If you’re either planning to go into recovery or are in recovery and just entering your journey into being clean or sober, you’ll likely often hear about people having a spiritual awakening. This is especially true if you’re following a 12-step or similar program, where spirituality and religion are embraced as strong factors in addiction recovery. No matter which path you follow, understanding what is meant by a spiritual awakening will help you to realize that recovery means going well beyond simply quitting drugs and alcohol.
While a spiritual awakening will naturally differ for everyone, it’s an important part of moving to a stage where you don’t rely on drugs or alcohol to enjoy life. More importantly, it’s part of the process of learning to enjoy little things in life which you might find boring or irrelevant while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
A Spiritual Awakening in 12-Step Treatment
For the millions of people following some form of 12 step, a spiritual awakening refers to not just the process of recovery but is a necessary step in the journey from being an addict to being in recovery. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous stated, “An alcoholic is a fellow who is ‘trying to get his religion out of a bottle,’ when what he really wants is unity within himself, unity with God. . .”
Spiritual Awakening is a necessary and important part of recovering from addiction in 12-step, and often one which is the final goal of treatment.
Does Addiction Have a Spiritual Element?
It’s well understood that addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder, with mental and cognitive effects changing how the brain things, acts, and functions. While there are naturally many physical repercussions as well, including trauma and PTSD, damage to the gastrointestinal tract, often lack of sleep and nutrition, and consistent harmful levels of chemicals in the body, the mental and cognitive effects can be more harmful. For example, most substances contribute to a phenomenon known as emotional blunting, where the “high” or the increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, opioid, or GABA receptor stimulation in the brain during the high result in a crash afterwards. Without the artificial stimulation, many people are left feeling bored, restless, or depressed without the drug, which contributes to further substance abuse. Addiction eventually results in a vicious cycle of using substances to create a sense of self and to feel good, where your only goal is to get high again and continue to feel good.
This is naturally extremely bad for you on a spiritual level, even under the modern definition which does not include religion, only the deep values and meanings by which people live.
What is a Spiritual Awakening in Recovery?
Most 12-step groups define a spiritual awakening as the shift away from looking to alcohol or drugs to solve life problems such as stress and boredom and towards actively working to improve, to enjoy yourself, and to create a better life for yourself. While this exact process will vary depending on you, where you started, and how you started, there are often clear signs you are going through or have experienced a spiritual awakening.
Experiencing and Sharing Emotions – Emotional blunting prevents you from fully experiencing or sharing emotions, leading many to withdraw from friends and family or fail to enjoy experiences with friends and family while with them. Many people experience this through increased joy, more expression, an ability to enjoy smaller things, and being less closed off around others.
A Changing Attitude – Many people enter recovery defiant and unwilling to change. Even if you chose recovery for yourself, it’s not something most people experience or accept easily. Chances are you still suffered from the cognitive effects of substance abuse, the behavioral implications of substance abuse, and your health was in bad shape, contributing to anxiety and depression. As your health recovers, you go through behavioral therapy, and you are able to distance yourself from the mental attitudes contributing to substance abuse, your attitude begins to change. For many people, this means you can accept criticism, are eager to share and listen, and are willing to accept advice and help from others.
Improved Outlook – As you experience a spiritual awakening, your perception of yourself and the world around you will change. While this does tie into emotional blunting and chemical imbalances in the brain, it is a process that will change who you are at the deepest level. For example, you begin to recognize what you are good at and why, to appreciate yourself and the work you’re putting into sobriety, and your ability to change. You’ll also recognize that good and bad things happen, you’ll have to deal with them, but drugs and alcohol don’t have to be involved.
Improved Well-Being – During addiction, the chances of you waking up just feeling happy or good would be very low. After a spiritual awakening, it should be normal. The shift from feeling numb and depressed to feeling alive and energetic is one that takes time, but it will happen.
A spiritual awakening is the process of facing emotional and physical truths about yourself, learning, and moving on. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but with time, support from your 12-step or recovery group, actively working on yourself with behavioral therapy and stress management, and learning to move back into life, you will experience the personal journey towards spiritual awakening. Even in 12-step groups, this process doesn’t necessarily have to include God, as many 12-step groups now support your higher power being whatever you like, even yourself and your confidence in your own ability to stay clean or sober. While this often includes God, many people choose to believe in whatever adds purpose, structure, and guidance to their lives, even if that’s their own sense of discipline.
Spiritual awakening is normally the process of moving beyond the person who used substances to live. It often means becoming a new person, because your personality, motivation, and outlook on life will change. The longer you’ve been addicted to a substance the bigger the transformation will be, and the more noticeable it will be. Religion and spirituality can positively affect mental health, especially for recovering addicts who need the grounding and structure provided by a spiritual practice (even if it is just meditation), to figure out who they are and what they want.
No matter where you are on the journey to recovery, getting help is the first step. A good rehabilitation facility will give you the tools and background to recognize and recover from the behaviors and underlying problems resulting in addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and group therapy, alongside complementary therapies like stress management and family therapy, will give you the tools to move forward after detox. And, after you’ve completed rehab, you can easily move into a sober living home or into a 12-step group to ensure that you continue to receive mental and emotional support as you move along your journey to recovery and spiritual awakening.
Millions of people in the United States are addicted to substances, millions more have recovered. You are not alone, and there is help when you are ready to recover.
If you or a loved one is looking for modern and effective treatment programs, please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today for more information. We are to help and happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors.