Recovery Needs Spirituality
When we talk about the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction, we know that it is different from talking about cancer or ebola. It is not a virus that affects the organs; it cannot be treated by a series of operations or medications. Yes, it falls into the area of mental sickness, but it revolves around descriptions like allergy, obsession of the mind, and cravings, that are the result of an individual’s behavior around a substance. Discussions have often resulted in scientists talking about an “alcoholic gene” that separates alcoholics or drug addicts from other people; a difference in the brain that sets off a craving when alcoholics or drug addicts come in contact with mind-altering substances. More is being revealed, but the simple concept of alcoholism as a self-inflicted illness does not present the full picture. It’s not enough to say that alcoholics or drug addicts are crazy people who seem to willfully desire to destroy their lives.
And yet, unlike ebola or cancer, the behavior of alcoholics concerning the substance alcohol is necessary. To become alcoholics or a drug addicts, individuals need to drink alcohol or take or inject the drug. Drunkenness or “being high” doesn’t just happen. You cannot think yourself into drunkenness, but you can think yourself into relapse.
“Choice” is a powerful word. A person chooses to drink. Some make the choice not to drink. Why? Because they can.
I recently heard an alcoholic in recovery share that for many years he was a pathetic and violent alcoholic, sentenced to many years in prison. Then he heard a simple message, from a recovery group, that changed his life: “You do not have to live like this anymore. You can change. You can stop doing what you are doing. Take responsibility for your disease and live a different life.”
Here is a relevant excerpt from my book Spirituality and Recovery (2012):
I believe that God is involved in everything and, using traditional language, His grace abounds. However, we play an essential role in the living of our lives.
We are able to live the good life when we know, on a spiritual level, that we make life come alive. Our decisions and choices determine success or tragedy. God doesn’t make anyone happy, sad, successful or loving . . . that’s our job (p. 59).
The kind word can be said only if we choose to say it. That needed word of encouragement or forgiveness requires you. Others may say it, but that would not be you. It would not be you saying it. Remember, nobody can say it like you can. You are terrific. In your individuality is your uniqueness. In your individuality is your power. In your individuality is God expressed.
Everything stems from how we choose to practice our spirituality. The word of encouragement or the silence of understanding: all are part of life. All are our responsibility. Even the negative and critical statements are ours. We choose to hurt. We choose to be cruel. We choose to destroy. The awareness of our imperfections can be the way back to our given spirituality (2012, p. 63).
Notice that we are talking about spirituality, not religion. You do not need to be religious to recover but you do need to experience and demonstrate spirituality.
What is spirituality? Well, in the way the word is being used for recovery from addiction, it means to “live the good life.” It means the opposite of drunkenness and the opposite of being irresponsibly “high” or “on a trip to nowhere.” Spirituality is living in the world of reality.
Recently I was sharing in a lecture at a treatment center that a real and rigorously honest understanding of how alcoholism or drug addiction affects our lives opens the door to living the spiritual life. This is because the spiritual life is the exact opposite of our behavior and attitude when we were using. The recovery program of addicts is based upon the simple but profound belief that human beings can change. I sometimes hear people say that the leopard cannot change its spots, but we are not leopards! And it’s not a physical description that is changing, but a spiritual, psychic change.
Interventions often help this change; some interventions are formal with an outside professional, others can happen within our everyday lives.
A change occurred for me after a car crash and the magistrate took away my car keys. In my book Meditations for Compulsive People (1995), I wrote about this change:
Then I heard the news:
“The court has decided to allow you to drive again . . .
You can have your car keys.”
I jumped for joy,
hurt my foot,
and cried with excitement.
Often I see car keys and secretly remember.
On a coffee table,
or beside a flower pot,
resting on my car gloves,
and I remember.
I see the car crash,
hear the screams,
smell the dust,
remember the “Moment.”
The car crash became my intervention.
I see powerlessness.
I see recklessness.
I see policemen.
I feel pain.
I know unmanageability.
Car keys: A remembered disease on a ring!
For two years, I walked.
Rode a bicycle.
Pretended not to care.
No car keys.
A symptom of addiction.
Jesus said, “I will give you the keys
of the kingdom of heaven.”
But I wanted car keys!
For me to see the kingdom of heaven,
the car keys had to be taken away.
Having less brings more.
The keys are part of my sobriety,
A symptom of the dis-ease;
aspects of unmanageability.
“Cunning, baffling, powerful” – car keys.
Today, I have them back – and more,
much more (p. 33–4).
Spirituality will mean different things to different people, but for alcoholics or addicts it simply means a step into the good life—a life that emphasizes personal responsibility and the removal of any evident defects of character, and a life that is made stronger by knowing that there are some things that we can change . . . and we are prepared to do so.
Booth, L. (1995). Meditations for compulsive people. London: SCP Limited.
Booth, L. (2012). Spirituality and recovery. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.