The Spiritual Gift of Addiction—Seeing the Illness from Recovery
Viewing addiction as a spiritual gift is common among those in recovery who participate in 12 Step programs like AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous). Of course, when we or a loved one are in the midst of active addiction, none of us can fathom such a positive perspective. It is only on the other side of the despair and struggles that, in retrospect, we can see how such a devastating experience contributed to our spiritual growth and overall well-being in life.
Defining Spirituality is Always Difficult
One of the most difficult issues surrounding 12 Step programs for non-participants or newcomers, is the notion of spirituality. The groups are always described as spiritual programs, and the distinction between what is ‘spiritual’ and what is ‘religious’ is also commonly noted. The groups discuss “God” and a “Higher Power”, leading many to feel they are religious in nature. However, religion suggests an organized community of participants that share a specific doctrine. In 12 Step groups, one is left to believe in God or a Higher Power of one’s own understanding. No specific doctrine about that is specified. Consequently, people from all religious traditions may use the 12 Step principles and concepts in their own specific way.
Spiritual matters, on the other hand, can be seen as broader in meaning than religious ones. Spirituality can be found in many practices that have nothing to do directly with a Higher Power, for instance, or any religious doctrine. Some of the characteristics commonly attributed to spirituality are:
A sense of connection to others and the world or universe at large
Feelings of serenity, peace, calm and well-being
Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life
Following a good, orderly direction in life governed by higher moral/ethical principles
The Spiritual Toll of Active Addiction
Recovery can be very powerfully spiritual in part because addiction closed that aspect of ourselves. So, when we begin to reverse the damage of addiction, we rediscover a great many things, including the spiritual aspects of ourselves and our lives.
Addiction clamps down our ability to think, feel and behave in healthy ways. And, we are holistic beings, with a wide spectrum of characteristics and possible experiences. Just as the addictive process eventually invades all aspects of life, so recovery will eventually heal us in all those aspects.
When we are addicted, our substance use takes center-stage and it becomes the hub around which everything else revolves and is connected. It is simply the nature of the illness—that it progresses and takes more and more precedent as it does. Since our spirituality is about a harmonious connection inside all the parts of ourselves, with others, and with life and the world at large, as addiction isolates us into its own sphere, we lose those connections.
Our priorities, values and even our standards of conduct, change dramatically in active addiction. At the worst of the worst, people recede in importance. Our empathy and compassion for them are overridden by our compulsive substance use and its demands. Even though we can maintain the desire to care for others, we can lose the ability to choose caring behavior. The obsession and compulsion of addiction are far more powerful. Hence, we do things we don’t want to do and become people we don’t want to be. It is typically not without shame, guilt, and remorse that these things happen. The manipulation, deceit, and exploitation of others can feel as out of our control as other aspects of the addictive process.
Doing things we don’t want to do creates a deep divide within us. Our behavior becomes split off from our beliefs, for example, and this is a classic example of losing the internal connection between the various parts of ourselves. It leads to distress and dis-ease, disconnecting us from internal wholeness. It also leaves us unable to connect with others and life in healthy and consistently wholesome ways as well.
Healthy Growth Stops in Active Addiction
Healthy and unimpeded growth and development are in themselves a natural and normal spiritual gift. We grow to ever-increasing levels of awareness as we mature, and we are able to make use of our experiences and observations in more effective and complex ways as we mature. We develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, others and life, and become more empowered to make choices that enhance our lives and the lives of others we interact with. We also become able to contribute in meaningful ways to the world.
Active addiction interrupts and postpones that natural growth and development. We become derailed from the organic process of a healthy life. In recovery from addiction, we are given the opportunity to resume our development, and to find who we are, who we can become, as well as the optimal possibilities of how to relate to others and contribute in the world. For a great many people, recovery brings a new appreciation for the joys of these things, and only in contrasting these joys with the pain of active addiction can they truly see the importance of a healthy life. This is a significant way that the spiritual gift of addiction becomes apparent in the recovery process.
Relationships Become Distorted and Damaged in Addiction
A primary way we experience spiritual growth and development is through the way that we relate to other people. And, healthy relationships are the source of many spiritual rewards—we feel a sense of belonging and purpose; relationships give our lives meaning; we get and give support; we feel a sense of safety and security… All such things contribute significantly to the quality of our lives and inspire us to reach for higher guiding principles of life such as altruism, compassion, empathy, and service.
The addicted life, on the other hand, turns our focus and energy inward—to service of self, and our own wants and needs. It is a self-involved and self-absorbed illness. Higher guiding principles of interaction give way to service of self and what self-wants without regard to the rights of others. We become someone else when we become addicted, and so our relationships cannot continue to be the same. Our loved ones find themselves dealing with someone they don’t really know, whose priorities and overall personality and approach to life have changed dramatically. In recovery, however, another spiritual gift of addiction is discovering how valuable honest and loving relationships are, and that they can be lost or ruined if not tended and valued.
Addiction Robs Us of the Mystery and Magic of Life
A healthy life gives us many opportunities to experience curiosity, adventure, mystery, excitement, discovery, pleasant surprises and even those moments we consider magical. The beauty of life can be powerfully overwhelming and fill us with awe. Think for a moment of the birth of a child, or the deep and beautiful experience of a wedding day… These sorts of experiences embody the spiritual aspects of deep meaning, purpose, and connection. Even the more ordinary aspects of daily life can be fulfilling—a sunset, a good meal, a quiet and peaceful night at home… these are spiritually nourishing experiences that give us a sense of pleasure, well-being, and connectedness.
Addiction makes us find our moments only in our substance use. The beauty of all the rest of our experiences recede. We can’t find wonder and contentment in a simple and healthy life when we are actively addicted. Recovery, however, returns the world and its pleasures to us. Discovering a sense of beauty, meaning, pleasure and awe in ordinary life is truly a spiritual gift of addiction when we enter recovery. The contrast between a substance-free life and one of compulsive use and despair is striking and to be given that awareness can be one of life’s greatest gifts.
If You are Ready to Seek Your Own Recovery
Only you can really decide if it’s time to pursue your recovery from active addiction. Others can encourage and support you, but you ultimately have to do the work and find the commitment and desire inside yourself to successfully do it. And, if you are like most of us, you will spend a good deal of time getting prepared before you are actually successful.
It can take a good while to find enough desire and commitment to go to treatment but don’t be alarmed by this. It’s common, and it’s a significant part of your recovery process. In fact, recovery starts well before we cross the threshold of a treatment program. We have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired. And, we will know we are, we can set about creating a new life.
If you are ready for treatment, or an addicted loved one is, give us a call. We provide free consultations in which we help you find the appropriate help. Not every rehab is a one-size-fits-all proposition. Your unique needs, preferences and insurance coverage are important. You need to be as comfortable as possible in the treatment program you choose so you can get down to the business at hand.
We are fortunate today to have a wide variety of treatment options, and to be able to match programs in very detailed ways to your treatment needs, comfort level, and resources. Treatment works and its chances of working increase if you are well-matched to the program you enter. Let us help you find your way to the life in recovery you seek. Recovery is waiting for you. You can have the healthy, happy and successful life you crave.