You may hear many people in recovery talk about having a spiritual awakening, but what does that mean exactly? While bringing up spiritual matters may turn some people away from the idea of getting sober, it’s important to recognize that spirituality does not have to be intertwined with a belief in a particular God. Spirituality has a much broader meaning in recovery.
Everyone experiences addiction recovery in their own way, so having a spiritual awakening won’t look the same for each person either. Regardless, understanding what it means to have a spiritual awakening may help you dig deeper and learn more about what it truly means to live in recovery, long after rehab has ended.
The Connection Between Addiction and Spirituality
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that physically changes the way the brain functions, so it’s no surprise that it affects us physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
The physical impact of addiction on our bodies is obvious. Lack of sleep, nutrition, and harmful toxins quickly take a physical toll as they attack our bodies. In active drug addiction, you may have felt great while doing drugs, but when the effects wore off, they probably left you feeling anxious, exhausted, worn down, and empty. These feelings probably contributed to your need for more drugs, leading you down an endless cycle of drug abuse and depression.
Spiritually, drug and alcohol addiction does the same thing. Your sense of self is completely lost in your addiction. You don’t allow yourself to truly feel and experience your emotions. You feel incomplete, invaluable, and you lack purpose. You are spiritually dead, as your one mission in life is to do drugs, get high, and feel good.
What Is a Spiritual Awakening?
A spiritual awakening is difficult to define with one word or phrase because it is different for everyone who experiences it, but there are some clear signs that you have had a personal and spiritual transformation in recovery.1 For example, you may portray some or all of the following characteristics:
A clear attitude change – When you first started rehab, you were angry, defiant, uncooperative, and unwilling to change. Today, you are quick to admit when you are wrong, you calmly accept criticisms (both good and bad), and you are eager to share helpful advice with others. It is clear by your actions that your attitude has changed.
Personality change – You’ve stopped labeling yourself as an addict and instead, you’ve embraced your humor, your unique musical abilities, and your ability to listen well. Your body language has morphed from stances that are closed off and rigid to ones that are open and relaxed.
Improved outlook on life – Your perception of yourself and the world around you has completely changed. You recognize that you’ve received a second chance at life and you’re eager to make the most of it. You accept both the good and the bad things, knowing that you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws your way without relying on drugs and alcohol to keep you afloat.
Increased ability to share and feel emotions – Before you got sober, you were unable to admit your feelings and emotions to yourself, let alone anyone else. In sobriety, you discovered the power of feeling, expressing, and sharing those emotions and how working through them improved the overall quality of your life.
Overall improved well being – In your addiction, you felt numb, anxious, and depressed all the time. Now you feel alive, fulfilled, full of purpose, and energetic, despite what’s going on around you in the world.
If the person you were when you first entered drug rehab is completely different from the person you are now in sober living, you’ve experienced a personal and spiritual awakening. Often times this is a gradual process that requires you to face difficult emotions and truths about yourself. But now, as a sober individual in a transitional living program, you are empowered to share your personal journey through that process to help other people in recovery who have yet to experience their own spiritual awakening.
Do I have to Believe in God?
There is absolutely nothing that requires you to believe in God in order to experience a spiritual awakening. As you transition from rehab to sober living, and sober living to independent life, you’ll continue to build upon your relationship with your own higher power, whatever that may be. However, as you become more confident in your own sobriety, you won’t feel pressured to accept everyone else’s beliefs. Instead, you’ll be grounded in your own.
For example, some of your roommates at your sober living home may give God the credit for their own spiritual awakening while others may believe it was the power of nature or their belief in the ideals and values of family that allowed them to transform their lives.
There are many different forms a higher power may take in your life, including music, love, or the universe itself. But the most important thing is to recognize there is something bigger than yourself that gives you purpose, structure, and guidance in sobriety.2
The 12-Step Program and Spiritual Transformation
The last step in the 12-Step Program references spiritual change. It states, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”3
Regardless of whether you’re just starting rehab or you’ve been enroled in a transitional housing program for several months, you can be sober and still be miserable. If you’re just going through the steps like a robot without experiencing any personal or spiritual change, it’s unlikely to last. Sobriety without a purpose will eventually lose its appeal and you may find yourself right back where you started.
Spiritual transformation fuels sustained sobriety because it gives life a whole new meaning. As stated above and in the Big Book, intensive work with other recovering addicts provides fellowship, purpose, and fulfillment.4
If you are struggling to maintain a lifestyle of sobriety, you may not have experienced a genuine personal and spiritual transformation. Sober living homes can provide camaraderie, accountability, and support to help you continue your sobriety journey and learn what it means to be changed and transformed as you live with other peers in recovery.