Many people who enter into recovery do not want to hear anything of spirituality. When they hear words like God or spirituality, they begin to bristle with antagonism as they remember the religion of their youth or the traumas they have faced.
This aversion to all things spiritual is often times the main stumbling block that many people new to recovery face. They have to find a way to come to terms with the idea that there is something greater out there than themselves and that in order to overcome their addiction, they have to at least attempt to connect with it.
The reason for this is because addiction is at its core a spiritual malady. Yes, there are genetic, behavioral, and psychological components to the illness, but attempting to combat any one of these fronts without overcoming the spiritual malady is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound and usually won’t have lasting results.
What is the Spiritual Malady of Addiction?
The spiritual malady of addiction is essentially the fact that at some point in the addict’s life, they managed to cut themselves off from existence and any notion of spirituality. This does not mean that they removed themselves from religion, although the two can be synonymous, but it simply means that within their soul or the core of their being, they suffer from a profound loneliness.
This loneliness is often times the driving motivator in addiction. It is something that is expressed by almost every addict or alcoholic who gets sober: the fact that for most of their life they felt alone and felt like there was something missing inside of them. They express how inside they felt empty and they just couldn’t understand how other people got on with life while they seemed to struggle so tremendously.
The reason for this struggle is the spiritual malady that they face and on a larger scale, it is also the reason for all human suffering. Bear with me on this one, but I believe that the spiritual malady that addicts and alcoholics face is also experienced by almost everyone else on the planet, yet it expresses itself in different manners.
For some people, the spiritual malady will express itself as an eating disorder, gambling addiction, depression, anxiety or anything else you can think of, but for the alcoholic and addict, their malady is expressed through the absolute need to consume substances.
What Does a Spiritual Malady Feel Like?
Imagine the worst feeling you have ever had, and then add in the fact that in that moment you also felt utterly alone in the universe, and you have the general feeling of a spiritual malady.
At the end of addiction, this feeling is obviously amplified, leading to what the book Alcoholics Anonymous calls “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” but throughout addiction, there is always an underlying feeling that something is terribly wrong. There is always, somewhere in the subconscious mind, a little voice saying ‘you are missing something and it is the reason that you are in so much pain.’ This little voice repeats itself over and over until eventually, the person gets sober, but during active addiction, we use to overcome it. We use to blot out the feeling of loneliness we experience and we use to numb ourselves from the existential pain we experience simply by existing.
How to Overcome a Spiritual Malady?
This is a question that has been posed throughout the ages by every philosopher under the sun. How does one go about coming to terms with their life in the face of the utterly confusing nature of existing? But in regards to addiction, the question changes a bit to how does one become content with their life and overcome a malady that seeks to destroy them? The answer to both is the same: find a spiritual solution.
For the addict or alcoholic, this often times means working the Steps and in the process of working these steps, getting the required “psychic change” that will expel the obsession to use and allow you to live a meaningful and happy life. How this works, I can’t say for certain but it does work and very often at some point during working the Steps, the addict or alcoholic will notice that they have had a complete shift in the way they view life. They will be more open to what life and the universe is telling them, and they will not longer have that knot in their chest telling them they are alone.
Signs of a Psychic Change
William James wrote the book The Variety of Religious Experiences in 1902 and it is a book that is actually talked about in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. In his book, James describes four qualities of a religious or spiritual experiences that are shared by most people who experience one.
The four qualities are that they are ineffable, meaning that you cannot really describe them in written language, they are noetic, meaning they express some inner knowledge of the universe, they are transient, meaning that the feeling does not last long, and they are passive, meaning the individual has no control over them.
Most people who have a spiritual experience, the likes of which will allow them to overcome their addiction, describe the ineffability, when they say, ‘I went outside one day and couldn’t believe how beautiful the sky was.’ This change in perspective and ability to see beauty where it formerly wasn’t is indescribable, and is only something that can be understood through experience.
So if you find yourself getting caught up on the spiritual nature of recovery, don’t. It really isn’t that difficult, and the beautiful thing about it is that it’s intensely personal and can be understood in any way you see fit. Just be open to the fact that besides being physically sick with addiction, you are also spiritually sick and as such, you need a spiritual solution to your problem.