hand in hand, and I have found my spiritual beliefs to be essential in upholding and maintaining my sobriety. As it is, however, so many people shy away from spiritual aspects of rehab and 12-step programs for a variety of reasons. It’s often said “ its a suggested way” and the book “Came to Believe” is a great read about this. These reasons may feel valid, but ultimately, they do more harm than good when it comes to recovery. I have found that the spirituality involved in recovery is often miles away from traditional religious practices.
Spirituality vs. Religion in Addiction Recovery
Before talking about why spirituality is so important when it comes to drug dependency recovery, let’s first talk about the difference between spirituality and religion. This distinction is important because many people have strong feelings surrounding religious beliefs, and it may create hesitation around spirituality as a part of the recovery process. Religion is easily defined and more commonly understood. Religions follow a specific set of rules and criteria. Religions tell you what to believe, how to show that belief, and why you should believe it. Some religions call for daily rituals and prayers, while others call their communities to gather weekly and recite from their religious texts, while still others prohibit certain foods and clothing. Though each religion’s rules are different, the criteria are always clearly defined in a text and interpreted by leaders within the community.
Spirituality, on the other hand, is about a personal, inner journey. Spirituality requires looking inward and focusing on personal feelings and beliefs. In spirituality, the outer body is nearly irrelevant, and instead, the soul and emotion of the individual matter most. Spirituality is much more individualized, while religion often requires community. Even if you do find a community of other spiritual people, you are seen and valued as an individual within the whole.
The Stigma of Religion
Many people in recovery are turned off by religion for a variety of reasons. These include, but are not limited to:
- A history of cruelty and genocide within religions
- Strict rules that it feels like you’ve already broken
- Being abused by a member of the church, or religion being used as a tool of abuse in your childhood
- Having a sense of hopelessness when it comes to a higher power or god
- Feeling a disconnect between religion and their demand that happiness and good things be “earned.”
Though these certainly aren’t the only reasons, they are some of the main reasons that I hear for people in recovery avoiding spiritual practices. The conflation between the two sullies the reputation of both when in reality, spirituality is much different than religion in practice as well as theory.
The Positive Side of Spirituality
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While religion may have its place for some people, there are several clear advantages that spirituality has over religion when it comes to individuals. I find myself more committed to and invested in my spirituality because it feels personal to me. I get to decide what my spirituality entails, and all of the “rules” align perfectly with my morals because I was able to determine them. As an independent person, the general business of many major religions haven’t always sat well with me, and I found that there was little room to question the rules and teachings I was given. Spirituality gives me my own power over what I believe. This personalization is not the only advantage of spirituality. Others include:
- Spirituality is focused on support. While many religions have general support systems, these systems are often contingent on being active in the community or pledging allegiance to that religion. Many religious tactics are based on fear, which does not feel helpful or productive to me.
- Truth is subjective. In religion, there is a clear basis between right and wrong. In spirituality, you get to decide what is right and what is wrong for you in your own time. Everything moves exactly at your pace and encourages you to accept that your truth is different from others, and that is okay.
- Self-reliance is encouraged and required. Without preset rules and rituals, spirituality requires you to follow your own path and trust the process. There will be times that the lack of rules may make you feel aimless, but ultimately spirituality allows you to trust yourself and your instincts.
Overall, spirituality empowers each individual to take charge of their spiritual practice, allowing freedom to mold the experience to one’s unique needs.
Common Spiritual Practices
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Again, every spiritual journey is different, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. However, there are tools that many people use in their personal practice that they find helps them look inward.
These practices include, but are not limited to:
- Gratitude Journaling
- Volunteering and charity work
- Community spirituality gatherings or retreats
- Gentle movement such as yoga, walking, or swimming
When developing your spirituality, it’s common to incorporate your own rituals and practices. The distinction between these and religious rituals is that they are entirely up to you, are done on your own time, and can look however you would like them to.
Benefits of Spirituality in Recovery
For those of us going through recovery, there are a lot of factors at play. At its root, spirituality seems to benefit many aspects of recovery and gives additional meaning to the process. Spirituality empowers you to discover your true gifts and the essence of who you are. Seeing your worth completely removed from outside forces is invaluable when it comes to forgiving and moving past your drug dependency. Spiritual practices also help to calm the mind and allow you to process trauma and past life experiences. Though this may be uncomfortable, working through your inner demons helps quiet them and makes abstaining from drugs and alcohol much easier.
In my experience, my spirituality has allowed me to forgive myself and those who have hurt me so that I may move forward, focused on myself and not my past actions. Releasing my judgment and resentment of others has freed up space for me to find peace, and that is key to the recovery process. On the other side, I’ve also been called to acknowledge my own mistakes, and know that I am worthy of forgiveness from myself and others. Slowing my mind, minute by minute if necessary through spirituality has given me clarity and patience with myself and has made the recovery process feel more complete.
There is no one way to approach recovery, but studies do show that adding spiritual practices to a 12-step program is incredibly helpful for those experiencing drug dependency. 12-step programs can help you heal your relationships with friends, family, and community, while spirituality can help you heal your relationship with yourself. The mechanics of your spirituality are up to you, but they should bring you closer to understanding the essence of who you are and what you believe in. Having a strong inner belief system is an effective tool for combating relapse and drug dependency and helps you stay centered during weak moments. Having spirituality allows you to see meaning behind what you have experienced.* ] It encourages you to move forward into a life you create for yourself, rather than one that drug dependency or religion has created. With spirituality, you have control, and if we are being honest, that’s the whole point of recovery, isn’t it? Learning about yourself and taking control of your life. Letting go and forgiving ourselves.