If you attend traditional recovery meetings of any sort you will find a definite emphasis on spirituality.
“The solution is spiritual.” You hear this over and over again in many recovery circles.
So how can we create a deeper spiritual connection in our recovery? How can we increase our spirituality in order to better protect ourselves from relapse?
My belief is that spirituality is a tool, one of many that can help you to overcome an addiction.
It is important to realize that it is not the only tool.
It is also important to realize that the definition of “spiritual” and “spirituality” is almost completely useless unless we really define our terms.
Because let’s face it: The word “spiritual” brings up different ideas and concepts to different people.
For example, many people will instantly think of a traditional higher power and perhaps they will also think of prayer.
A different person might instantly think of something completely different from a traditional higher power, and they may think of meditation rather than of prayer. Or perhaps someone else will not think of either prayer or meditation in the traditional sense, but of something else entirely.
None of these people are necessarily wrong when it comes to defining spirituality, but we can see that the word is a bit vague in its definition. It can mean many things to many different people.
So how are we to have a meaningful discussion of spirituality when we all have our own personal history, our own unique baggage, and our own idea of exactly what it means to be spiritual? How can we have a real discussion unless we define our terms a bit better?
My approach has been to focus on the concepts within spirituality that seem to do the most in terms of keeping people sober.
So those terms, in my opinion, would be things like:
5) Helping others.
In my opinion those are the ones that make a real impact on sobriety.
Anyone who is seeking to recover can, of course, expand their definition of spirituality to go far beyond these simple terms.
And we are all free to define these terms however we like.
Furthermore, while I found all of these things to play at least some role in my own recovery, the biggest factor by far has been gratitude.
In fact, I am convinced that if the program of AA and other traditional recovery programs were reworked completely to eliminate “spirituality” in favor of “gratitude” that the outcome would be the same or even better.
Not that spirituality is unimportant, or that it is ineffective or anything like that. But it can be confusing and overwhelming when you first get sober or you first walk into AA. People are talking about God, people are talking about higher powers, they are mentioning prayer, meditation, some of them are even talking about Jesus.
Now I am not saying that any of that is wrong, or that any of it is bad in any way. It’s not necessarily bad. It just happens to be a little overwhelming to many people who first get into recovery. This whole idea of “spirituality” just seems like a huge beast with all of these various arms to it.
The concept of gratitude is a spiritual concept. It is just a tiny slice of the overall pie that is spirituality. After you get past all of the prayer, the meditation, the step work, the higher powers, and so on…..perhaps gratitude is like 3 percent or something. It is just a slice of the overall picture.
But I think it is enough. I think it is the part that really matters, that can keep someone sober entirely by itself.
There are certain fundamental principles that you find among different faiths and religions. Gratitude is one such principle. Nearly every single organized faith and religion has some form of gratitude, some form of praise…they all seem to have that element. It is universal.
And sometimes when you sit down at an AA meeting, they decide to make the entire meeting all about gratitude. They simply declare: “You know what? Let’s have a gratitude meeting today!” And then everyone talks about what they are grateful for.
Why do you think this is happening? It’s because gratitude works! It is a really powerful tool for maintaining sobriety.
Gratitude is like the ultimate defense against relapse. You are not about to relapse and screw up your whole life again if you are genuinely grateful.
Relapse only happens when you are feeling selfish, when you feel like the world owes you something, when you feel like you are not getting what you deserve.
That’s not gratitude. In fact, that is the exact opposite of gratitude.
Cultivating gratitude as a means of relapse prevention
In order to deepen your spiritual connection with a higher power, I suggest that you start cultivating gratitude.
What does it mean to even cultivate gratitude? What the heck does that even mean?
It means a couple of things. One, it means that you are making gratitude a priority.
So this requires a decision. First of all, you have to buy into my sales pitch here–the idea that gratitude is one of the most powerful forms of relapse prevention known to mankind.
Maybe you buy into that and maybe you don’t. I would urge you to do your own research.
How do you do that research? Start keeping a journal. Write down how you feel every single day. Write down how you feel about your sobriety, how tempted you are lately, and how grateful you feel. Focus on those basic things–how you are doing in your recovery and how grateful you feel today. You may also experiment with gratitude lists.
It is important to write it down every day. That is, if you want to prove something to yourself then it is important to write it down. Because then you will look back and see the progression. You will look back and see the connections. And you will realize that you are very strong in your sobriety when you are grateful, and you are having cravings and vulnerable to relapse when you are feeling selfish and ungrateful.
So don’t take my word for it. Prove it to yourself. Keep a daily journal. And then start tracking your feelings, your cravings, your level of gratitude, how you feel each day. Just get it all out and write it down. Later on you can come back and read through it. But you probably won’t even have to read through it to realize what you wanted to know. Just forcing yourself to write it down each day will make you realize just how powerful gratitude is. And just how vulnerable you become when you lack gratitude.
So first of all you have to buy into the idea that gratitude works, that it is at the heart of how spirituality keeps people sober.
Second of all you have to practice gratitude.
So this is the two part process to cultivating gratitude in your life. First, decide that you will do it. Then second, actually do it!
We will get to how you go about practicing gratitude in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at the idea that gratitude is directly tied to faith itself.
An attitude of gratitude requires an element of faith
Gratitude implies faith.
Now I am not suggesting that you have to believe in a specific higher power in order to be grateful. The amazing thing is that you can feel grateful towards the universe itself, or towards any vague notion of a creator, a higher power, a celestial being, or whatever. Feeling grateful to “something” doesn’t have to be that specific.
But as you cultivate the feeling of gratitude I think that will still change a bit for you. Not that it will make you into a believer per se, but just that cultivating more gratitude will help to broaden your sense of faith. So as your feelings of gratitude expand you will realize that you are grateful to something.
Faith can have some mystery to it. There is nothing wrong with that. And being grateful is one avenue to allow yourself to explore that mystery.
When you shift your attitude and start to look for the positive, your faith gets a tiny big bigger. When you appreciate the simple fact that you exist in what may seem like a cold and uncaring universe, your faith increases by a tiny bit. Because now you are acknowledging that you are somehow chosen, that you exist against insurmountable odds. Gratitude carries that sense of wonderment in it. And so every bit of gratitude has an element of faith tied to it.
It doesn’t have to be a specific faith. You can broaden your faith with just the most tiny bit of willingness. And gratitude is the mechanism by which you can start to do that.
In other words, even if you don’t believe, start out with the feeling of just being thankful. Just feel that feeling of thankfulness. Remember that feeling, explore that feeling, cultivate that feeling. The willingness to explore this gratitude is a bigger step than what most people realize.
Some suggestions to increase your feelings of gratitude
So how do you increase your feelings of gratitude?
I have two powerful suggestions for you. One of them you have probably heard of before:
1) The gratitude list.
Of course most people in traditional recovery programs have heard of the gratitude list. Your sponsor in AA tells you to sit down and write out 50 things that you are grateful for in your life. Or they might suggest 10 things or a 100 things. The number is somewhat arbitrary of course, but the practice is what really matters.
So I would tell you to take this suggestion one step further and really dive into it. You can do this by making out a gratitude list every single day.
Maybe set a timer for 5 minutes and then write down as many things as you are grateful for in your life.
If you write down 3 things and then lock up, you aren’t going broad enough in your thinking.
Be grateful for the earth under your feet. Be grateful for the water you drink when you are thirsty. Let your brain dance with ideas. Write down as many things as you can. Go quickly with this.
Then, when you have done this for 5 minutes, tear up your life and throw it in the garbage.
Sounds crazy, right? You thought I was going to tell you to pin it up on your bathroom mirror where you can see it every morning? Ha!
No, the idea here is that if you do this exercise every single day, you will get good at it.
Gratitude is a practice.
You have to work at it.
Tearing up your list every day is how you practice. Tear it up and then tomorrow make another list.
Keep doing this. Do it for a year straight. Or just do it for a month straight.
You will get good at coming up with things for your gratitude list.
This is powerful. If you can quickly come up with reasons to be grateful then this can help protect you from relapse.
Just think about when you might be tempted to drink or use drugs. How hard is it to remind yourself to be grateful in those moments? Trust me, it is difficult!
And that is why we need to practice. If you can crank out a new gratitude list every single day then you will be in good shape to thwart a relapse.
If you do this exercise then you will also see how your priorities shift over time in sobriety. The things that you are grateful for each day will slowly start to change.
And it is important for you to see that as you move forward, and appreciate the progress you are making.
2) The second exercise I want you to try in order to practice gratitude is a little counter-intuitive.
So you are going to hear me describe this and think that it is terrible. You’re going to, at first impression, think that this doesn’t work.
But it works. Trust me. You need to try it for yourself.
The idea is “negative visualization.”
So everyone is always telling us to visualize positive things, right? To focus on what we want to achieve in life, to visualize our goals, and so on.
But this exercise is the opposite of that.
This is where you take just a minute out of your day to say “How could it be worse?”
So take a moment right now, if you want to try it, and close your eyes, and really imagine a worst case scenario for your life. Or just for your day.
Maybe you got in a terrible accident on the way to work. Let’s say that this is what popped into your mind. Horrible, right?
So what you would do is to take about 60 seconds to imagine this scenario in greater detail. Imagine yourself being rushed to the hospital. Imagine the negative impact that it would have on your relationships, on your career, or perhaps you were even killed. Or paralyzed for life. Or whatever the case may be. Imagine a horrible situation for yourself and imagine it in great detail.
Do this for a minute, maybe for two minutes.
Then simply go back to whatever you were doing. Go on with your day.
Crazy, right? You are probably wondering, how on earth could that help me to develop gratitude?
But it works. And it does cause you to be grateful. Just one minute of negative visualization is enough to create more gratitude for the rest of your entire day.
Again, you are probably sitting there shaking your head in disbelief, saying “This won’t help me, if I think negative thoughts then it will just bring me down.”
You are wrong. I dare you to challenge that assumption, to actually test out the theory I am suggesting.
Don’t just think about it, actually do the negative visualization. And then see how it makes you feel afterwards.
Set a reminder to do it every day for a week. And then see how it works out for you.
I wish I could take credit for this exercise, but it actually dates back to the ancient Stoic philosophers. This was one of their biggest techniques for increasing happiness.
And essentially it is a simple mental exercise to help you gain perspective. It is a way to give your gratitude reserves a little bump.
Try it out, see if it works. You might be surprised.
Developing a daily practice that leads to a “more spiritual life”
The power of habit is what makes “the daily practice” an important part of your sobriety.
Our habits are powerful because they allow our actions to compound.
Do a positive action, get a tiny positive benefit.
But do that positive action every single day, and those benefits start to compound over time.
This is the power of habit.
If you want a “more spiritual life” then you would be wise to start examining your daily habits.
It is not the random events that will define how spiritual your life is (or isn’t). Because we all have random stuff come up. I don’t care if you the president, or the Pope, or someone who is homeless living on the street, we are all subject to the random and chaotic nature of life itself. The universe is like this giant pinball machine, and we are the pinball. So stuff happens and we bounce around and sometimes things get pretty random, pretty chaotic.
And so what defines your spirituality is not these random events, but instead it is the way that you react to them. And that will be determined by your daily habits.
So if you want to “live a more spiritual life” then what you really need to do is to take a look at your daily habits. Changing those daily habits will be the key to unlocking the sort of life that you want to live. Changing your habits will unlock the person that you want to become.
If someone says “I wish I were more spiritual,” that person is not disciplined enough to live the life that they want to be living. In order to correct this they would need to change their habits. That is the angle that they are missing.
Because maybe they will have a single event, maybe they will go to a certain religious ceremony and they will really get in touch with their spiritual side, and then after that they drift back into their old habits and nothing changes. They did this one thing, they had one “spiritual moment” and after that it was back to life as usual. So obviously they are not going to “feel more spiritual” based on that one time experience. It was there, then it was gone. It didn’t last.
The solution is in the daily practice. If you want certain results in your life then you should probably work towards those results……every single day!
That is the best way to reinvent yourself.
You do it on a daily basis.
So if you want to deepen your spiritual connection, you should start with two ideas to explore:
1) Cultivating gratitude, and
2) Your daily practice. Your positive habits that are leading you towards the life that you want to live, towards the person you want to become.
What about you, have you found a way to deepen your spiritual connection? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!