I am frequently asked about when spirituality begins in the life of the addicted person. There is some, “common knowledge” (based on common experience) that says that once a person enters recovery, the spiritual life begins. Other common knowledge says that in addiction, spirituality is the first thing to go, and the last to return. Also, some say that the spiritual life is absent during active addiction, and only surfaces once recovery begins. These are interesting points of discussion among recovering people, and can put some people into a frame of mind to try to explain the way they understand their own experience of spirituality.
I frequently try to help them understand that these, somewhat simplistic, understandings of spirituality have some shortcomings. This is because the common understanding of spiritual life is that part of life which is seen “through rose colored glasses”. This is not so. There is a more realistic approach to understanding the spiritual life, but it takes a broader understanding of spirituality. The spiritual life is experienced in the good experience of life as well as the bad experiences.
As human beings, we all have a spiritual core to who we are, and what makes us who we are. The human condition is, by its very nature, always spiritual. What we need to realize is that the spiritual life includes both the “dark side” of spirituality as well as the “light side”.
The Dark Side – During active addiction the spiritual life is very active, but it is all very dark. Some of the signs of the dark side of the spiritual life include (among other things): isolation, self-centeredness, depression and hopelessness, loss of control, despair, being stuck in the status quo, being egotistical, and fear.
The Light – As recovery begins, the symptoms of the dark side of spirituality begin to break down. This usually begins with a “sliver of hope”…when surrender takes place, hope and change can begin. Eventually, all of the dark side symptoms begin to move towards the light. The symptoms of the Light side of the spiritual life include (among other things): the experience of community/fellowship, becoming more other-centered, having hope for the future, being able to make decisions for personal growth, humility and love.
Moving from Dark to Light – This is the way the active addict lives…it is all the addict knows. The active addict is trapped in a downward spiral with all of the symptoms of the dark side of the spiritual life. The entire time, the human spirit tries to get out of this spiral…but can’t, because the addict is trying to control it. They are fighting it, and at the same time digging themselves deeper and deeper into the hole leading to death. There is only one way out. The addict must stop fighting it. They must “surrender” to the reality of the addiction being in control, rather than the individual person. Once the addict “lets go” of any attempt to control addictive disease, they can begin to take control over their decision-making which can lead to recovery. The first step in this process is being aware that they have lost control over the use of the object of their addiction (alcohol, opiates, cocaine, gambling, sex, etc.). They cannot do this alone. One cannot only “not do it alone”, one really needs to “let go” of that control, and allow others to take over. The “other” may be other people, and the “Other” may be a Higher Power that many people call their “god”. Their experience of the god of their own understanding needs to be a spiritual experience which need not be “religious”, but for most Americans a religious-spiritual experience is common. Some need medical assistance with detoxification/withdrawal. Some need a level of care which provides treatment leading towards recovery. What we know works best for most, is a combination of formal treatment, including medical, addiction counseling and active participation in self-help groups.
Contradiction? – Finding Power by giving up Control. Finding Healing by Surrendering to the Disease. These appear to be contradictions, but when dealing with the spiritual life, things that seem to be opposites are sometimes not “opposing” but rather “two sides of the same coin”. This is part of the experience of the spiritual life.
So, if you feel hopelessness and despair, raped by the addiction, I hope that you “give up” and allow others to introduce you to a way of life that gives you hope by finding a way of life that leads to ultimate transformation.