November 30, 2016 — Written By, Kirk Markey
We have made tremendous strides in the science of addiction over the past two decades. This is especially true in the field of neuroscience, which has taught us a great deal about the brain chemistry of persons with substance abuse problems. Sociology has played a role as well, by showing us the role that feelings of “disconnectedness” play in addiction.
How these findings link up with spirituality and addiction is up for debate, with a thousand voices chiming in with a different opinion. But one thing seems clear in all of these discussions – that thinking of addiction in spiritual terms is incredibly useful for recovery. And despite our culture’s tendency to separate science and spirituality, there needn’t be a contradiction between these supposedly different approaches.
In a sense, the connection between science and spirituality is easy to explain. When an addict begins spiritual practices that are meaningful to him or her, chemical changes occur in the brain and lead to recovery. The exact mechanisms behind all this are not completely known, but the results are undeniable.
Defining Spirituality in Recovery
But what exactly does the term “spirituality” mean? This is a question no one has been able to answer definitively, but that doesn’t mean we can simply avoid it. It goes without saying that defining spirituality in recovery (and in all other matters) is always an individual decision, but it seems apparent that it requires getting connected. And you only need to talk with a few recovered people to understand why this is the case.
Almost every addict and alcoholic describes their personal experiences as being marked by terrible feelings of loneliness and alienation. They feel different, out of place, like alien creatures without a home in the world. Many of them also say that they cannot find relief by looking inward, at least not exclusively. Furthermore, they describe their recovery in completely opposite terms, as a gradual building up of connections to the wider world. Eventually, this takes on a million different forms, but spiritual recovery usually begins with the relationships they build with other addicts.
Recovering people state that there is no greater healing than that which occurs when helping others. No one has the right to impose their spiritual views on another human being, but this seems to be an eternal truth. If the chief mechanism of addiction manifests itself in isolation, it stands to reason that a big part of the solution are feelings of connection. Where this leads afterward is up to the individual.
The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous is not infallible. But it contains a statement on spirituality and recovery that seems wholly appropriate here. It says: “Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.” Regardless of anyone’s specific faith (or lack thereof), this is a statement of pure genius.
What this statement says is incredibly powerful when put into practice. It is a statement of respect and dignity. It acknowledges the pain of not fitting in with conventional spiritual practices. It allows for a great latitude of movement within the spiritual realm. And most important of all, it indicates the tremendous relief of connecting spirituality and recovery.
Wisdom is where you find it.