What can you do in order to improve your spirituality in addiction recovery?
Have you lapsed in terms of your spiritual growth lately? If so, is there a specific way that you can get your spiritual life back in order? How do you go about doing that?
Let’s take a closer look at some of these concepts. Many people believe that spirituality is the foundation of success in addiction recovery, so it is important to keep a close eye on how you are doing from a spiritual perspective.
How complacency can sneak into your recovery without you realizing it
Anyone can get complacent in recovery. It happens to all of us.
If you stay clean and sober for years or decades then it is inevitable that you will go through periods of time where you are distracted from your spiritual quest.
I can remember being in early recovery from addiction and I was living in long term rehab. I went through a period of my early recovery where I was completely focused on spiritual progress each and every day. I was doing everything that I could to become “more spiritual.”
Now the interesting thing about that is that you have to define what “spiritual” means to you.
And another interesting thing is that, over time, your definition of what “spiritual” means will probably change and evolve.
So when I was in early recovery I believed that spirituality had mostly to do with two things: Prayer and seated meditation. That was what my limited view of spirituality told me to engage in. After all, the 12 steps of AA mentioned both prayer and meditation, right? So in my mind those two things were most important in terms of spirituality.
Another thing that was important to me at that time was faith. The third step in AA spoke to me about faith. Really that was the basic concept behind “turning my will and my life over to the care of God.” To me, that meant having faith. Turning your life over to God was an act of faith. So that was a big part of what I thought it meant to “be more spiritual.”
So during our recovery journey we are taking an active role in developing this spiritual life. And that might mean different things at various times. So at one point you may think that this means you need to pray and meditate every day. At another time you may believe that you have to have deep faith, or practice acceptance. Or you may even believe that you need to go to church.
You take certain actions in order to build up your “spiritual muscle” in recovery. The theory is that this will then protect you from the threat of relapse. And depending on the person, this can certainly work well. Some people get a great deal of benefit out of pursuing the spiritual life in terms of staying sober.
The problem is that over the years you will inevitably have some periods of time where you stop pushing yourself so much. You stop the spiritual quest, if only temporarily. And so you may drift away from your practice of faith, from your higher power, from your daily rituals of prayer and meditation.
And during those times you become vulnerable. And we do not get to choose when we are tempted by relapse.
The inevitable ups and downs in addiction recovery
My sponsor in recovery has a sponsor. That would be my “great sponsor.” He told a story once when he went through a very traumatic life event in which he lost some close family members.
He talks about how there are times in your recovery where you are doing everything that you are supposed to be doing from a spiritual standpoint. So you may be praying every day, working with newcomers in recovery, writing in a journal, talking with peers in recovery, practicing gratitude, and so on.
He compares that to a runner on first base, with both feet firmly planted on the base.
But he says that everyone drifts away from that “spiritual center” at various times during their recovery journey. So there will be times when you are not doing all of those things that you should be doing–the prayer, the gratitude, the meditation, working with others, and so on. He compares this to “leading off” the base, as if you are about to steal second base. You are in dangerous territory. You have drifted off the base.
And so he talks about this traumatic event that he went through that could have rocked his world and caused a major relapse. However, he notes that at the time that this traumatic event happened, he had both of his feet planted firmly on the base. In other words, he was not leading off. He was not drifting from his spiritual center. He was doing everything that he needed to do in order to stay centered.
And so it is with all of us in recovery.
We are all going to be tested. If you stay sober and you stay alive then eventually you will be tested. You will face some ups and downs. It is a certainty. And so during those times you will either stay strong and maintain sobriety, or you will relapse. And this will depend on how firmly you have both feet planted on first base. How much you are doing all of those things that you need to do in order to maintain your spiritual center.
I think one of the most powerful tools for this is the daily practice.
Your daily practice is what you do every day. You don’t question it, you just do it. Because you have established certain habits that you have decided need to be an important part of your life. You have decided that certain daily habits are necessary in order to remain healthy in recovery.
And some of those daily habits will be spiritual.
How to transform your life in terms of your spiritual progress
If you want to transform your life then you need to get into new positive habits every day.
Think about it: Your life today is a reflection of the last few years of choices. Every choice you have made in the past has led you to where you are today. And your daily habits have made a huge impact on shaping the person that you have become today.
So if you want to change who you become in the future, then you need to do a few things:
1) Change who you are today. Start taking positive action right now. Actions that will lead you to become the person that you want to be.
2) Maintain those changes over time with consistency. Many people make an effort but they do not persist. In order to become the person that you are supposed to be you need to persist in these changes. That is why we focus on daily habits. Those positive changes need to accumulate over time.
Early recovery is a time of change. That’s the whole point of recovery, you are going to do something different. Plain and simple. Recovery is nothing if not change.
So you start by putting down the drugs and alcohol. You detox your body physically. This is the baseline of success. All of your recovery efforts hinge on this one idea.
You might go to an inpatient treatment center. Or you might go to AA meetings or counseling. Or you might do a combination of these things. All of it is probably helpful to most people. More treatment is generally better than less treatment.
So this is about taking action.
If you want to transform spiritually then you need to take action. Something has to happen. You must change who you are and what you do each day. This is what transformation is all about.
I would urge you to look beyond the preconceived notions of what “spirituality” is and what it means. So look beyond the idea of prayer, meditation, going to church, having faith, and so on.
Look beyond those ideas and realize that everything is spiritual. It is actually a holistic thing, this recovery approach.
So in other words, if you are trying to “be more spiritual” but your health is poor and you are out of shape and you have poor eating habits then are you really being as spiritual as you can be? It’s all connected. So it is not just about prayer and meditation. It’s about taking care of yourself in every way possible. It’s about becoming a healthier version of yourself in every way. Not just spiritually, but also physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and so on. If one of these areas of your life is lacking then you are not being “as spiritual” as you can be.
So it is about taking action and working hard at the daily practice. What are the things that you need to do each day in order to take care of yourself? For me, I have to exercise every day. I have to eat as healthy as I can each day. I have to get 8 hours of sleep each day. I have to write in a journal each day and stay emotionally balanced. I have to try to help others in recovery. I have to practice gratitude every single day.
These are some of the things that make up my daily practice. I do them every single day without question. I don’t wonder if I should do them, I already made a decision that these things were important and vital to my sobriety. So I do them every day and over time the benefits of this daily practice rewards me.
This is how to transform your life spiritually. Do it with the power of daily habits. Consistency is important.
And you may have to take to other people in recovery. You may have to ask people what works for them, how they practice a spiritual life every day. Get ideas, test them out, give them a 30 day trial.
Every idea that you test out in recovery should be at least a 30 day trial. This is because we are concerned with positive habits that build a stronger recovery over time. If it just helps you in the short run then it is not that useful. We need actions that multiply over time when you do them every day. So positive habits, healthy lifestyle changes, etc.
Some practical suggestions for improving your spiritual life
It is easy to get distracted when discussing spiritual growth because there is a tendency to get too philisophical. We don’t want to be too abstract here. Rather, we need practical suggestions that can actually improve your spiritual progress right now.
So here are some suggestions that have worked for me. Perhaps most importantly, if you find these suggestions to be lacking, don’t just do nothing. Instead, go find more suggestions! Go to an AA meeting and ask for the same advice–ask them what they do each day in terms of action in order to develop their spirituality.
These are just some things that have helped me:
1) Write in a journal each day. I type mine out on a computer. I date it, then just write. No real requirements. I talk about what is going on with me. My daily grind. whatever. I think there is value in simply purging your thoughts, getting it out there, writing it down. It frees up your brain to focus on other things, things that may be more important. Like the present moment. When you write down your thoughts in a journal, you are writing down the past and the future. The past is what happened to you, and the future is what your worries are about stuff. Neither of these thoughts are particularly useful when it comes to being happy in recovery. So write them down and purge them. Get them out on paper. Set your mind free. Then it can be happy.
2) Write out a gratitude list every day. Try doing this for 30 days. You might also tear the list up after you write it. Keep it simple with ten things per day. Or if you want to push yourself, write down 50 things per day that you are grateful for. The point of this is not really to figure out what you are grateful for, the point of it is to train your brain at being very quick at becoming grateful. This is very useful in terms of relapse prevention. Gratitude is vital to spirituality. If someone says they are spiritual, but they aren’t grateful, then guess what…..they aren’t really spiritual. Gratitude is key.
3) Take care of yourself every day. You will need help with this. Guidance. Ask others how to do this. Ask your sponsor in AA how to do this. My sponsor told me to quit smoking cigarettes and to start exercising. I thought that was stupid at the time. Boy, was I wrong. Since then I have learned a lot of other ways to take care of myself. Not just physically, but emotionally and socially and mentally as well. All of this stuff is connected. If you are taking care of yourself in all of these ways then it will enhance your spiritual life.
4) If you are open to AA, go to a meeting, get a sponsor, and work through the 12 steps with that sponsor. This is a practical and straightforward path to spiritual growth. It doesn’t work for everyone and it is not the only path, but it is one option. Try it and see if it works for you. If not, don’t beat yourself up. There are other paths to sobriety, and to spirituality. I don’t go to AA any more myself, but I once went for about 18 months, and the program is certainly valid for some people. It is a tool. Use it if it works for you.
5) Find ways to interact with others in recovery. You can do this through AA, through outpatient treatment, or even through online recovery forums. Reach out and connect with others in sobriety. This is especially important in early recovery.
Jump starting spiritual progress in recovery
Ask for help.
Listen to the advice you are given.
Act on that advice.
That is the formula to get your spiritual growth kick started.
Think about it: The alternative to this is to use your own ideas instead. The problem is that when we are being selfish we are rarely “being spiritual.” Our own selfish desires are almost never in line with spiritual growth.
So if you can find a way to “get outside of yourself” then it will generally lead to spiritual progress of some sort.
Even better than asking for help and advice may be to offer help to others in recovery.
This is, perhaps, the most powerful thing that you can do in terms of spiritual growth. This is what the twelfth step of AA is based on, the idea of service work, the idea of being useful to other human beings. If you can reach out and help other people then this will do wonders for your own health in recovery.
There is no substitute for this sort of self esteem that you get when you make a real difference in the lives of others. There is nothing that can replace that amazing feeling that you get when you realize that you have made a positive impact on the lives of other people.
So if you really want to jump start your spiritual growth then you need to find a way to reach out and be of service to others. If you want to protect yourself from relapse then the best thing you can do is to help other people to protect themselves from relapse.
The other way to jump start the process of spiritual growth is to focus on gratitude. Start making gratitude lists every day. Start framing your prayers in terms of gratitude (“Thank you for another day sober. Thank you for helping me to become a stronger person today.” Etc.).
So does your spirituality need a makeover? You can tell the answer to that question based on how grateful you are lately. Do you feel grateful to the universe itself, just for the fact that you exist, that you can walk around and experience all of these amazing connections in life? If not, then you might challenge yourself to develop your gratitude a bit more, to start taking better care of yourself every day, to establish a daily practice that leads you to better health and happiness.
The thing is, we all need a makeover in our spiritual lives at different points in our recovery. We all drift off of first base eventually, and find ourselves “leading off.” So when we realize that it is time to focus our efforts and get back to the daily actions that will lead us to a more spiritual life. Take some advice, take the suggestions, and start taking positive action every day.