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spiritual awakening in recovery
02.19.2021

A Spiritual Awakening in Recovery: What Does That Mean?

When speaking to people in recovery, you may hear them talk about their spirituality and attributing their recovery in part to having had a “spiritual awakening”. But what exactly is a “spiritual awakening?” and how does one go about having one? And what does it have to do with recovery?

For a newcomer or someone who is unfamiliar with the language associated with the 12-step program, this may deter them from these fellowships or keep them from trying to get sober. It is important to first recognize that spirituality is not the same as religion, and that spirituality has a much broader meaning in recovery. 

Substance abuse has taken a devastating toll on the lives of millions but there is also hope that people can and do recover. Researchers have found that in addition to intervention by specialists, there is an important role of religious and spiritual practices in recovery. In particular, people who are sober often describe a process of undergoing life altering transformations that result from letting go of control and believing in a power greater than oneself, or a higher power. Now, once again, this higher power does not need to be tied to a religion or a God. For some, it may take the form of a God, but for others, it might be reliance on something in nature or a belief in something larger in the universe. The key is that it is something bigger than yourself and can serve as a foundation for letting go of the things you cannot control.

Why is Spirituality Important in Recovery?

Addiction impacts a person physically, emotionally and spiritually. The physical consequences of drug and alcohol abuse are somewhat obvious; generally those who are struggling with alcoholism and addiction may experience a range of side effects including a weakened immune system, heart conditions, malnourishment or weight loss, liver damage, lung disease, and brain damage and long term cognitive impairment. Emotionally, drugs and alcohol may initially elicit feelings of pleasure and a welcome “high”, however when its effects have worn off, a person can be left feeling anxious, paranoid or depressed. On a spiritual level, drugs and alcohol can have a similar effect. When using or abusing drugs and alcohol, a person has some sense of purpose and the chemicals offer a false sense of value and completeness. When a person stops taking drugs and alcohol, they may feel a sense of emptiness. Rather than relying on drugs and alcohol for validation and a sense of purpose, the 12 step fellowships encourage people to rely on a Higher Power to regain their confidence and self-worth. Spirituality can have a profound, positive impact on a person’s recovery and is often the foundation for meaningful and sustainable sobriety.

What Does a Spiritual Awakening Look Like?

While you may hear a lot of people share that they have had a spiritual awakening in the fellowship rooms, their descriptions and accounts of what that looked like may be very different. In the Big Book of AA, Bill W. described seeing a bright light which was also accompanied by a feeling of ecstasy. But for many others, the book warns that spiritual experiences may actually develop slowly over a period of time. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to a ‘spiritual experience” or an “awakening” as some degree of personality change that is sufficient to promote recovery. This transformation of the mind and spirit, along with the act of being a clean and sober person is often associated with the term “spiritual awakening”. This discovery of an “unsuspected inner resource” enables a person in early recovery to identify with and rely on a power greater than themselves. In simple terms, a person in early recovery would be guided by something other than the desire to drink or use drugs. What the actual experience looks like varies a lot from individual to individual.

How Does One Have a Spiritual Awakening?

The last step in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) states that ““Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” For many, the spiritual awakening and experience happens during their attempts to get sober and while working with a sponsor who will guide them through the 12 steps. The key to having this personality change, is to remain open minded, willing and honest with yourself and others. Instead of focusing on how to have the spiritual awakening, the Big Book promises that if you work the steps, a spiritual experience will inevitably happen (whether you realize it or not!) Ultimately, the shift from being someone obsessed with using drugs and alcohol to becoming a sober person in recovery is a transformation that many would call a miracle.

Addiction Treatment in Florida

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance or alcohol use, contact Genesis House. At Genesis House, addiction treatment specialists are able to work with you or your loved one to assess your situation and determine an individualized treatment plan that will suit your needs. A professional will be able to take a thorough substance use history and determine if drug or alcohol treatment is recommended and the best therapeutic course of action is warranted.