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Do I Really Need Spirituality in Recovery?

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Do I really need God to get sober?

Maybe and maybe not. But we've found connecting with spirit to be a profoundly moving and transformational approach for the healing of addiction as well as hopelessness and depression.

What is Spiritual Wellness? 

Spirituality is about finding a connection with a force, energy, or presence that’s bigger than you. It encompasses questions about meaning and purpose, and often it involves experiences of unity, oneness, and a connection to all that is.

Notice what’s not included in that definition … namely, the idea that your personal spirituality needs to match up with another person’s or organization’s concept of the Divine.

Since your spirituality and spiritual wellness is shaped by your life experience and your personality, it doesn’t need to fit into someone else’s box. Instead, it can be as unique as you are!

"spirituality is your own very personal relationship with the Divine, however that may manifest in your life.”

  - Betsy Koelzer, Clearing Co-Founder

Here, we’ll explore the importance of integrating spirituality into your addiction treatment plan … with the caveat that it may not look like you expect!

Spirituality in Recovery: Why it Matters

For addiction treatment to be truly holistic, it must address all four levels of self … physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The physical level of self involves what we do; the mental - what we think and believe; the emotional - what we feel; and the spiritual - who we truly are.   Without spiritualilty in recovery, it’s incomplete.

spiritualiy-in-recovery-stoolImagine a three-legged chair; without the fourth leg, the chair is wobbly and unstable.

Spirituality in recovery matters because it’s part of who you are. And if you’re intending to heal on the deepest levels, you need to connect with all parts of yourself.

Spirituality is like the fourth leg of the chair, and it’s the one that’s often missing from professional addiction treatment programs today.

Increasingly, you’ll see therapeutic programs integrating the latest advances in behavioral, mental, and emotional health … but the spiritual component is absent.

Spirituality and Recovery: Two Different Models

There are two distince models that incorporate spirituality in recovery today:

  1. 12 Steps Recovery Programs
  2. Non 12 Step Recovery Programs (some)

The 12 Step model of addiction treatment emphasizes the spiritual aspect of recovery over all others. 12 Step programs use a set of spiritual principles and a member-driven brotherhood of support to address addiction.

12 Steps programs represent the current cultural norm, as approximately 75% of residential treatment centers in America are 12-Step based.   

Important Consideration in 12 Step Programs

However, the 12 Step model requires its participants to state that they are entirely powerless over their addictions.

It asks individuals to rely solely on a Higher Power to recover. These foundational statements contain shades of disempowerment and helplessness.

An Alternative Approach to Spirituality in Recovery

But what if people could connect with the Divine in a way that acknowledges their power as co-creators of reality?

What if they could both receive Divine aid and be equipped to take action on their own behalf?

“Spirituality in residential treatment has followed two different paths. The most subscribed path has been feeling a higher power will restore a person to sanity. This denies our native spiritual abilities and focuses our attention on a Higher Power to do the work for us. The other approach is more empowering. It entails working with Spirit to achieve a desired goal by taking the proper action steps together ... Spirit meets us at our point of action.”

 -- Joe Koelzer, co-founder, The Clearing.

See more in What’s the Role of Spirituality in Treatment.

Trauma and Resistance to Spirituality in Recovery

But what if you’re struggling with the idea that you have a spiritual aspect within you at all?

What if hearing the word “spiritual” makes your skin crawl?

If that sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. Many people have had traumatic experiences with religious and spiritual groups, and these traumas have taught them to be wary. Perhaps your childhood church taught you to fear hellfire and divine wrath, or your yoga guru exploited his followers for personal gain.

On the other hand, you may not have any significant trauma surrounding spirituality. You may simply feel a general skepticism. Why should you dive into this “spirituality stuff” anyway?

spirituality-in-recovery-resistanceAnother common source of resistance to spirituality in addiction treatment is the idea that it’s something to strive for, one more burden to bear.

Perhaps you think of spirituality as just one more reason to feel bad about yourself.

If so, that’s understandable.  

After all, how many times have you heard people say, “I’ve tried, but I just haven’t been able to break this pattern … I guess I just need to be more spiritual” …? This implies a need to try harder and work more in order to become a “better” version of yourself.

But what if spirituality isn’t about changing yourself to conform to an ideal, but rather simply embracing who you already are? What if you’re already spiritual?

In Spiritual Psychology, you are a spiritual being having a human experience.

Whatever goes on in this lifetime, the soul is just soaking it up, taking it in, and learning from it all. As such, you can relax into the knowledge that you’re already spiritual.

You’re already in the process of learning, growing, and evolving.

Embracing a New Version of Spirituality in Recovery

Whatever your negative association or personal hesitation, consider the possibility that the Divine can look different than you’ve been told.

Play with the idea of a positive Divine concept, one that might enhance your life in unexpected ways. Think about this idea in whatever way feels right for you.

For example, you might think of the Divine as similar to the unconditional love you feel from your dog or cat or your best friend. Maybe it’s the visceral experience of wellbeing that fills you as you dance or surf or run … or maybe it’s simply the sense of alignment you feel as you speak your truth.

As Jake Wolowski wrote in his blog post My Walk with God: Atheism, Agnosticism, and Spirituality:

“God can simply mean energy. Or truth. Or insight. Or anything. There’s no limit, no right or wrong, no good or bad way to conceptualize God, just as long as the concept used comes from a place of loving.”

Tapping into this place of loving and peace is an incredibly important part of addiction recovery because when you access it, you are able to give love to the parts of yourself that have been hurt. And when you receive that love, you heal.  

Free eBook Download:

Healing Underlying Core Issues


Caroline McGraw

This post was written by Caroline McGraw

In addition to her work as "the voice of The Clearing", Caroline Garnet McGraw writes about trading perfectionism for possibility at A Wish Come Clear. Visit and receive your free Perfectionist Recovery Toolkit today!

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