The ideological pillar supporting the movement of sobriety within circles like the 12-step program, is one of spiritual awakening and a surrender to God. Similarly, religion, spirituality and recovery have often been entwined, with the concept of a higher power being used as a compelling motivator for those who struggle with drugs.
Spirituality and religion aren’t one and the same – the latter is an extension of the former. Going to church or praying by your bedside is one expression of spirituality, if done in earnest. But simply painting to your heart’s content can be a spiritual practice. It’s about expression, and about achieving a specific kind of feeling.
Some people manage to defeat addiction alone, whether through an emotional severance or through strict and painful abstinence and slow recovery – but for many others, support is necessary. It takes months, sometimes years, and many who struggle with addiction say that for most the time, it doesn’t matter what you do – you won’t be able to end the chronic cycle until all the right conditions have been met.
And the right conditions include a combination of psychological and physical fitness – getting clean, then finding the emotional support and help needed to sever the tie between pleasure and addiction, and slowly relearn what it means to be legitimately happy without the interference of substance. It takes time, help, and peace. That last bit is, in most cases, essential – not to the initial abstinence, but to the long-term recovery process and the longevity of a person’s new sober life. And that is where spirituality often comes in.
What Is Spirituality?
Spirituality is an individual expression – unfortunately, there’s no quantifiable scientific way to describe it as anything other than what your own experiences make it out to be. We all develop spirituality as a complementary set of beliefs, emotions and explanations to every mystery and element of the unknown in our life. Spirituality can be expressed through religion, but it doesn’t have to be. Many secular individuals still indulge in their spirituality, whether through practices like meditation, or through art.
In a way, spirituality is a catch-all. We just aren’t sure yet what else to call it. Some people feel the same “transcendence” when in the groove of writing a long-form poem, as others do when they deeply engage in prayer.
The connection between spirituality and sobriety is that it fosters an inner peace of mind. Addiction is, in one way or another, connected to deep and suppressed suffering. Regardless of whether these emotions arose as part of the experience of addiction – the shame and guilt developed through realizing the severity of an addiction and one’s inability to end it – or if they were there before, keeping them locked away causes the mind to develop ticks and negative habits to act out and protect itself from the emotional scars it bears.
Beating an addiction means eliminating an extremely potent coping mechanism and often unleashing a slew of emotional and psychological repercussions. This is mixed with the euphoria and optimism of having finally overcome an addiction, only to bear the brunt of an emotional torrent afterwards.
Spirituality, in a way, captures the essence of what is needed to survive this. To be at peace with yourself and find a way to seek emotional sobriety, and then emotional health, without breaking down into boiling anger, overwhelming fear, or deep sadness. Now, the reason this is intentionally vague is because it’s not meant to be a limiting process defined solely through one perspective.
Every individual must find their own way to peace. The only constant is that everything must be resolved. You can’t defeat addiction if the guilt, the pain, and any other strong emotion from those days lingers. If you can’t forgive yourself, or come to terms with how things went down, then you’ll be stuck in a continuous cycle. How you decide to resolve your bottled-up emotions and experiences is up to you – and your own definition of spirituality.
Spirituality & Emotional Sobriety
Emotional sobriety is a point in recovery where you’re no longer caught up in a maelstrom of highs and lows, and psychological turmoil. It’s the ability to make decisions about how you feel and act based on a realistic, positive perspective, unmarred by the fears of anxiety and insecurity, and the deep, unfounded and self-destructive pessimism created by feelings of depression. It’s not that you’ll never feel those feelings again – they’re a natural part of life, in many occasions, and you absolutely need to be able to feel them – but it’s that you won’t let them affect your perspective on life, no matter how hard they hit.
It’s not about being joyous with every aspect of life. It’s not about forcefully radiating like a human sun. It’s about being healthy in the way you look at life, and about being hopeful. It’s about tolerating negative emotions and working through them with healthy coping mechanisms. It’s about tackling every problem with an attitude that looks for solutions, rather than crying about impossibilities. It’s about stepping up towards opportunities rather than shying away from them in fear of changing the way you live your life.
Some people believe that sobriety is the route to happiness, but it’s only really one aspect – and happiness isn’t a constant thing, anyway. You won’t find yourself in an emotional heaven after giving up an addiction – and believing that will only hurt you. Strive for emotional sobriety – for feeling sane. And it’s a tricky thing to achieve for most people, let alone those who have gone through the emotional turmoil of addiction and recovery. But it’s also one of the best ways to fortify yourself against the reoccurrence of an addiction.
Spirituality plays a role in this in that some people use it to bypass this part of the recovery process and instead speed towards a dogmatic, rigid path of some sort to distract from real, deep-seated emotions. Remember – a healthy recovery requires closure. It requires that you step up your emotional issues and end their hold on you. Spirituality isn’t meant to help you run away from problems, but instead face and dismantle them in a way addiction never could.
Spirituality and emotional sobriety go hand in hand, but they can also work in opposite interests. Regardless of what path you choose to stay sober, the important thing is finding a healthy way to deal with life and everything it makes you go through.