A reader of Spiritual River writes in and says:
“AA is not only about finding God. Just finding God will not suffice; you need to turn your thoughts and actions over to God.
Your relationships change with God and the human race. Your physical fitness level will change because you want to preserve the vehicle that transports your soul in order to serve God’s people.
You will eat healthier because you realize that God has given you life and you need to eat nutritious food to honor that gift. You will become more mentally stable as a result of dependence on God and not your own plans and ideas . Your socializing will change because you will be coherent and not wasted all the time.
Yes, in order to recover you need a holistic approach and God makes that possible. ”
This is an interesting comment because it points to the difference between two possible paths in recovery. In my opinion both paths are equally valid and the outcomes are the same. However, one path (the spiritually driven path) can be used in a slightly misleading way when people discount the ability to find recovery in any other way.
The first path to recovery is just as this person has described in their comment: you find God and then you attempt to live your life “in accordance with God’s will.” So the answer for any question can be found through your faith. “The body is a temple” and therefore you should treat it with respect, eat healthy food, exercise, etc.
It is not about just “finding God,” but instead you have to “turn your life and your will over to him.” Thus, the argument can be made that all you have to do in order to recover is to find God, then turn your will over to him, and all of this other stuff will fall into place and take care of itself.
The other path in recovery is somewhat similar to this one, but it is not “driven based on God’s will.” Instead, the actions that you take and the personal growth that you make on this path is simply based on the idea of holistic health.
This second path does not rely on a higher power, programs, meetings, the 12 step, or religious conversion. It is a simple and holistic path based on personal growth.
Either path can be used to achieve successful sobriety
So regarless of whether or not you follow a religious or spiritual path in recovery beside the point. There are thousands of people in AA and NA who are not particularly religious and also who have not found any sort of “traditional” higher power and have managed to recover just fine.
There are also people in recovery who do not focus on 12 step programs at all and have still managed to achieve a purposeful and meaningful life without any focus on religion whatsoever. Some people in recovery would reject such a notion and say something like “Without God you have nothing, how could you work a successful recovery without relying on a higer power?”
The person who is pursuing holistic health and personal growth is taking many of the same actions that a religious person is taking. For example, someone pursuing the holistic approach to recovery might:
* Push themselves to improve their physical health through things like quitting smoking, better nutrition, taking care of their body, exercise, etc.
* Reach out to help others in the recovery journey, giving back to the recovery community in some way.
* Set goals for personal growth that will enhance their health and their life in recovery.
* Build or create something in their life that can help others in some way, be that in recovery or otherwise.
So these concepts and principles do not necessarily have to be religiously (or spiritually) driven in order to occur.
Recovery is its own reward and the benefits of a new life of sobriety are so far and away above the misery of addiction that anyone who gets a glimpse of this new life *should* be able to motivate themselves to take actions. It is not necessary to find external motivation in order to struggle for sobriety (such as a spiritual or religious path).
The idea of having a spiritual or religious path in recovery is an extra layer of effort added on top of the core principles and concepts that were laid out above (personal growth, helping others, setting personal goals, striving for holistic health).
Some people get confused about this because of their own personal experience. What happens is that they struggle all of their life with addiction and never break through to recovery until suddenly they surrender, ask for help, and get introduced to either a spiritual or a religious based recovery program.
At this point they make an assumption and get confused. They equate their success in recovery with the first layer of these program (the spirituality) but they do not give credit to the second layer of these programs (personal growth) that is actually the driver of success.
Thus, people who use religious or spiritual programs do not give themselves and their own personal growth enough credit in terms of overcoming their addiction. They used a spiritual or religious program to help prompt them to seek personal growth, but then they give all of the credit to the spiritual or religious layer of things.
The fact is that this “first layer” of spiritual and religious programs is sort of a red herring. If they truly help to drive personal growth in individuals then that is valuable, but most of the world would probably prefer to separate their religious life from their addiction and recovery. What is the point of mixing the two if it is completely unnecessary? All you end up doing is pushing religion or spiritual concepts onto people who do not necessarily want them.
So religion and spirituality is the “first layer” of most recovery programs, and it is used to help drive personal growth and better overall (holistic) health in people. But it is not a necessary layer unless the person absolutely requires a dependency on something else, and even then they might do well to simply form a social dependency on AA meetings rather than to get distracted and confused by the pursuit of religion and/or spirituality.
Long story short – either path in recovery (spiritual vs. holistic) can help you achieve meaningful sobriety, but the spiritual path adds another layer on top of the process (introducing motivation and reasons for holistic health, personal growth, etc.) whereas the holistic approach to recovery is a bit more direct, and allows sobriety itself and the pursuit of personal growth to be its own reward.
Any path that does not lead to personal growth is flawed
I have met several people in my recovery journey who were deeply religious (and some who were merely “deeply spiritual” rather than being deeply religious) who ended up relapsing anyway in spite of their seemingly intense connection with a higher power.
In every case with such people I could look back (as could they) and realize that their spiritual quest, strong as it was, for some reason was not leading them to take enough positive action. They were talking the talk, but they were not walking the walk. Even though they preached about a spiritual life and they talked endlessly about prayer and meditation they still were not following through and taking the kinds of action that lead to a successful life of sobriety.
When I was in early recovery during the first 24 months of my journey I was very open minded and very willing to investigate any and all paths to sobriety. I was very interested in observing others in recovery, talking with them, hearing their personal philosophy of recovery, finding out how they sought out God’s will for themselves, and so on. I studied this and made it my life’s work during the first two years of my recovery journey as I struggled to find the one correct path for myself to avoid relapse.
The idea of relapse was like the boogeyman and I wanted to be taking the right steps to insure that I did not fail.
So I talked with others, I looked up to people who had a strong connection with their higher power, and I started to make observations. Who was staying sober and who was relapsing?
Over the first two years of my recovery I slowly learned what was really important. It was not so much about being “holier than thou” or having this intense spiritual connection or finding religion or being really in tune with a higher power. This is what people paid lip service to in the meetings and this is waht was toted as the ultimate solution, but it was not what I was seeing when I made observations of who was staying sober and who was relapsing.
What I learned was that it was all about action. Positive actions. Not necessarily spiritually driven action, but just positive actions.
Successful recovery is an accumulation of positive actions, whether spiritually driven or otherwise
What I have ultimately learned about spirituality, higher powers, successful sobreity, and so on is just this:
Your success in long term sobriety is based on accumulation.
Every day is another opportunity. A string of days turns into months and the months turn into years.
If you happen to relapse and go back to using drugs and alcohol, then you failed to put together a decent string of days. For too long you have lapsed into NOT taking positive actions every day. Do this for too long, and you eventually relapse.
On the other hand, if you happen to take positive action every day, then the positive benefits of doing so start to accumulate. Do this for several months and your life should get a whole lot better. Do this for several years and your life in recovery will be nothing short of amazing. The “secret” is really no secret at all and is simply based on persistence and hard work: keep taking positive action, every single day, and your life cannot help but get cummulatively better.
This is true whether you are spiritually motivated or not. I realize that religion and spirituality are two completely different things. That does not affect what I am saying here. If you take positive action every single day, regardless of your spiritual beliefs, your life in recovery will get infinitely better as you progress. Your spirituality may or may not have any bearing on this progress. You do not need to seek spiritual growth necessarily in order to reap the benefits of sobriety.
So this is not to say that you should or should not seek a higher power. All I am pointing out here is that your sobriety is contingent on an accumulation of positive action. IF you can find a way to take positive actions every day, and keep persisting with that healthy personal growth, then you will do well in recovery.
If you need that “extra layer” of the program in order to motivate you to take positive action and pursue personal growth, then by all means, DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. No one is suggesting that you should not.
This is really just an explanation of how recovery is driven by personal growth rather than by a spiritual revelation. Take it for what it is worth and if you find success with a more spiritually focused path then by all means, go with it……