Stories of Spiritual Awakening; The Nature of Spirituality in Recovery
Addiction to substances is considered a medical disease, characterized by the continued use of substances despite significant substance-related problems.
The utility of drugs for making the individual “feel better” or “feel normal” can lead to regular use. In some cases, regular users become addicted to drug use, a transition that is the result of complex interactions of biological, psychological, and cultural factors.
Addiction can lead to the loss of family, friends, work, and home. It is often associated with the development of a set of behaviors and thought patterns that enable the addicted person to acquire drugs whether or not such acquisition causes harm to self or others.
The loss of concern for others, which is both a consequence of the altered state of consciousness induced by drug-taking and of the drive to use drugs at any cost, is a common sequela of addiction.
Those in recovery from addiction need to learn to negotiate their way through life’s complex maze of disappointments, obstacles, and burdens without the use of alcohol or drugs.
They need to re-establish relationships and reorder their use of time. They need to recognize the rights of others in daily interactions.
Their commitment to abstinence, with its complex demand for life change, requires developing new coping skills.
One method of acquiring such skills is through participation in 12-step fellowship programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
These programs guide their members through recovery with 12 basic steps. The first step is the acknowledgement of one’s powerlessness over addiction.
Subsequent steps focus on examining one’s character and developing a relationship with a Higher Power.
The steps are designed to promote a spiritual awakening that prepares the recovering individual to carry the message to others and to practice the principles of the fellowship in all his/her affairs.
Although no accurate figures are available, it is estimated that over 15 million persons now actively participate in 500,000 groups of 12-step programs.
These programs are based on a powerful group psychology that addresses, interrupts, and modifies core problems in self-regulation.
As recovering addicts adopt 12-step principles, they often experience a complete transformation, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Individuals who at one time appeared totally unraveled, self-absorbed, and preoccupied with obtaining and using alcohol and/or drugs, with abstinence and recovery, suddenly appear more whole, and begin to show concern for the care of others as much as for themselves.
Past studies on alcohol addiction have agreed that AA is a powerful source of recovery for the alcoholic. Studies by Vaillant and Milofsky found that self-help in the form of AA involvement was more useful than clinical treatment in maintaining abstinence.
Another study found that AA model programs had more successful outcome rates than those using other models.
Studies of 12-step fellowship have noted that its components of fellowship and storytelling, guided by the practice of the 12 steps, are essential elements in the success of the program.
The emphasis on spirituality is recognized by participants and observers alike as a key ingredient in the 12-step process.
Our research team, while conducting studies of AIDS prevention, was struck by the frequency with which spiritual issues were the topic of conversation among clients in an inner-city drug treatment center.
Men and women often spoke of the Higher Power as a force for change in their lives. They spoke of this change with ease and comfort. Its importance was evidenced by the frequency and intensity with which the topic was discussed.
We observed such conversations in both 12-step fellowship meetings, as well as in the hallways and waiting rooms of the clinic.