How does a person “become more spiritual?”
How can you take actions that lead to a more spiritual life?
I believe that one of the simple answers to this question is also one of the most effective, and that is to take advice from others. But this is not necessarily an easy thing for people to do, especially in addiction recovery.
Actually, it is a very simple thing to do, but that does not mean that it is easy. It is very difficult for most people to overcome their pride and allow themselves to learn from others. But if you can do it, if you can force yourself to open up to the wisdom of other people, then you can take a massive shortcut to a better life in recovery. And in some strange way this will also accelerate your path of spiritual growth.
Becoming open to new ideas is crucial for early sobriety
Early sobriety is all about new ideas. You are either exploring new ideas or you are heading back towards relapse.
Think about it. The alcoholic or drug addict only really knows one solution in their life. They know how to self medicate in order to run away from their problems. That’s it. This is how addiction works. You come to rely on your drug of choice in order to deal with reality. That becomes your number one problem solver, your number one coping mechanism. You have nothing else to rely on that actually helps you or works for you in any way.
The problem with drugs and alcohol is that they actually do work to an extent. I think deep down we all know this. Of course the drugs or the booze worked for us, if it did not then we would not have become addicted to it! Our drug of choice solved our problems and it did it quite well. And in most cases it solved our problems for a long period of time. Hence we came to rely on the drug (or alcohol) in order to medicate our problems away. This created our dependency.
Of course you know how the story ends: Dependence develops, tolerance increases, and we have to take more and more of our drug of choice in order to get the same effect that we used to get. And ultimately our drug of choice stops working. It stops being so effective. It stops doing the job that we wanted it to do all along. Because we become used to being drunk or high every single day, the uniqueness of that high wears off. It is no longer special to us. It is no longer “fun.” And so we slowly become more and more miserable while still trying to chase after that “fun feeling” that we used to get. But it’s too late. It’s over, because we crossed this line that says we are now addicted, and there is no going back to “casual drinking” or drug use. We can no longer take a reasonable amount and have fun and enjoy ourselves. We either have to go all the way and get smashed or we will be miserable and wondering where all the fun went. We lose the ability to moderate. This is what defines addiction. If you don’t have this problem then you are probably not addicted.
When the alcoholic or struggling drug addict first gets to recover, they are struggling with the problem as described above. They use their drug of choice to excess in order to deal with their problems. And of course, everyone has problems to some degree. So the alcoholic has found their solution and they medicate their problems away.
So in order to stop taking their drug of choice, the person has to learn something new. They can’t just stop taking their drug of choice and then expect for the world to revert to normalcy. The problem is that they no longer have any sort of way to deal with life, to deal with problems, to cope with fears and anxiety and guilt and shame and all of that other stuff that might pop up from time to time. They feel naked without their drug of choice because now all of the emotions of real life come crashing down on them, and they don’t know how to cope. They don’t know how to deal. So the urge to reach back for their one solution, for the one thing that they know will at least help a bit, is overwhelming. This is why people relapse. Because they have not learned another way to live, and they have this pressure to medicate in some way, and they know that their drug of choice is at least somewhat effective. Especially if they have not been using it for a few weeks/months.
This is why you need new information in early recovery. If you don’t get new information then you are stuck with your own devices and your own solutions. And this will always lead you back to your drug of choice unless you get some new ideas.
Where are you going to get new solutions in early recovery?
This is a very important question to ask of yourself. The typical frustrated answer from an alcoholic will be “I don’t know.” Or maybe “I will figure it out.”
A much better answer would be to say:
“I will go to rehab.”
“I will go to AA meetings and ask questions.”
“I will find a recovery program and get heavily involved in it.”
“I will live in long term treatment.”
“I will talk with a therapist or counselor on a regular basis.”
These are good answers because they all indicate that the person is willing to learn. That they are willing to seek out new advice and take it.
If an alcoholic or a drug addict has been struggling then by definition they have been operating entirely on self will. They have been using only their own ideas and not taking any advice from other people.
Think about that. If an alcoholic or drug addict is struggling then it is certain that they are operating under their own direction, and not under the advice of others. They are making their own decisions and not interested in the advice of others.
Therefore the opposite of this indicates a path towards the solution: If you take advice from others and ignore your own ideas, then you have a chance at real recovery.
Your own ideas failed, so try someone else’s for a while
Some alcoholics and drug addicts try to solve the problem of addiction on their own.
Some of them may even believe that the solution is spiritual, so they may try to have a spiritual experience by their own choice. The question is, can this be done? Can you choose to have a spiritual experience in order to overcome your addiction?
Yes and no. I believe you can choose to move in the right direction, but I am not convinced that a person who is struggling with addiction can decide to have a spiritual awakening and then force themselves to do so without any outside help. This has not been my experience and I have not seen any evidence of others doing this either. When people have a spiritual awakening in recovery it does not happen in a vacuum. It involves other people. It involves community. It involves fellowship.
I tried to cut back on drinking and drugs when I was stuck in my addiction. Of course I wanted to be able to keep medicating myself while also being able to control it. This obviously failed but the point is that I tried my own ideas about how to fix my addiction. What I really wanted was a way to be able to keep drinking and using drugs but without getting into trouble or going overboard.
When I was stuck in my addiction I tried things like this a few different times and nothing worked. I never tried to abstain completely because I did not really see that as being a realistic option at the time. So I used my best ideas that I could come up with about how to beat my addiction. I tried a few different things. And all of it failed. I stayed stuck and miserable in my addiction.
That continued until I reached a point where I became willing to try someone else’s ideas.
This is a critical point and really is the entire point of this piece. You have to become willing to try someone else’s ideas if you want to break free from addiction. You have to be willing to take advice from others and apply it in your life. I remained stuck in my addiction for many years because I was never willing to do this. I was too stubborn. I did not want to appear stupid and have to take direction and advice from others. I felt like that would make me a failure.
Well at some point I finally swallowed my pride and I did it anyway. I decided to get out of my own way and listen to others for once. Maybe their solution would work out for me after all, even though I did not believe that it would. I thought that rehab and AA meetings were a waste of my time (I had been exposed to both already in the past). I did not believe that recovery could work out for me. Because I was in denial and I thought that I was unique and I thought that nothing in the world could ever make me happy again if I was not allowed to drink and use drugs.
This was what I believed and I clung to this denial like my life depended on it. Actually my addition depended on these false beliefs, not my life. So as long as I believed these lies my addiction was allowed to thrive.
When I finally surrendered it was like I was saying to myself: “OK, I will suspend these beliefs for a certain amount of time and I will see what happens. I don’t really believe that I can take advice from others and go to rehab and AA and suddenly become happy, but I will do it anyway. I will do it because I know that if I keep drinking I will just be miserable. So I will give recovery another chance and I will take advice from others even though I don’t think it will really work or lead me to happiness.”
This was honestly my attitude in early recovery. This was my attitude when I started my journey of sobriety over 13 years ago. I really thought that I would be miserable forever if I could not medicate myself with drugs or alcohol.
But the key thing here is that I was willing. Just barely, but I was willing. I was willing to suspend my own ideas and follow advice for a while. This is absolutely critical. Notice that I was not real happy about doing it. Notice that I had zero faith that it would actually work out or lead me to happiness. And yet I had this tiny shred of willingness, I had this tiny little morsel of willingness, I was just barely willing to go back to rehab and sit through some AA meetings and give life another chance. Just barely.
And it worked. This tiny bit of willingness turned into a massive miracle. It turned into a whole new life. It grew and grew and it allowed my life to get better and better. I can remember being in the first year or so of my recovery and people would tell me how good I was doing, how proud they were of me, and I felt like I could not take any of the credit for it. This was because I was not really in the driver’s seat, so to speak. I was no longer in charge of my own life. I had relinquished that role. I had stood down. Instead, I was living by the advice and suggestions of other people. So much so that it felt awkward when people tried to compliment me on my success in recovery. I felt like I had cheated on my math test by copying answers from the kid next to me. This is not really my work, this was not my doing, I was just following simple directions!
And that is one of the secrets of sobriety. That is the secret to beating an addiction. You have to copy your answers from the kid next to you. Meaning, you have to get out of the driver’s seat for a while and let someone else drive the bus that is your life. Stop trying to solve all of your own problems and let someone else tell you what to do for a while.
Alcoholics and addicts have a tendency to screw ourselves up. We have a tendency to self sabotage. So you have to trick yourself into avoiding this tendency. The way to do that is to listen to other people. Take advice from others.
Let me alleviate your fears: Stop worrying about taking bad advice. Stop worrying that people are going to steer you wrong. Go to rehab, go to AA meetings, go to a religious community, go to a recovery program, go to a therapist or a counselor, go to any of these places and then ask for advice. Then take action. Stop getting in your own way.
When you shoot down the advice of others and go back to your own ideas, you are getting in your own way again. You are headed back towards relapse. The way forward is to listen to others and use their wisdom.
It is not difficult to find decent role models in recovery. Go to an AA meeting and find someone who has been sober for a while. Find someone who seems to have some integrity. Then ask them for advice. Do what they tell you to do. Can it be that simple? It is that simple! Take advice, follow through. Change your life with positive action. Don’t wonder about which actions to take. Never sit and wonder what actions you should take next in early recovery. Never, never, never. Instead, go ask questions. Ask advice from others. They will tell you what actions to take.
If you try to figure out the action you should be taking in early recovery then your disease will screw it all up for you. That is how it gets you to relapse. Don’t give it the chance. Don’t give your disease the opportunity to trip you up in early recovery. Instead, find someone who is already living sober and ask them for advice. Then take their advice and turn it into positive action. This is how you overcome addiction by using other people’s ideas.
Can you force yourself to adopt spiritual faith? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t matter
Some people think that they have to have this religious conversion and have a strong faith or belief in order to beat their addiction.
I am not sure if you can choose to “believe” per se, but I also have come to the conclusion that it does not matter.
Faith and belief may help you in recovery, but they are not the foundation of success that most people believe that they are.
There are fundamental principles that keep people sober. Faith and belief are helpful concepts to have but they are not part of the core fundamentals. You can achieve success in sobriety without a strong faith or belief in anything.
I know that this probably sounds blasphemous but it is true. What actually keeps a person sober is:
1) Total and complete surrender. Getting out of your own way. Admitting that you do not know the answers or the solution to your addiction problem.
2) Making a decision to change your life radically.
3) Asking for help from others. Knowing that you need advice and direction.
4) Taking massive action. Turning advice into real action. Doing something in order to change.
5) Personal growth. Continuous life improvement. Reinventing yourself over and over again in long term sobriety.
6) Strategy for beating complacency. Helping others plus personal growth. Lifelong learning.
Did I miss any fundamental concepts? I don’t think so.
Part of the problem is that it is very, very difficult to get through those first few fundamental principles unless you have faith that your life will get better eventually. So this is why it is so helpful to have faith or belief in your life. But honestly it is not necessary in order to grasp the rest of these fundamental concepts and thus turn your life around.
The hard part is that in early recovery you are generally going to be down and feeling somewhat miserable for a while. After taking positive action your life gets better and better, but this takes time and consistent action before it is realized. If you don’t have faith or belief then it can be very difficult to persist through the hard times.
This is why it is important to take advice and direction from others. There will be good days and bad days in early recovery. How are you going to get through the bad days? If you are taking advice from others then your chances of making it through without a relapse go up exponentially. Their sound advice will help you to stay the course.
You can’t follow every piece of advice you get. How to prioritize
Unfortunately you cannot take every piece of advice that you get in early recovery. There is too much information. It can be overwhelming.
So how do you prioritize?
Here are a few ways:
1) Zero in on one person and take their advice exclusively for a while. This is sponsorship, or modeling. Very powerful technique and I highly recommend it. If you don’t have a sponsor then force yourself to go an AA meeting and ask for one. Find someone you like and look up to.
2) Look at your holistic health and ask yourself which areas you have been lacking in lately. Ask yourself: “How do I take care of myself today physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually?” And then find the thing that you have neglected for too long and focus on that for a week. Rinse and repeat. And be sure to ask other people how they take care of themselves each day in each of these 5 categories.
What about you, have you found taking advice from others a critical part of your spiritual growth? How has that worked out for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!