Helping Someone Overcome the Hurdle of Spirituality in Recovery

A prominent concept in 12-Step recovery is to live your life one day at a time. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “focuses on the 24 hours ahead.” This daily breakdown allows those in recovery to avoid their regrets of the past and frets for the future. However, for many in recovery, there must be more than an hourly component to this concept. There must also be a spiritual one.

In the primary text (the “Big Book”) of AA, it is written, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” It is that spiritual segment that can be scary to many people. It is a hurdle for many in recovery for certain. However, for those that adopt a spiritual life, it is many times the saving grace of their recovery.

While the primary purpose for most professionals in the healthcare field land somewhere in the physical, mental, and/or emotional realm, this does not mean that spirituality needs to be excluded. Now, does this mean that you must wholly integrate spirituality into your treatment plan? Of course not. However, with a greater knowledge of what spirituality has to offer your guests in recovery, being able to direct them to where they may find a spiritual solution can be crucial.

Understanding the Correlation Between Spirituality, Health Care, and Recovery

Many people are unaware of the close link that the medical profession and AA have long held. This connection has existed since the first printing of the Big Book back in 1939. That connection between the medical profession and 12-Step programs was cemented when a medical physician named Dr. William Silkworth wrote “the Doctor’s Opinion.”

In his opinion, Dr. Silkworth first writes of his experience with an active alcoholic, Bill Wilson, who he once deemed hopeless of recovery. However, after seeing Wilson recover after incorporating his new tenets of recovery, including the importance of a spiritual experience, he changed his tune and put forth his support.

In support of AA, Silkworth writes, “These facts [of AA recovery] appear to be of extreme medical importance; because of the extraordinary possibilities of rapid growth inherent in this group, they may mark a new epoch in the annals of alcoholism. These men may well have a remedy for thousands of such situations. You may rely absolutely on anything they say about themselves.”

Notice how Dr. Silkworth decided to put “medical import” on a spiritual program. There is a reason for that. He saw it succeed where medicine had often failed.

Avoiding “Contempt Prior to Investigation”

Now the misconception in the professional sphere may be that this focus on spirituality aims to replace medical or clinical efficacy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There should never be an aim to replace that which is working in the healthcare field. Rather spirituality aims to expand on that which is working to help it function even better.

The English philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote, “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” However, let us not forget that this “contempt” can run in both directions.

There is no monopoly on recovery. However, some ways have been shown to be more effective than others. For those in the healthcare and 12-Step recovery community, it is important to understand that efficacy has been found in both of these domains. This is why unity is critical. If your primary purpose is helping your guest recover at all costs, then directing them toward a spiritual program is worth looking into.

Offering a Spiritual Way of Life

Now, many of your guests may scoff at adopting a spiritual way of life. This is more common than you may think. Often those in early recovery have resentment toward spirituality or religion, as they feel it may have failed them up to this point. Just remember that it is not your responsibility to indoctrinate your guests with spirituality. However, you can make a purposeful effort to offer the option for a spiritual way of life.

This can take the form of directing your guest to a 12-Step meeting. You could direct them to a treatment center with a spiritual basis. Or you may even inquire as to whether they have any interest in re-engaging with their previous spiritual or religious practices. Regardless of whether they take your suggestion, you have just planted the seed that may grow into one of the most important aspects of their recovery.

Integrating Spirituality Into Recovery

If your guest should choose to take on a spiritual life, you shouldn’t feel the need to modify your program or treatment plan in any way. Just know that when worked properly, establishing a spiritual life is one of the best ways to ensure against regressing back into active addiction.

Don’t worry if offering spirituality options or helping a guest overcome spiritual barriers doesn’t come naturally at first. After all, many people do not know that Dr. Silkworth did not sign his name to his “Opinion” until the second draft. As much as he believed, it still took time to feel sure.

Take your time and enter into this spiritual endeavor gradually and with care. After all, there is no harm in making a suggestion. If your guest doesn’t want it, it will not take away from your practice and primary purpose. However, if you don’t make the suggestion, you’ll never know the potential for growth you and your guest may be missing.