Linda J. Wilk, MAPC
SPIRITUAL RECOVERY: What place does it have in your recovery?
Updated: May 16
This past week I celebrated 42 years of recovery. I share this not to brag, but to tell you that recovery is a long, strange trip that involves all aspects of self; a constantly evolving interplay of one's mental, physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual self. If someone had tried to talk to me about all of this in May of 1981, I wouldn't have been open to any of it. This week I had an email exchange with Christina Veselak of the Academy of Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition (Amino Acid Therapy - Home - Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition) and I found myself incredibly excited about what is going on in the world of science of addiction.
You see, I'm involved in the spiritual recovery of addicts and alcoholics. I see people who are coming along in their recovery, working a program, usually in the 12 steps or Recovery Dharma, and feeling like they are ready to go deeper. Most of their problems are what we in recovery call "luxury problems." We have roofs over our heads, enough money to survive and pay the bills, no day-to-day drama, and the wonderful experience of being of service to others daily. Life is good!
On the other hand, in the rooms of the recovery community, I see people struggling to stay away from their drug of choice or overcome and overwhelmed with chaos in their daily living, with dual-diagnoses, and many in this position die or worse. Some appear like the walking dead, sentenced to daily life stuck in an abyss of addiction wandering the streets homeless and dead but alive.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WALKING DEAD AND LIFE?
Before I came here to work on my own, I had the privilege of working at one of the most amazing rehab centers around, Bridging the Gaps (Drug & Alcohol Rehab Center in Virginia | Bridging the Gaps). Like Christina Veselak, Pam Reiman, the director at Bridging the Gaps, believes in the integrated approach to recovery and the program is structured to help all the clients learn the value of working from the physical to the mental and emotional to spiritual recovery, utilizing abstinence and 12-step recovery as primary tools. By utilizing such a well-rounded approach, people coming into early recovery address essential issues that help them to understand themselves:
It is the individual that is addicted, no matter what the substance.
There are incredible benefits to feeding the brain and body with good nutrition and amino acid supplements, to heal damage and help with cravings (How Functional Nutrition May Hold the Key to Successful Addiction Treatment and Recovery - Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition (aminoacidtherapy.com)
By emphasizing abstinence from all mood-altering substances, the person is given the best chance for healing and the best chance of grasping and holding on to a community of like-minded people that will support them in early recovery.Neuroplasticity and Recovery: An Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks - Bridging the Gaps
Counter to early theories, the removal of sugar and simple carbohydrates from the diet also supports healing of neural pathways and helps to reduce stress.
Increase of tools such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral pattern changes, and anger management can aid an individual in changing long term patterns of negative behavior.
WHERE DOES SPIRITUALITY ENTER IN?
Traditional twelve step programs are often quick to emphasize the need for a spiritual awakening to make a significant change in life; however, the twenty-first century has seen the advent of atheist and agnostic Atheists Agnostics and All Others (aa-ao.org) or secular HOME | Secular AA (aasecular.org) versions of Alcoholics Anonymous to accommodate the times, and new programs such as Recovery Dharma Home • Recovery Dharma, which is Buddhist in its foundations, does not advocate any god, but rather the reduction of suffering in the world for self and others. There is an emphasis on right action, compassion,and right thinking. The twelve step programs in general focus on the formation of a personal relationship with a "higher power of your own understanding."
The significant action of changing one's life path in a meaningful way, does seem to jibe with the idea of giving up one's old ways, old actions, and old friends that are tied to a drug and alcohol lifestyle. Even when people are noticeably young in getting off drugs and alcohol, they have often "failed to thrive" or set themselves up in any adult successes. In this case, physical, mental, and emotional development need to come first, for the individual to feel a sense of mastery that might have come earlier in life had drugs and alcohol not interceded. A saying often heard in the AA rooms is "you stopped growing emotionally when you started drinking, so how old do you think you are now?"
It follows that as we grow into our emotional selves, it's natural to begin seeking spiritually. Some people have lost the religious roots of their earlier life, some never had any spiritual upbringing, and some just become curious as they work the steps of the program. Nature is a common theme that brings folks to think about the bigger sense of the world. Sometimes it is not God, per se, but that feeling that there is so much that is a mystery or unknown in the world. Some people experience a mystical or spiritual experience as part of their growth into finding themselves, and this leads them to become seekers. Whatever the beginnings, there is bound to be some questioning and curiosity that develops as health comes in the other three areas. As someone in recovery for a long time, I find this wonderful and amazing.
OPTIONS FOR GREATER GROWTH
Many recovering folks opt for options beyond just meetings or church involvement to expand their spiritual horizons. Some attend conferences of their twelve step groups, which allows them to travel to be involved with larger gatherings that offer workshops, speakers and often are in beautiful locations like the beach or the mountains. Often groups organize camping trips, rafting trips, or other recreational activities with friends, which take place outside the structure of the meetings, but are a chance to expand one's friendships with others.
During gatherings like this, friends in recovery begin to experience connections that have great meaning, the happiness, serenity, and immense joy that are building blocks of continued recovery. Just going to treatment, counseling and meetings will not build the inner fortitude that this kind of connection brings, and it certainly builds the resilience that helps one through life's tough times without picking up a drink or a drug. It also builds long-lasting trust in self and in others. Once this happens, this new sober life takes on new meaning and recovery life has a meaning all its own.
Many people who move into long term recovery begin to seek out spiritual growth as a goal in itself. Seeing that the more they open up spiritually, the more they find they are capable of, they begin to find spiritual retreats on a yearly basis as a place for renewal, growth, or enhancement of their lives. Around ten years of recovery I began to find this truth in myself. Later, I found joy in creating and leading these retreats for others as well.
EXPAND AND CREATE NEW PATHS IN RECOVERY
On one such retreat I heard God calling me to minister to others. I was shocked, because I literally heard a voice in my mind saying "You're a minister!" It took me several years to discern what that really meant. Little by little I realized that I was already ministering to others but that my higher power meant me to do more and to get clearer. I honestly resisted but the call never let up, and here I am! This Fall I am returning to running spiritual retreats, and I have my spiritual coaching business which helps others to dive deeper into their own callings. I have a course aimed at helping women gain the skills they need to move into their own strongest self and meet their dreams! I work daily to listen to this call and follow it.
I'd like to help you follow your calling, too! You can learn more about the wonderful spiritual retreat we are having, September 29, October 1 and October 2, 2023, at Course Offerings | CoachingAPeacefulLif (coachingapeacefullife.com). Page down from here to see other course offerings as well. Or write to me at email@example.com. I'd love to talk to you!