It may sound a bit cliche at first to speak of someone in addiction recovery having a “deep spiritual transformation,” but if you talk to a handful of people at an AA meeting, you will start to see what they are talking about.
Essentially what happens in addiction recovery is that the addict goes from being completely self centered and obsessed with their drug of choice to being someone who is genuinely interested in their peers and the well being of others who are in recovery. This is the end result of the spiritual transformation, and it represents a shift from being selfish to one of caring about others.
So how does this transformation happen, and how can a struggling addict pursue such a change? By why process can they make this happen?
One possibility is that you simply show up at an AA meeting one day and you work through the steps and your life magically transforms. This may or may not work for everyone, and certainly there are details that go far beyond “just show up to AA and let the magic happen.” Certainly more is involved with the transformation other than just sitting in meetings and absorbing knowledge via osmosis, right?
It has been my experience in sobriety that real spiritual transformation is–in fact–much more than just spiritual.
Let me explain that.
When I was living in a halfway house and working on my recovery program nearly 24/7, I was watching many peers and mentors in my life and I was attempting to find my own way in recovery.
I wanted to succeed very badly, and I was very aware of the peers around me who were often relapsing in early recovery. I quickly realized that most people who make at least some sort of initial attempt at recovery often fall by the wayside. They relapse. They fold.
I very much did not want to become a statistic. So I was constantly going to AA meetings, talking with therapists and my sponsor, and having deep discussions with my peers in the halfway house to try to decipher exactly what the secret of recovery really was.
We would sit and talk for hours about how recovery actually worked, and we would try to predict who had a strong recovery and was going to “make it,” and who was doomed to relapse eventually.
And very often we were wrong. Very often we found ourselves surprised when one of our peers would fall who we were all convinced had such a rock solid recovery program.
What was going on? How could we be mistaken so often when it came to relapse?
Those discussions certainly helped me to find my own path, mostly through showing me what did not work when it came to people’s recovery programs.
And so one example that really shook the foundations of my beliefs at the time was a peer of mine who I considered to be deeply spiritual. I looked up to this individual more than anyone else in terms of their spiritual program, their connection with their higher power, and the inspiring way that they lived their life as a result of their spirituality.
This person then went and relapsed. They drank and went back out to the disease.
And because I had put this person mentally up on a pedestal, it completely rocked the foundations of what I believed at the time.
And so what I realized when I went through that experience of watching my peer relapse was that “surface level spirituality” was worthless.
Just because you walk around and talk a good game about your spiritual practices does not translate into real world success.
Also, just “being spiritual” is not a complete recovery in itself. Something more is needed.
So you are probably wondering: “What is this something more that is needed beyond spirituality?”
The answer is: Holistic health.
My friend who relapsed did so because he was not tending to all of the areas of his health. He was deeply spiritual, but he also had to consider his physical health, his mental well being, his emotional balance, and the relationships in his life.
And so this “hidden truth” that I discovered after watching him relapse was that your overall health in recovery, your holistic health, is what truly makes or breaks your sobriety.
In other words, spirituality is but one leg of the table. There is also your physical health, your emotional health, your social health, and your mental health.
If you are focusing so heavily on one aspect of your life that you neglect all of the others then you can get tripped up to the point that you relapse.
So when I was living in that halfway house I was looking up to my mentors and my heroes in recovery and I believed that devout spiritual practice was going to be my salvation.
But what I came to learn is that a successful lifetime of sobriety requires more than just spirituality alone.
The holistic approach means that you treat the entire person, or the whole person, in recovery–and not just their spiritual malady.
Sure, spiritual growth is part of the healing process. But it is just one piece of the overall pie.
In order to deeply transform your spirit in addiction recovery, you have to also include balance in the equation. Meaning that you must treat the whole person and all aspects of your health, and all aspects of your life. If you zero in on spiritual practices alone then you may find that you have lost the forest for the trees. Meaning that you can get so laser focused on one aspect of your health that you neglect the other areas to the point that it causes you to relapse. I have watched this happen over and over again among my peers so I have taken measures to insure that I do not suffer the same fate.
And what are those measures? Holistic growth. Balance lifestyle. Taking positive action every day to improve my health and my life in some way.
Also, taking feedback and advice from other people, who can help me to identify the area of my life or my health that is most lacking right now. That is a moving target that I have to be willing to examine and address, over and over again. Recovery is thus a lifelong commitment to personal growth.