This week it has been requested that I write on a topic that I have researched but by no means feel like an expert on; this area is so large that commentary upon a piece does not make one an expert. That topic is spirituality; my research in the area covered Judeo Christian perspectives in recovering alcoholics. I have read plenty in the area and spoken too many about their experiences; and from this I have come to understand that I know only a little. From the concepts and experiences that I have taken away I will share some here over the following week, including spiritual development.
Firstly, let us define the difference between religious and spiritual and explore how these fit into recovery processes.
Religious: A religion is a set of tenets and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos, and human nature, and often codified as prayer, ritual, or religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience. The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction. Religions include Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, etc.
Spiritual: Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit, a concept often closely tied to religious belief and faith, a transcendent reality, or one or more deities. Spiritual matters are thus those matters regarding humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose, not only as material biological organisms, but also as beings with a unique relationship to that which is perceived to be beyond both time and the material world. Spirituality also implies the mind-body dichotomy, which indicates a separation between the body and soul.
Research in both of these areas is showing that individuals that are religious and/or spiritual are showing better recovery outcomes from a wide variety of physiological and psychological aliments. This is something that the founders of AA either knew or stumbled upon back in 1935. Many 12-Step programs are built around spiritual principles—not religious doctrine.
From a perspective of recovery from substance disorders, the 12-Step programs were all founded upon Judeo Christian concepts and principles couched softly to be inclusive of every possible religion or spiritual focus. Original AA documents included language like “Jesus”, “Lord”, and “Saviour” only to be altered into one term—God. The founders of AA altered what could have been determined to be a “religious” program into one that became “spiritually” focused. Then in the late 90’s there was research showing meaningful splits between “spiritually focused” groups versus “secularly focused” groups and the potentiality of outcome to this pattern. In other words, AA and other 12-Step groups were beginning to split upon meaningful dimensions of a spiritual program versus a non-spiritually focused program. Some meetings were still inclusive of discussing the concepts of God, Spirituality, and the Principles while others began to focus upon more life focused structures like Relationships, Communication, and Balance. It was also the first time ever AA was not in a growth position compared to every decade that preceded it since its inception in 1935. I personally do not see this as a coincidence; many AA groups were now beginning to mirror pop psychology and new age principles that would have drawn many away from the more traditional aspects of recovery to something you could now get without attending AA—just look in the self-help section of any bookstore. The problem becomes that bookstores cannot convey experience, strength, and hope that only comes from two alcoholics talking to each other. In those discussions, couched in those concepts, AA was the most successful recovery modality of any approach at treating addictions. It still is; with one caveat—groups that are spiritually focused produce better, longer-lasting and more meaningful recovery experiences than secularly focused recovery.
I have been privileged to meet thousands of alcoholics over the course of my career and the one thing I can clearly state is that those with a “spiritually” focused recovery have a better chance at long-term success in their recovery. I will provide examples as we go through the week. For today, those in recovery may want to explore those groups that are spiritual versus secular. For those suffering from other ailments, you may want to seek additional spiritual cures in addition to all of your other treatments…you may find additions to your recovery there.
TODAY HAS STARTED—HAVE A GREAT ONE!