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Spirituality in Recovery 

Sometimes people looking for treatment have difficulty with spiritual terms often used in 12 Step Recovery. These terms might seem strange, mystical, or outdated. Perhaps they seem in conflict with providing competent medical care. 

They might raise questions for people seeking treatment. If substance use disorder is a medical condition, what does spirituality have to do with getting better? Aren’t there medical facts and best practices behind how to treat the disorder? And doesn’t spirituality take us into the realm of unproven and faith-based assumptions?

All of these thoughts and concerns are reasonable. However, they probably come from some confusion about what spirituality or “having a spiritual experience” means in the context of the A.A. literature. 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous pragmatically talks about spirituality. Above all, the spirituality required for successful recovery involves open-mindedness. 

The text states directly: “Any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial” (“Alcoholics Anonymous” page 568).

In other words, the spirituality we encourage at MARR is not a dogmatic set of beliefs. Instead, we help our clients foster an open attitude to trying new solutions. 

Also, spirituality in recovery does not exclude competent medical care. In fact, we believe that the open-mindedness that our clients foster through a spiritual approach actually enables them to receive the care they need. 

MARR is licensed by the state of Georgia and accredited by the Joint Commission. Our clinical staff is made up of licensed and certified mental health clinicians. The spirituality our clients develop in treatment frequently provides them the open-mindedness to make good use of the high level of medical care available to them at MARR. 

What is a Spiritual Experience?

In the Big Book of A.A., the terms “spiritual experience,” “spiritual awakening,” or “psychic change” come up again and again. 

But such a transformation may be more accessible than it initially sounds. The Big Book describes a spiritual experience as a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.” It also says that it “manifests itself in many different forms.” This means that the experience looks different for different people. 

These are not usually single, dramatic moments in which everything changes. Rather, spirituality in recovery frequently takes the form of the “educational variety.” In other words, the spiritual change takes place gradually over time. Eventually, this gradual change results in “a profound alteration in [the person’s] reaction to life.” 

For many, this change may include returning to the faith tradition of their youth. It might also mean joining a spiritual community for the first time. Many times it may have nothing to do with organized religion at all. The only requirement is that the person “not close his mind to spiritual concepts.”  

At MARR, we believe Twelve Step Recovery, at its most basic level, means a willingness of the person to say “I don’t know.” It means having at least a little bit of a desire to see things from a different perspective.

Laying Aside Our Judgments

The Big Book addresses issues of spirituality and belief directly in the chapter titled “We Agnostics.” The chapter makes clear that recovery does not require a specific approach or religion. The only thing that the chapter seems dead set against is “prejudice.” Seven different times it asks the reader to remove or lay aside “prejudice.” 

What does this mean? Prejudice about what? It asks the reader to put aside judgments about the meaning of “Higher Power”, “God”“prayer,” and other spiritual terms. It asks them to allow themselves to have a new experience of what these things can mean to them.

Suppose spirituality is about being willing to be open to something new. In that case, the words “God” and “prayer” have much more to do with an attitude and posture of humility. They become less about the content of the person’s belief system and more about the openness to a new experience. 

Spirituality in Recovery Means Freedom

Of course, as long as we have minds, we will make judgments about people and situations. On a basic level, judgments about our surroundings help us survive. But with the help of the tools in 12 Step Recovery, our clients have the opportunity to catch these judgments before they harden into harmful prejudices. 

In conclusion, staying spiritually healthy means trying to keep ourselves open to being surprised by life. A prayer common to 12 Step Fellowships beautifully summarizes this sentiment.

“God, help me to set aside everything I think I know about You, about others, myself, and my own recovery, so I may have a much-needed new experience in You, others, myself, and my own recovery.” 

Regardless of beliefs, a spirituality of open-mindedness provides the opportunity for a new experience of life. It allows a person an opportunity not only to escape addiction but to have a life they never thought possible. 

Our Clinical Assessment Team is available for a confidential and free conversation about the next steps you can take to get help for yourself and your loved ones. Call us at (678) 736-8694, or you can reach out via the chat box in the lower right-hand corner of our website

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