By Jim Seckman, MAC, CACII, CCS

Spirituality is an aspect of our humanity that is innate. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are spiritual creatures. In the book Addiction and Grace,author Gerald G. May, MD discusses spirituality in terms of a “longing” that we have as humans. A longing for something more, something deeper, something greater than who we are. So spirituality could be viewed as the process of growth into a deeper connection with God, others, ourselves and the world around us. While the “longing” may not be comfortable at times, it is healthy and dynamic.

Addiction tries to make a spiritual experience static. When we are in an addictive process, we want to hold on to the moment, not feeling the discomfort of the longing but attempting to maintain what we feel in an instant. Our spirituality becomes stagnate and the addiction leads us into a deep bondage with a substance or process.

While we know that addiction is a disease that is primary, chronic, progressive and fatal, with a describable and predictable course and common symptoms, addiction affects all aspects of the person. When we think about the disease of addiction from the perspective of our spirituality, we can see that addiction is a disease that is born out of the human condition. There is deep hopelessness, meaninglessness and longing that the addict is trying to suppress with some substance or process, rather than finding healing through the grace of God. The addict is seeking a greater depth of peace and fulfillment but only finds greater emptiness and pain. The separation from God and from healthy spirituality is intensified by an increasing pattern of actions that could be considered evil or sinful.

While ancient writers didn’t understand addiction in the same way we do, they certainly understood the nature of addiction. The Biblical writers saw the patterns of addiction and discussed it more as bondage, temptation and sin. Indeed, addiction is a disease that will drive/lead us into wrongful acts. However, if we look at sin from a perspective of separation from God and God’s grace, then we come closer to understanding the spiritual dilemma of addiction. In the book of Genesis, we see that humans are caught up in an addictive process from the beginning. The “original” temptation in the Garden of Eden posed as the following:

  • Good for food – it addressed a need
  • Pleasing to the eye – it was attractive in some way
  • Bestowed wisdom – a promise of something beyond ourselves, something we think would make us complete

Addiction sets up a trap for us: while appearing to address a deep need, we are drawn to its attractiveness and the promise of feeling complete in some way — an alternate “god” is introduced to rob us of true spirituality. We become spiritually malnourished, believing we have found peace, abundance and fulfillment in the very thing that will rob us of it. In addiction, we mistake:

  • Numbness for Peace
  • Indulgence for Abundance
  • Gratification for Fulfillment
  • Intensity for Intimacy
  • Control for Safety
  • Perfection for Competency

But, fortunately, that is not the whole story. While we humans are experts at finding ways to place ourselves into spiritual bondage, it is this very spiritual “woundedness” that becomes the path to our healing and recovery. While addiction is slavery to a cruel god, it can also be the pathway to a deeper spirituality than is experienced without it. What religion labels “sin,” what therapy calls “sickness,” are precisely what bring us closer to God. Addiction reveals this bondage and brokenness so starkly to the addict. When we are wounded, we understand our weakness, our need for a “savior” (those who are well don’t need a doctor, right?), and become willing to let God in. It is through our wounds that we can allow God and others to enter our lives and help make us whole.

In 12-Step programs, addiction treatment and recovery, the person confronts his or her own brokenness and bondage, shares in others’ brokenness and comes to accept it both in others and themselves. This honesty, once reached, forms the basis for the development of a healthy spirituality. As the person works through the 12 Steps, he or she discovers the process of growth in understanding God, others, themselves and the world around them.

One of the most beautiful aspects of the 12 Steps is that they very carefully walk us through exactly what we need and when we need it, and support a long-lasting recovery and a healthy and dynamic spiritual life. Finally, when we reach Step 12, we find that the “spiritual awakening” that is promised is supported by actively working with others. It is in the action of reaching out to each other and helping others that the spirituality of recovery is truly found. Dr. Bob S., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), who attended the Oxford Group to quit drinking (and couldn’t), stated, “The spiritual approach was as useless as any other if you soaked it up like a sponge and kept it to yourself.”

In essence, spirituality is not something we can capture. According to AA co-founder Bill W., “We have to live it.”

Addiction and Grace (Gerald G. May, MD)
The Spirituality of Imperfection (Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham)