Every so often, you will see us make mention of a spiritual experience, or spiritual awakening. This is a phrase that you hear a lot in recovery. It shows up multiple times in AA literature, as well as in several of our articles. But while we have discussed its meaning on occasion (such as when discussing the chapter “We Agnostics”), we have never gone out of our way to fully discuss the matter in its own article. We would like to go ahead and take the time to do that now.
Depending upon how you choose to view the disease model of addiction, one might view substance abuse disorders as a predominantly spiritual problem. Despite the many physical and mental symptoms, there is something deeper within us that often feels broken and causes us to use drugs and alcohol as an escapist form of self-medication. The spiritual experience would therefore be the point at which we begin to feel relieved of this compulsion. For the most part, it happens on its own and cannot be forced. But there are things we can do to facilitate the spiritual experience, and we will learn many of these behaviors when seeking formal treatment for our disease.
Below, we will discuss how and when the spiritual experience may occur, as well as how recovering addicts and alcoholics will know that it has happened. We will also talk a bit about how patients enrolled in our programs will be able to facilitate the spiritual experience while in treatment. Even if it does not occur until long after they have graduated from our programs, treatment is when they will start putting together the building blocks that will ultimately lead to freedom from spiritual bondage. As such, it is of great importance that those who wish to recover are familiar with the concept of the spiritual awakening before they start. We hope that this discussion will be of help to such individuals.
When Will the Spiritual Experience Occur?
Due to a few stories in AA literature, many recovering addicts and alcoholics are under the impression that their spiritual experience must occur in a sudden burst of light, something akin to God appearing in one’s bedroom. In later printings of Alcoholics Anonymous, an appendix was added to address this misconception. It states:
Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous.
It goes on to say that those stories were never meant to define these instantaneous spiritual revolutions as the only manner in which a spiritual awakening might occur. So how else does the spiritual experience occur? Naturally, they address this as well.
Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the “educational variety” because they develop slowly over a period of time.
In other words, there is no set “where” or “when” because the spiritual experience will not necessarily occur during a sudden moment of revelation. It happens over time as an individual learns about recovery. Bit by bit, as we attempt to let go of resentments and remove our character defects, we are adding to our spiritual experience. Every time we make amends, attend a meeting, call our sponsors or read recovery literature, we are adding to our spiritual experience. There is a phrase, “on the beam,” that people in recovery use to describe doing the right thing. As long as we spend more time on the beam than off the beam, our spiritual experience is already underway.
You may wonder, then, when the spiritual experience is over. The short answer is that, in many cases, it isn’t. Sure, there might be those who have their sudden revelations and then never have to think about them again. But most of us do not simply change overnight. Our spiritual experience is something that we build upon more and more throughout the course of our life. We will occasionally move backwards. But as long as the forward momentum outweighs our setbacks, we will be forever treading the pathway to a better life than the one we suffered under the lashes of addiction.
How Will You Know When It Happens?
So the spiritual experience may be part of a lifelong journey. Even so, how do we know when it starts? This is another issue addressed by Appendix II of the AA Big Book.
Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline. With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.
This gives us a couple of answers. The easier one is that people will often tell us they have seen a change in our demeanor, even if we are not fully aware of it ourselves. The other goes back to what we said earlier about being on the beam. The book goes on to state that our spiritual experience will be hampered if we are intolerant of spiritual concepts, or if we remain belligerently in denial of our condition. This point is driven home at the very end, with a quote by philosopher Herbert Spencer.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
If we even have so much as one foot on the beam, we should be able to identify when we are being closed-minded, dishonest or unwilling to follow the spiritual principles of recovery. And when we notice these things, it should be a sign to us that we are interfering with the success of our own spiritual experience. It is only when these faults begin to leave us that we can feel we are truly on the right path. It may take some time to recognize, even when those who know us profess to have seen a change in our thinking and behaviors. But as our spiritual experience takes hold and begins to change who we are, we should begin to feel quite differently about ourselves, and about the very world in which we are living. At this point, our mental obsession will begin to die, and we will no longer feel the compulsion to drink or abuse drugs. It is when we realize this compulsion is gone that we can truly say we have undergone a spiritual experience.
How Treatment at Amethyst Can Help
At Amethyst Recovery, our programs include many components that will help aid patients in undergoing their spiritual experience. Not only will they learn through individual and group therapy which character defects need to be removed and which resentments have hurt them the most, but those who are having issues overcoming certain elements of their past may also qualify for EMDR trauma therapy to help them leave the past behind and focus on the present.
Those who enter recovery are promised to experience a new freedom and a new happiness. Like many aspects of the spiritual experience, it will take some time to truly feel this. But there are ways in which we help. We understand the importance of unity and fellowship, and we encourage our patients to establish a sense of trust with those in their therapy groups so that they may begin building a sober support network upon whom they can lean in their early days of sobriety. We also facilitate weekend outings which will add to the sense of freedom that our patients will feel when they realize just how wonderful life can be without the synthetic happiness they once achieved through the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
For patients who do not wish to separate the spiritual from the religious, our Alpha Series of classes may do some good. These classes use scriptural teachings to analyze the spiritual principles required for recovery. Many people who enter recovery are dedicated Christians, and their spiritual experience will therefore be a largely religious one. For such individuals, these classes will be of great use. Even those who are not Christian but relatively open-minded may benefit from some of the lessons we teach in these classes, as one does not need to interpret every word of the Bible literally in order to benefit from the morals we address in our lesson plans.
If you would like more information on the Alpha Series or on any other aspect of treatment at Amethyst Recovery, feel free to contact us today. Remember that the spiritual experience is described as something which occurs when we tap into an inner resource. If you do not have faith in religion, you can still maintain faith in the spiritual. In many ways, it is as simple as developing faith in oneself. We have faith that all of our patients can stay sober and undergo a spiritual experience if they are truly dedicated to the cause. Enroll in our programs today, and allow us to share our faith with you.