There is a
relationship between spirituality and relapse. To understand it, we must
first define spirituality. People
have both physical characteristics, determined by the structure and
actions of their bodies, and non-physical characteristics, determined by
the structure and actions of their minds.
These non-physical or spiritual characteristics include the
ability to perceive, think, feel, act, and assign meaning and purpose to
life. Human beings not only
think and feel, but they are conscious of the fact that they do so.
This individual consciousness creates a core personal identity
that moves beyond physical existence into a complex world of ideas and
images. This personal consciousness drives people to find meaning and
purpose in human existence.
desire for a sense of meaning that transcends the physical has led many
recovering people to a search for the laws or organizing principles of
the non-physical dimension of human existence.
They believe that human existence is ruled by laws, or organizing
principles. The physical
world is governed by physical laws.
The non-physical world is governed by mental and spiritual laws.
People who live in accordance with these universal laws find
peace and serenity in life. They
discover a sense of meaning and purpose in their sobriety.
Those who violate these universal principles, either through
ignorance or intent, experience inner pain, turmoil, and frustration.
They become disillusioned in recovery and many relapse to
chemical use to medicate the pain.
Mystical & Non-mystical Spirituality
two different ways of thinking about human spirituality. Mystical spirituality
is based upon the belief that there is a spiritual world inhabited by a
Higher Power or God. The
meaning and purpose of life, according to mystical spirituality, can
only be found through a conscious relationship with this
spiritual Higher Power who reveals information not available
through our ordinary senses or intelligence.
The ultimate goal of mystical spirituality, therefore, is to
establish a personal relationship with God, and to seek knowledge of his
will and the courage to carry that out.
recognizes that human beings exist not only in the physical world, but
also in a unique world of ideas, thoughts, feelings, and fantasies that
transcends physical limitations. In this sense the word spiritual can be used
interchangeably with the word psychological. Non-mystical spirituality, like psychology, is directed at
learning to effectively use human mental powers to find meaning and
purpose in life. The
spiritual life is based upon developing these mental and emotional
abilities. Non-mystical spirituality, however, believes that human
beings can discover basic spiritual truths thorough the use of their
senses and intellect. They
do not rely upon divine revelation, but look to human reason to find the
answers to sobriety.
and non-mystical spirituality are not mutually exclusive.
Many recovering people have a mixed spiritual system.
In the mystical sense, they seek to develop a personal
relationship with the God of their understanding and pray to discover
what God's will is for them. In
a non-mystical sense, they actively work at psychological growth.
They believe this mixture of the mystical and non-mystical
captures the principle of "turning it over, but doing the leg
spirituality allows them to turn over some aspects of their human
experience to the care of a Higher Power.
Non-mystical spirituality allows them to "do the leg
work" by taking responsibility for personal growth and change.
Relapse & The Extremes of Mystical Spirituality
and rigid views of spirituality can result in relapse.
Many people relapse because they believe that the mystical god of
their understanding will somehow magically save them from their
problems. They abdicate
personal responsibility and expect God to take care of everything.
When God doesn't, they sink into a deep existential depression
and say, "Since God won't fix my life, I might as well get
of this is the man who turned $60,000 worth of debt incurred from his
cocaine addiction over to his higher power.
He was absolutely shocked when his higher power turned his debts
over to a collection agency.
man, who was divorced shortly after getting sober, looked to God to
clean up his apartment. He
was disappointed when God wouldn't do it.
Upon spiritual reflection the man concluded that since God
wouldn't clean his apartment, it must be God's will for him to live in
the mess. Shortly afterwards he got drunk.
Relapse & The Extremes of Non-mystical Spirituality
people relapse because they cannot find a higher power to believe in.
Some of these people are overwhelmed with such intense shame and
guilt that they can't believe God or any other higher power is available
to them. Others are locked
into grandiosity. They see
themselves as bigger, strong, and smarter than anyone or anything else
in the universe. When they
encounter overwhelming problems they feel cut off from all sources of
courage strength and hope. They
often become disillusioned and relapse to chemical use.
people who succeed in recovery have organized their sobriety around a
source of meaning and purpose that is greater than themselves.
Most practice the mixed system of spirituality described in the
serenity prayer. The
Serenity Prayer is "God grant me the serenity to accept the things
I can, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the
who live in accordance with these spiritual principles recognize that
there are things that they can and must change if they are to stay
sober, and they seek the courage to make those changes.
They also recognize that there are other things that are beyond
their control. They turn these things over to a Higher Power.
They have faith that there is someone or something bigger,
stronger and more powerful than they that will take care of the things
that they can't manage. As
a result, they can comfortably let go of the things that they cannot
manage and invest their energies in taking care of things that are
within their power.
Recovery & A Balanced Sense Of Spirituality
stay sober are able to transform themselves by surrendering their
narrow, addictive world view and embracing a broader and more effective
sobriety-based world view. This
transformation is a spiritual process, though not necessarily a mystical
one. It is a consciousness
expanding experience that requires a belief that there is someone or
something more powerful than I am.
It requires a willingness to believe in a seek out that source of
power, to ask for help, and ultimately to follow directions.
people need to find a source of courage and strength that can overcome
frustration, transform despair into hope, and motivate them to move
ahead in the sober life. Some
recovering people find this in a mystical higher power that many call
God. Others find it in the
mysterious power present in their group conscience.
Still others find it in a higher value system that replaces
addictive thinking with rationality and reason.
maintain sobriety learn that they are responsible for themselves.
They internalize the AA principle of "easy does it, but do
it." They realize that
they need to identify the next little thing they have to do to stay
sober, and do it. In
essence, they realize that they are responsible for whether or not they
take the next drink or the next drug.
They recognize that they must learn how to look within themselves
and find the source of courage, strength, and hope needed to stay sober.
Ultimately, they are responsible for rebuilding their lives and finding
meaning and purpose in sobriety.
The Spiritual Paradox of Recovery
the paradox of recovery. We
cannot do it alone, but yet we must do it by ourselves.
We cannot expect God or a higher power to do what we are able to
do for ourselves, but yet we cannot do it for ourselves without somehow
touching a source of courage and strength that exceeds our own
abilities. And here seems to be the ultimate spiritual principle that
allows alcoholics to avoid relapse and move ahead in recovery.
It is a philosophy of balance.
It is the ability to recognize and affirm the quality of physical
existence, to learn how the physical world operates and operate within
the limits of its laws and imperatives.
It is also the willingness to affirm the world of ideas,
thoughts, and images. It is
the ability to learn to turn within and find a creative spark of life, a
creative spiritual energy that will allow us to go on and find solutions
when none seem available. The
balance of these two worlds, the world of physical reality, and the
world of ideas where the ultimate spiritual reality exists, allow people
to forge a strong and powerful sobriety.