Spirituality in recovery can be a touchy subject, especially when the terms religion and spirituality are used interchangeably. Many people, myself included, hold or have held biases against organized religion. When I first tried to get sober, the last thing I wanted to face was the idea of a higher power. My experiences with religious institutions growing up had turned me off and, initially, I didn't see how I could separate my prejudice from my recovery.
I especially had misgivings about stories of radical spiritual experiences—ones that left me feeling hopeless because, quite frankly, I didn't believe anyone who spoke of such a burning-bush-like scenario. I chose to believe that they simply wanted a spiritual experience so bad that they were willing to invent one. As it turned out, I wasn't that far off the mark.
I'll try to break down what I now know to be my spiritual awakening process, because mine didn't come immediately. My spiritual experience came in pieces, not in one big blow, but this won't be "How to Find God in 5 Easy Steps." I can't tell you about amazing grace "in the hour I first believed" because I can't pinpoint the exact time it happened. However, it has come to be that spirituality and recovery are interrelated in such a way for me that I can't imagine applying one without the other.
Here are the steps I stumbled through.
My First Attempt at Praying
I had been in such despair on many occasions—whether in active addiction or while in one of the many rehab facilities I had sought redemption in—that I attempted to pray the way I had been instructed by those who seemed to know "the way." I begged, on my knees, for salvation from losing my marriage and my kids and felt ridiculous and ashamed for doing it. I thought that I had been reduced to the simple-mindedness that I related to believing in God during my youth. I didn't pray for guidance to do the right thing. I prayed for a change in external circumstances. This was my first terrible misconception in my spiritual journey. I didn't stop to think that maybe losing my marriage and my relationships with my children was inevitable. This tragic outcome of my addiction had already become part of my story.
So, I gave up on the God of my youth once again, and I couldn't have made a better choice.
Redefining God into a Force of My Understanding
The God of my youth was false. It was a creation of my own making, based on the behavior I saw in some who claimed to be Godly and acted in non-representative ways. I never tried to pray that way again, but I hadn't come up with an alternative until I was so consumed with anxiety that I actually felt like I could no longer live with the burden. I wasn't contemplating taking my life. I knew I couldn't make that my final exit, but I did start expressing this notion to an unknown force in the only way I could muster. I cried and asked for direction. This was during the last inpatient treatment program I completed.
The Simple, but Wise Words of a Counselor
At this same rehab facility, I had an amazingly intuitive counselor who instructed me to imagine a particular conflict that I had shared with him as a ball in my hand—to focus for a brief moment on that ball and then reach up and place it on an imaginary shelf, not to think of it again. Sounds super hokey, right? Well, it worked. I didn't allow the thought of that problem to enter my head for awhile, until a situation occurred that offered a solution. I couldn't believe it. These things just didn't happen to me, but I started using that visual for every worrisome dilemma in my life. I didn't realize at the time that I had started to understand what prayer was really about.
Surrender to Win
In my experience, prayers don't have to be offered to anything or anyone in particular, and they definitely don't have to be intertwined with religion. Although I have been introduced to a church that I now attend regularly, I know that this is not the path for everyone. My true awakening occurred before I found a broad-scoped religious denomination that fit well into my spiritual journey. My awakening evolved from learning how to recognize when something was completely out of my control and choosing to let it go. In such cases, the paradox is this: the only way to find power is to surrender it.
It doesn't elude me that my spiritual awakening is nebulous. I can only hope that I've passed on a little hope to you if you're doubting that spirituality can mesh with your recovery. Everyday, I set aside time in the morning to light a candle, express gratitude, pray for guidance and strength to do the next right thing and then go about my business. Things have really been falling into place and, although I'm not exactly sure how it works, I don't question it anymore.
If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.