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Developing Spirituality on the Road to Recovery

If you feel like your spirituality is weak, or even seems like it’s non-existent – don’t worry about it! Even the most seasoned guru masters are still working on developing their spirituality, and that’s why they call it a practice. You see, spirituality is not a destination, it is an ever-present journey that each person takes individually. So, there is no wrong way to do it, and there is no way you can mess it up. In order to develop your own spiritual practice on the path to recovery, you have to start with the first steps, and then just KEEP GOING.

While it may seem trivial, or trying, developing your spirituality does take time, but it’s worth the effort. Scientists have revealed that over time, levels of spirituality do increase between treatment entry, and recovery as people are diligently working on their own 12-step program. However, over time studies have shown that spiritual levels are greater in those whose recovery is successful, when compared to those who relapse.1

Taking on a New Path

When people enter a meeting for the first time, and hear someone say “higher power,” it may come as a shock. After all, for those who are suffering with an addiction it can seem like there is no higher power than what is controlling them at the time. It could be alcohol, or drugs, or another addiction, but when you are in its holds, it could seem like there is nothing greater than the addiction itself. This is part of the reason a traditional 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) will include a call for a higher power in your life. This is a step (#3) that usually causes people a lot of trouble – and for good reason!

Over time, exposure to various religions can make people oppose the idea of spirituality because for one reason, or another they have either had a negative experience with a church, or have been otherwise turned off by the idea of spirituality through religion. But, that doesn’t mean that you cannot find a higher power to help you on the road to a successful, long-term recovery!

According to Dr. George Cave of Malibu Hills and Prominence Treatment Centers, two non 12- step rehab facilities in California, “There are some who assume spirituality is the same as belief in God as expressed by traditional religious institutions. This is NOT the case. When understood as ‘a power greater than self,’ spirituality can be thought of as an existing sober community or as an individually defined sense of connectedness or wellness that contributes to ongoing recovery, health and happiness.”

Dr. George goes on to say that, “The spiritual experience of connectedness comes in all shapes and sizes — for some it is in fellowship with others, others experience it in the solitude of nature, still others experience spirituality when participating in acts of service.”

So, if your reaction to the idea of spirituality, or religion is similar to that of smelling a dirty diaper, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot find a higher power to use in your 12-step program that fits your life, and your comfort level in your own spirit. After all, the intention of the 3rd step (finding a higher power) is to help you focus on nourishing what is inside you – your spirit. In this place, your addiction has no power, and is only a part of your life’s journey. At a time when you are looking to find a way out of the chokehold grip of an addiction, that higher power can become a strong ally in the battle for sobriety.

In the beginning, it may seem like spirituality is an abstract concept, but it will come to life when you find the right place to nourish your spirit. It could be an empty church, or a full congregation of vibrant singing church-goers. Or, it could be a quiet music class where you sit with a guitar. It could be a social group of painters. Even a yoga class! The options are endless, and you can even decide to volunteer your time in order to find your higher power amongst a community of people in need.

“Human beings are biologically hardwired to be socially engaged,” says Dr. Cave. “The sense of connection and healthy interdependence are hallmarks of mental health. Spirituality can be thought of as an expression of these profound human needs, promote sobriety, global health and well-being.”

And that is the hidden beauty of spirituality. It doesn’t matter where you find your higher power, as long as it supports your recovery. The simple companionship from others who recognize spirituality in themselves, and in you is a great way to form a strong bond with others on the path to recovery.

The Importance of Spirituality in Recovery

Spirituality sounds great … doesn’t it? The idea of communing with something much bigger, and more powerful than you are, and then maybe the addiction will just go away. But it doesn’t, and spirituality becomes more of a distant memory than something all-mighty, and powerful in your life. This type of thought process is common, making it very easy to lose sight of the urgency of tackling your recovery head on. However, this type of self-indulgence can lead to discrediting the role of spirituality in recovery.

“Spirituality offers people the opportunity to deepen into the wonder and awe of everyday living in ways that may be difficult to put into words but are nonetheless apparent when experienced,” says Dr. Cave.

And it doesn’t have to include anything that gives you an off-putting feeling. If it’s churches – skip it! Find your spirituality wherever you find your spirit is strongest. If you love the outdoors, and you feel your spirit come alive there, go there to open up more of your spirit to this place. Each person will find their spirit rejoicing in a different place so, there is no need to feel bad if you do not feel comfortable in a church, or even in a social setting. Spirituality is a way to strengthen you. So, developing it should never feel like a chore, or scary. It should make your spirit soar.

Taking the First Steps Towards Spirituality

According to the book, How God Changes Your Brain recent breakthroughs in neuroscience confirm that people who engage in a daily spiritual practice (with or without a belief in God) appear to strengthen centers in the brain responsible for a good mood, feelings of contentment, emotional resilience, and even a longer life.

Not only that, but developing spirituality also cultivates lasting relationships which offers a biological benefit to you, as you connect more deeply with your own, individualized sense of spirituality.

Can Spirituality Really Help Me on the Road to Recovery?

It is so easy to think that spirituality doesn’t exist. You cannot see it, you cannot hold it in your hand, and the way that it works (by nature) must be revealed over time. For this reason, many people give up on their spirituality. However, it can be developed in less than 5 minutes a day!

Just start with this simple breathing meditation:

  • Sit comfortably in any position, but make sure you have good posture to allow for the most airflow in your body. Face forward, with your spine straight, and if you like, open your palms face up, and rest them gently in your lap.
  • Close your eyes, and take a long, deep breath inward through your nose, filling up your belly with air. Do this for a slow count of 5 (1-2-3-4-5).
  • Then, slowly release the breath, with a count to 5 as you exhale. 1-2-3-4-5, out of your mouth.

As you do this, notice any sensations in your body, or sounds in the environment. If you experience discomfort from any of these things, simply continue your breathing, and notice your reaction. This is the practice of developing your spirituality through breath. As an ancient practice, breathing meditation techniques also known as Pranayama, or conscious breathing have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress.2

A Final Note on Spirituality in Recovery

If you are wondering how to develop your spirituality just consider that scientists have confirmed in clinical trials that spirituality is a significant (and independent) indicator of the outcome of a rehabilitation treatment program.3

So, start with this simple 5-minute meditation, and you can take the first steps towards your spirituality!


  1. Jarusiewicz B. Spirituality and addiction: Relationship to recovery and relapse. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 2000;18(4):99–109.
  2. Adrienne J. Heinz, B.A., Elizabeth R. Disney, Ph.D. A focus-group study on spirituality and substance-abuse treatment. Subst Use Misuse. 2010; 45(1-2): 134–153.


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