Spirituality And Higher Powers In Recovery Aren’t The Same As Religion In Recovery


Spirituality is defined as: the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature.

Many people with addictions are put off getting help because they have heard that there is a spiritual element to recovery, and they do not feel that they can function within a spiritual framework. Spirituality and addiction recovery sometimes seem to go hand in hand. The 12-step/fellowship movement, with its focus on a higher power, can be particularly challenging for some individuals.

Some of the reasons that people with addictions feel strongly about this include:

  • Not having a religious background and feeling uninformed about religion and spirituality.
  • Feeling that religion is about controlling people and not wanting to be controlled or to be part of an approach that controls others.
  • Recognising the role of religions in war and other atrocities and not wanting to be associated with them.
  • Being an atheist—believing that there is no God.
  • Being agnostic—believing that there is no way of knowing whether God exists, so it is hypocritical to pretend you know that there is a God.
  • Having had an unpleasant or abusive experience with a member of a church or religious organisation, particularly if they were in a leadership position.
  • Having experienced or witnessed such severe abuse, pain or suffering, that the idea of a God who could have prevented this makes no sense in any positive way.
  • Feeling uncomfortable with the idea that some religious doctrines associate human suffering with past failings or wrongdoings and are somehow “deserved.”

These are all valid reasons for rejecting or refusing involvement in a religious organisation. But they do not, in themselves, exclude you from discovering your own spiritual path. Many people are able to connect their spiritual path with organised religion, but many others do not require a “religion.”

“Spirituality is about more than just an ideology or a religious paradox,” explains Dr. Brooks, Chief People Officer at Vertava Health. “It’s an understanding and a connection to something that is bigger than us.”

Spirituality can be complex and fluid, but no matter if you are devoted to your faith or have never once attended a Sunday service or prayed to god, it can play a huge role in the addiction recovery process.


So, What Exactly Is Spirituality?

Spirituality is part of the human experience in which we explore who we are and what our life is about. This can include some of the following:

  • Getting in touch with your own moral compass—a way of knowing what is right and what is wrong according to your own beliefs and principles. These beliefs do not need to be handed to you by religion. You can discover them by exploring your own thoughts and feelings.
  • Learning to use your moral compass as a guide for how to live your life. For example, if you believe it is wrong to lie, finding ways to live more truthfully or if you love and respect nature, stop squashing bugs in your house and let them out outdoors instead.
  • Respecting yourself and others. People who grow up in abusive situations may find this difficult but ultimately very fulfilling when they achieve it.
  • Getting perspective on your problems. This includes recognising that it is possible to improve your situation with willpower and support.
  • Realising that we all have human weaknesses and letting go of the pride that may be getting in the way of asking for help if you need it.
  • Receiving and giving support to others.

Is Spirituality & Religion The Same Thing?

While the two are often closely linked and sometimes intertwined, spirituality does not need to be defined through the lens of religion. Religion is most commonly described as “a set of beliefs, rituals or practices regarding a belief in God or multiple gods”. On the other hand, spirituality is more of a personal search for their meaning in life and a connection with the universe or something bigger or greater than ourselves.

Although some people share their spirituality through religion, this form of expression doesn’t work for everyone. Others practice their spirituality through meditation, yoga, tai chi, spending time in nature or any number of more holistic methods.

Regardless of how you choose to express your spirituality, your practice should always be grounded in love and compassion, while guiding you closer to your purpose and place in life.


The Importance Of Spirituality In Recovery

“Addiction takes everything away from you, including your spirituality,” says Drew. “It doesn’t care what your purpose is, what you’ve achieved, how much charity or volunteering work you’ve done or what connections you have beyond yourself. It only cares about tearing you down.” While Drew takes the time to explain the heartbreaking reality of addiction, he is quick to add that you can gain all of these elements and more back in recovery.

“Addiction drags you down to the point at which you do nothing else and are nothing else except an organic being that lives to use and/or drink, seek more, use and drink more and the cycle continues. It only stops when either you end up in prison, hospital or, make some changes and become abstinent/sober and come to the realisation that you are more than that and worth more than that!“

Drew – Drink ‘n’ Drugs Therapist

With these things in mind, he explains that rediscovering your spirituality can be the catalyst to finding your sense of self again after addiction. “During active addiction, your purpose in life was to feed your disease, but spirituality can restore your self-worth and give you a new sense of purpose,” he concludes.

Reconnecting with yourself on a spiritual level can also provide the mental and emotional support that’s so essential to a successful journey of recovery.

“Knowing that we have a place in the world is inspiring, but also humbling,” says Drew. “It helps us to know that just because something is a problem today, there is always hope for the future.” It’s this hope for the future that Drew knows will inspire those in recovery to make the positive changes that they need to in their life.


What’s Classed As Spirituality/Higher Power?

Below are some of the things that people in recovery class as their higher power.

1. Laws Of Nature

the freedom center

One summer, I was waiting at an airport with my daughter to board a quick hour-long flight back home. When we arrived at the gate, the flight had been delayed 50 minutes due to a line of storms that were in our flight path. Those minutes were then extended to hours—nine hours, in fact, doled out slowly over the day, in which I not only had to quell my growing anxiety and entertain my six-year-old daughter.

I had plans at home that evening, but those plans went out the window when our flight was finally cancelled and we wait until morning to get home. My plans were supplanted by the weather—a force completely out of my control.

Mother Nature has her way of stomping all over our best-laid plans—outdoor weddings are ruined by rain. That big sports game gets a snow delay. Hurricanes take out people’s homes. Often there’s little we humans can do but take cover.

2. Laws Of Science

When scientists discovered the atom, they believed they had found the smallest particle possible. But then they discovered that atoms are made up of even smaller parts. With every question scientists answer, even more arise. The most common one is the question, “Why?”

Why is the gravity on one planet stronger than the other? Why What makes it all work? Why does gravity exist? When you start looking at the underpinnings of the laws of science, they are elusive, incomprehensible by the human mind. 

Scientists simply endeavor to solve a mystery—a mystery that gets deeper and deeper the more they investigate.

3. Love

love higher power recovery

Love is an infinite resource—and it’s a powerful one. Songs are written about it. Movies illustrate epic love stories and it’s the topic of many a book, both fiction and nonfiction.

But love as a higher power doesn’t have to be restricted to romantic love. If love is acceptance, then we can look at love from a higher vantage point, as something that can unite and empower us all.

4. The Flow Of The Universe

Some say things happen the way they’re supposed to; others say they happen the way they happen. The latter gets at the idea that the universe is moving in some fashion, and there is little we as humans can do about where it’s going.

Yes, this can apply to the moon and the stars and the planets, and how they rotate through their orbits. But also just to the way things happen. Why was I born to the parents I was born to? Why did I go to the party where I met my husband? Why were we given the blessing of a child? Why were we given the blessings of recovery?

No one can answer that, not really. It’s just the flow of the universe.

5. Music & The Arts

the freedom center

Listen to an old favorite song and notice what emotions and memories it can evoke, seemingly out of nowhere. The emotionality of music is a powerful force. Musicians often say that the songs they write don’t come from them, but through them. But you don’t have to create art to feel it’s power. 

How often do you find yourself moved by a painting? Has a novel ever brought you to tears? Taken separately, the ink and paper don’t have the power to do that, a guitar is just wood and strings. But with the right alchemy of words and sounds, they can transform people.

6. Humanity

Recovery is about community, people often say. This idea is rooted in the commonality of the human experience. We all struggle, and sometimes we lose, sometimes we win, sometimes we come out close to even. The human experience is what connects us and makes us able to empathise with one another.

What’s best, then, for all of humankind can only help us all. The interconnectedness of humans is evident in recovery, especially when I’ve seen someone in recovery guide someone else still struggling to a meeting or treatment. One person’s happiness can affect the happiness of others—by a power greater than themselves. No man is an island, as they say.

Other Options

  • God
  • Allah
  • Yahweh
  • The Father
  • The Holy Trinity
  • Jesus Christ
  • Jehovah
  • Buddha
  • Brahman
  • Nirvana
  • Mother Earth
  • Universe
  • Nature
  • Energy
  • Ego
  • Self-Will
  • Us
  • Ghosts/past loved ones
  • Animals/animal spirits
  • Guardian angels/angels
  • Aliens/Extraterrestrials
  • The floral kingdom

Finding Spirituality In Recovery

In the beginning stages of recovery, Drew sees that clients often struggle with their spirituality. “It can be hard to understand what spirituality really is, especially when we’ve lost it or have never had it in the first place,” he says.

Despite this, he urges his clients to not give up on their spirituality – even when it feels non-existent. After years of experience, Drew knows that spirituality often takes time, patience and practice to find, grow and develop.

“What I see a lot of people doing in order to find their spirituality is taking time for self-reflection every day,” he offers. “Anytime we can slow our thoughts to be more present in the moment and be intentionally connected with what’s going on around us, it opens up our eyes to a whole new view of the world.”

When we’re in active addiction, we spend all of our time looking the ground below us. This could be symbolic of the way in which we see ourselves, downtrodden.

It isn’t until we enter recovery and see the world from a different perspective, we then begin to look up at the trees, birds and sky. Suggestive of the way we now see our new life.

Drew – Drink ‘n’ Drugs

In addition to taking time for yourself each day, Drew recommends reading works from different spiritual thought leaders among varying ideologies. “Spirituality is not one size fits all,” he explains. “Each individual has to find what resonates with them at a core level. Once you’ve read a few different spiritual perspectives on the world, you’ll feel it more than read about it and instinctively know what feels right or wrong for you.”

Beyond reading, Drew suggests that you should have conversations with people who have various backgrounds and ideologies. Ask them to explain what their personal path to spirituality or faith has been and to address any concerns you have about your own spirituality.

Not every conversation will resonate with you, but you can use this knowledge to begin guiding you through your journey of spirituality in recovery.

Lastly, Drew emphasises the importance of being open to new and different ways of connecting to your spirituality. What may have worked for you prior to active addiction may not work for you in recovery, so don’t be scared to explore other methods.

“The reality is, our lives are going so fast all of the time,” he starts. “It’s so important to peel away from that in order to get quiet and be present in the moment. The clarity that comes from these times is where spirituality is born.”


Struggling With Spirituality In Recovery

Although spirituality may be a key element of recovery, it doesn’t come inherently to everyone in recovery – and that’s okay. If you’re struggling to find your spirituality, Drew recommends sharing your concerns with someone else.

“You have to be intentional about being by yourself, but you also have to be intentional about sharing what you’re learning during that alone time with someone else,” he suggests. To do this most efficiently, Drew often recommends that clients journal during their time spent alone. Afterwards, you can take these concerns, thoughts and questions to someone you trust in order to start seeking clarity.

If this doesn’t seem to be bringing you any closer to your spirituality, don’t give up. Spirituality requires you to be mindful of the ordinary moments, vulnerable to others, honest in your relationships and open to change – and these things take time and practice.

“Often, we’re working so hard to do and to create and to make and to accomplish that we miss the value of just being present in the moment,” Drew concludes.


Taking It Further

While these are spiritual activities that can help enormously with most people who are working on overcoming addictions, there are other spiritual activities that a smaller number of people are able to engage in. They are not essential to the recovery process but may lead to a happier life. Don’t put yourself under pressure to do this if you are not ready.

  • Discovering your unique gifts and creating a life that uses them.
  • Forgiving people who hurt you in the past.
  • Seeking forgiveness from others.
  • Gaining new insights—”learning” from your experiences of addiction.
  • “Giving back” to the community—for example, volunteering or working in the addictions field or related areas.

One increasingly common approach to healing, mindfulness-based therapy, has roots in Buddhist traditions. However, it is important to note that the mindfulness found in psychotherapy is often presented as a secular practice, distinct from the kind of mindfulness taught in Buddhism.

There has been philosophical debate over how much mindfulness can truly be separated from its religious origins, but for the purposes of addiction treatment, you don’t need to believe in a higher power to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness-based therapy can be a good way to get in touch with your spirituality without getting embroiled in ambivalence or feelings of inconsistency between the therapy and your beliefs (or lack of them).


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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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