The road to recovery can feel long and lonely, particularly as you set out to find your new path on this journey through life. Generally, when faced with overcoming addiction, quality of life is low, stress levels are high and your social circle may need to be redrawn (due either to bad influences or the relationship damage caused by the struggles that accompany addiction). At the time you need people the most, they may be the hardest to find and connect with, especially as your habits change.
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a good starting point, both socially and philosophically, but many potential participants feel alienated by the religious-focused parts of the program. Spirituality doesn’t need to be defined as religious, however, and there are many non-12 step programs that offer holistic approaches as essential components of the healing process.
According to Dr. George Cave of Malibu Hills and Prominence Treatment Centers, two non 12- step rehab facilities in California, “There are some who assume spirituality is the same as belief in God as expressed by traditional religious institutions. This is NOT the case. When understood as ‘a power greater than self,’ spirituality can be thought of as an existing sober community or as an individually defined sense of connectedness or wellness that contributes to ongoing recovery, health and happiness.”
“The spiritual experience of connectedness comes in all shapes and sizes — for some it is in fellowship with others, others experience it in the solitude of nature, still others experience spirituality when participating in acts of service.”
So, if spirituality doesn’t look like Bible study on a Sunday, what could it look like instead? The true intention of spirituality on a macro level is really to focus on the nourishment of your soul and spirit. Still pretty abstract, right? But at a time when you’re looking to build a new foundation for life, perhaps abstract is just what the doctor ordered — your prescription is to seek out healthy habits that make you happy and recognize that happiness with a certain sacred gratitude.
There’s a sense of fellowship in spirituality, whether you’re sitting in the same cathedral or carrying out the same rituals alone but with a sense of belonging to something bigger. Find your own congregation — is it at an AA meeting? A yoga class? A Meetup group for film aficionados? An organization volunteering to change the world? What would you feel better for having done? Seek out people to do that with, and form a common bond that’s stronger than the tenuous connections formed from bad habits. The companionship and mentorship from others is incredibly important to living well.
“Human beings are biologically hardwired to be socially engaged,” says Dr. Cave. “The sense of connection and healthy interdependence are hallmarks of mental health. Spirituality can be thought of as an expression of these profound human needs, promote sobriety, global health and well-being.”
Sounds great in theory, right? But it’s all too easy to lose sight of the urgency and importance of incorporating spirituality into your recovery when you feel overwhelmed with new emotions, circumstances and realizations — it may even feel self-indulgent to dedicate time to seek out pleasure when doing so through addiction has consumed your life. A complete absence of joy isn’t likely to lead to lasting contentment or peace either, however, so replace your negative patterns with positive influences.
“Spirituality offers people the opportunity to deepen into the wonder and awe of everyday living in ways that may be difficult to put into words but are nonetheless apparent when experienced,” says Dr. Cave.
Here are some of Dr. Cave’s observations on the lesser-known advantages of living a more spiritual life: “Sober people who engage in daily spiritual practice, consistently over time, often report a variety of enhanced experiences — colors seem more vivid, emotions resonate more deeply, people, places or things they never appreciated or took for granted in the past now seem to suddenly take on new significance and vibrancy.”
According to the book How God Changes Your Brain, recent breakthroughs in neuroscience confirm that people who engage in daily spiritual practice (with or without a belief in God) appear to strengthen centers in the brain responsible for contentment, emotional resilience, improved mood, better and longer global health, and relationships proving a biological benefit to connecting with your sense of spirituality. Even something as simple as a daily meditation practice could be a good starting point and isn’t difficult or costly to start with the plethora of meditation apps and videos available for free.
As you explore different outlets in search of a spiritual fit, keep the following advice from Dr. Cave in mind: “Exercising tolerance, compassion and open-mindedness are valuable traits when cultivating a spiritual practice. What resonates for you may not for others, and vice-versa.”
“Remaining open-minded and tolerant helps people avoid sitting in judgments of others, becoming argumentative or dogmatic, feeling the need to be ‘right’ or proselytizing and giving unsolicited advice. One helpful watchword to guard against these tendencies is to remember, ‘there are many roads to the mountaintop of spirituality.’”
So, try things on, meet new people, have new experiences and approach each as an opportunity for exploration. Drop your preconceived notions and judgments and honor the work that others are doing to nourish their own spirits and souls as you strive to do the same.
“Many of the challenges associated with developing a spiritual practice may be rooted in negative religious experiences early in life,” says Dr. Cave. “Some were brought up in homes in which spirituality and religion were fused with beliefs that felt controlling, punishing or induced feelings of shame or fear. Disentangling these old ideas about spirituality takes time, patience and a willingness to accept that cultivating a new spiritual practice is a slow, steady, ongoing process.”
Recovery is a slow, ongoing process too, with a lot of moving parts. Build a solid support system to ensure your success by integrating the sense of community, service and purpose that comes along with a spiritual practice by redefining what spirituality means to you and how you can incorporate it into your daily life.