Spirituality – A Concept of Connection

By Ken Wells - 03/02/2021


Series Two: Blog Five

Addicts who enter a 12-step community for recovery often struggle with the concept of God or Higher Power. Those who are religious often struggle with mistaken beliefs marred by shameful teaching or personalize their perceptions of the concept of God with their relationship with their parents or other authority figures experienced at an early age. Many addicts enter recovery opposed to any concept of God. It just doesn’t make sense to them. Yet, throughout the 12-step teaching, the concept of God is critical. Addicts who simply cannot work with a narrow view of the use of the word God often leave the 12-step community. Some find help with Rational Recovery or other creative healing communities. It is great that there are many paths that lead to healing.

In his book God: A Human History, Reza Aslan writes that when people use the term “God” it is important to inquire what does this word means to them. The meaning of God usually is specifically different to each person who uses the term. It might refer to Yahweh, a name that came to be regarded by Jewish people as too sacred to be spoken. For some Christians it means Jesus. Every religious faith has a nuanced interpretation of what is meant with the name God. Even within each religious faith, individuals have their own concept of deity. Some people identify God in theistic, pantheistic, or animistic terms. Some people identify the concept of God as a male father figure. Some think in such terms as a wise old man with a long beard overseeing the pandemonium on earth from his throne in the heavens.  Others identify God as a female Mother as in Mother Earth etc. For me, it has always been difficult to think in terms of a God with a penis or vagina. So those images never quite worked for me.

Still, many struggle with any personalized or concretized concept of God. Even, the name God or spirituality is rejected as offensive. Do we exclude those who reject this concept from a community for healing? There would be those in 12- step communities who would say yes. However, I think there are many words to describe different universal experiences.

I conduct a spirituality group as a part of intensive treatment for addicts. It is common for me to ask each person to describe the term spirituality. Each week the attendees are different. During one session, all in attendance were atheists and were offended by the very term God or spirituality. I figured that we have a very large vocabulary, so we worked to identify different terms for both. We settled to replace the word “spirituality” with “energy” and the name “God” with “Unknown source of creation” with the emphasis upon it certainly not being God. This is not to suggest that every atheist would accept this definition, but in truth we had a meaningful conversation about how to access the energy of life force when struggling with the destructive behavior of addiction. The term spirituality or God was not referenced.

Many 12-step communities are insensitive to these issues around spirituality. For some, it is offensive for addicts in recovery to refer to any source other than God or Higher Power. Some need to change the word God to Jesus or whoever they identify as Higher Power. Almost all end their meetings with a prayer to God and some invoke the Christian perspective of the Lord’s Prayer. I have always wondered what religious addicts thought about that. It has always seemed rude and insensitive to me. 

Spirituality is not religion. The infamous quote, “Religion is for those who don’t want to go to Hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there,” has been shared many times in recovery communities. Even though some treat 12-step meetings as a religion, spirituality is not a 12-step meeting. It is not therapy. It’s not about just healing yourself and family. It is not about working harder to do better things or doing right things. And, it is not about a place, a building or location.

Rather, spirituality is dynamic. Buckminster Fuller once said that only 10% of who we are is physical and 90% is spiritual. It’s a creative perspective discovered through paradox. It’s the nature of opposites that embrace spirituality. Richard Rohr wrote that “People who have really met the Holy are always humble.  It’s the people who don’t know, who usually pretend that they do.  People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don’t know.” The window of spirituality is always through the prism of paradox. Addicts in recovery whose energy is insistent or who predominantly think in black and white only or either/or conclusions mistake solution for spirituality. Rather than cultivate a relationship with addiction recovery, the emphasis is settled on fixing the problem. This approach short circuits spirituality.

Spirituality is about cultivating congruence. It is about matching what I think and feel with what I say and do. Everyone, addict and non-addict alike, are incongruent, hypocritical and inconsistent. Spirituality flourishes in this human condition when an addict surrenders to consultation and accountability. It’s not as if it is OK to struggle with human frailty, but it becomes very spiritual when with open heart one opens to the support and answerability to others in community.

Spirituality is about community. Ancient mystic John of the Cross stated that “the virtuous soul that is alone and without community is like a lone burning coal. It will grow colder rather than hotter.”  Without community, spirituality wanes. We are spiritual in relationship to community. Human beings are creatures who ultimately require community to thrive. Isolation is deadly for addicts. Spiritual rhetoric is no replacement for an open heart in a room full of nonjudgmental addicts in recovery. Growth in recovery happens not only when I get honest with myself but when I share with another the deepest reality in my life and risk becoming emotionally naked to that community. When addicts withhold their experiential truth from their community of support, they short circuit the potential for spiritual growth. Essentially, spirituality is about connection. It is about connecting to your own feelings, other people’s energy and essentially to every living thing. It’s about connecting to the understanding that each person is an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. It goes beyond this. It embraces connection to all living conscious beings. People who are convinced that humanity is in charge on earth are humbled with the reality of the vastness of the universe. Once each of us have had our day, the life force moves throughout and someday when each of us are gone, the life force will prevail to another day. Such awareness begs each of us to recognize the sacred connection that exists between the religious and non-religious, the vast diversity among peoples of the world, and even with all living conscious beings. I have not encountered one person yet in whom this sacred connection has not resulted in a deepened sense of spirituality.

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