The Role of Spirituality in Recovery
People struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) or behavioral addiction often report feeling lost or devoid of purpose. This is very similar to the way some people describe how they feel when they have lost connection with their spirituality. This kind of spirituality is not about a catalog of commandments but a sense of interconnectedness with all living beings and a personal quest for meaning.
Spirituality can be defined as an individual's search for ultimate or sacred meaning and purpose in life. Furthermore, it can mean to seek out or search for personal growth, religious experience, belief in a supernatural realm or afterlife, or to make sense of one's own "inner dimension.”
Spirituality can be a powerful tool in the healing process. “Patients who are spiritual may utilize their beliefs in coping with illness, pain, and life stresses. Some studies indicate that those who are spiritual tend to have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life,” wrote Christina Puchalski, MD, in her study on the role of spirituality in healthcare. According to Puchalski, specific spiritual practices have been shown to improve health outcomes. “Spiritual commitment tends to enhance recovery from illness and surgery.”
Dr. Puchalski is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Spirituality & Health (GWish) atGeorge Washington University. GWish was established in 2001 and quickly took on a leadership role in the nascent field of spirituality and health. Conducting research, educating practitioners, and impacting healthcare policy worldwide, GWish frequently collaborates with religious, spiritual, and health organizations to create more compassionate healthcare systems around the globe.
A spiritual outlook also tends to enhance recovery from addiction. The American Psychological Association reported in 2000 on a study that found that higher levels of religious faith and spirituality among people recovering from substance use disorder were associated with several positive mental health outcomes, including more optimism about life and higher resilience to stress, which may help fortify the recovery process.
Despite such results, the aspect of spirituality is often still excluded from a modern medical environment. However, recovery support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)have long described addiction as a disease of the spirit.
“Diseases of the flesh(e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer) are physical in nature and are treated using the traditional medical model: a history is taken, a physical exam and laboratory or other tests are conducted, and treatment is discussed with the patient.” wrote Paul King, MD, in 2012 on psychiatrist.com.“Diseases of the Spirit, on the other hand, may result from the misuse of short-term anxiety-relieving techniques and may not be adequately addressed by the medical model. For example, drinking to relieve stress may lead to alcoholism, opiates and benzodiazepines can lead to abuse problems and chemical dependency, sexual promiscuity may become sex addiction, excessive gambling and shopping may lead to financial ruin, and pornography can lead to sex offender behavior.”
“The Spirit or soul requires sustenance and care, and neglect of the Spirit can lead to disorders,”wrote Dr. King, “just as neglect of the body leads to disease.”
In his new book The Myth of Normal, addiction expert Gabor Maté takes a similar approach: “Addiction is a complex psychological, emotional, physiological, neurobiological, social, and spiritual process.”
Maté criticizes modern medicine for separating the mind from the body, although “living people cannot be dissected into separate organs and systems.” For Maté “health and illness are not random states in a particular body or body part” but “an expression of an entire life lived.” That would also include a spiritual aspect or lack thereof.
In the 1930s, famousSwiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung also weighed the impact of spirituality when he corresponded with the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous,Bill Wilson, in an attempt to discover a cure for the disease of alcoholism.Dr. Jung concluded that the misuse of alcoholic “spirits” was primarily an attempt to fill the thirst for “the spirit of God.” He asserted that the remedy was spiritual because a spiritual problem cannot be resolved with a material solution.
“You see, ‘alcohol’ inLatin is ‘spiritus,’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison,” Jung wrote to Wilson.“The helpful formula, therefore, is: spiritus contra spiritum.”
Today, many addiction professionals see the disease of addiction well beyond psychosomatic body-mind interactions. They recognize a deeper malaise at the core of addiction: the disconnection from a higher power—whatever that might be exactly, a missing sense of purpose, a failure at authentic self-actualization, the highest level in the pyramid of human needs proposed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943.
NYU psychiatry professor Marc Galanter regards spirituality as an important form of recovery capital: “Achieving an enhanced spiritual orientation can provide increased recovery capital, the enhanced ability to sustain recovery from substance use disorders(SUDs). This can be valuable in adding to the resources, such as pharmaceutical or institutional, on which such a person can draw.”
Spiritual recovery capital may also help prevent a relapse. “An approach to enhancing personally experienced spirituality, as embodied in the availability of culturally syntonic approaches, and thereby improving one’s recovery capital, may serve to yield relief from the pressure to turn to substance misuse and addictive behaviors,” wrote Galanter, Hansen, and Potenza in July.
Foundry Steamboat takes the mind, body, and spirit approach to recovery. Its curriculum and psychoeducation directly address the benefits of exploring, developing, or reconnecting with one’s spiritual aspect. Wellness programming, including fitness, recreational activities, mindfulness work, nutritional education, horticulture, and bonding experiences, have the intention of helping clients feel a connection with themselves and others. The concept of meaning plays an important role in Foundry Steamboat’s clinical approach. The Trauma-Integrated Care model developed by Chief Clinical Officer Michael Barnes helps people learn to self-regulate naturally. A major part of being able to feel centered and less stressed about one’s life is seeing oneself in a larger interconnected context. Spirituality can help clients learn to appreciate their roles within the broader frameworks of relationships, families, and communities and to find a sense of deep personal meaning that can make a crucial difference when modulating stressful situations, dealing with adversities, and working through relationship issues.
The growing Foundry Steamboat alumni community and its alumni programming also strive to help people experience a deeper sense of fellowship and spiritual connection. The Foundry Treatment Center Steamboat alumni program offers in-person gatherings for clients and family members, and regular virtual meetings that keep people in close touch with care team members and peers. Alumni events remind clients of the goals of recovery and lessons learned during treatment and foster the growth of supportive friendships.
Learn more about Foundry Treatment Center Steamboat. The program offers a residential trauma-integrated men’s program in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program for men throughout Colorado. Speak confidentially with an informed team member at (720)477-6757.
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