Spirituality and Psychotherapy: A Spiritual Approach to Addictions ll By Faye Maguire, MA, LACC
If you’re reading this title now, you may be thinking, “Hey Lady, AA, NA, etc. are way ahead of you. They’ve been doing the spiritual thing with addictions for a very long time.” And you would be right. Twelve step organizations have been saving lives for nearly a century now, with a proven approach involving recognizing one’s powerless over addiction and surrendering to one’s higher power for aid.
In fact, this reliance on a higher power is one reason many people find themselves turned off by 12 step programs, saying they aren’t religious or don’t believe in God. Others find the whole process of self -disclosure to others to be too painful or embarrassing. But 12 step programs work for many, many people. These people find healing in the connection to the divine, as well as in the sharing of personal loss and grief with others who have experienced similar suffering under the grip of an addiction.
Both of these experiences are spiritual in nature.
Acknowledging that we often don’t know what’s best for our lives is humbling, and surrendering to a God that loves and cares for you, and wants only the best for you can be freeing, a letting go of the false self. The paradox is that it is only in surrender that we find true freedom. Being in community with like- minded others is often the basis for having meaning and purpose in life.
The process of self -exploration that is encouraged in 12 steps is where the healing begins, as addiction is usually a way of avoiding deep emotions, deep pain.
An addiction, any addiction, is a way of escaping life and its many challenges.
Sharing this healing process with others also struggling with an addiction is a mutual recovery process. It is one that acknowledges that we are not alone in our struggle, because others are seeking connection with us as well. Connection to the divine often comes through connection with others.
Spiritual guidance and healing is available outside of 12 step programs, as well. Beginning a new spiritual practice, such as yoga, t’ai chi, or meditation, or prayer can lead us into safe space to confront our fears, loneliness, or past trauma. Spiritual therapy that focuses on gently exploring past trauma and fear can help us learn to accept the fear, integrate it, and become more compassionate to ourselves. Having a spiritual counselor with whom you have a healthy bond and who you trust completely is an important part of this process.
The acknowledgement of the spiritual component in healing seems to come at the expense of the disease model of addiction, which sees heredity as a big part of substance use. It sees addictions a simple imbalance of brain chemistry. Both the disease model and the spiritual model are true, and not mutually exclusive. Addiction is a physical craving, and the physical component of addiction is real, with real symptoms. Very few people can simply stop a habit, with no support. Our support people are God in action, God’s hands and heart on earth.
Mindfulness is a habit that we can develop to help cope with addiction.
In many ways, addiction is the opposite of mindfulness. We ignore our higher selves to listen to a craving that wants to destroy us. When we are mindful, we stop and listen to both voices, the healthy self and the addicted self, and then we make a choice. Every minute, every day, we are at choice point: that is living mindfully. We might still choose to use, but we are not mindlessly using out of habit, or because it hurts too much to not use. Tomorrow, we might make a different choice, one that starts a new habit.
One of the best books on addiction I have read is Gabor Mate’s, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.”
Faye Maguire, MA, LACC, is a People House private practitioner working with youth and adults, using a transpersonal approach to therapy. Counseling is her second career, after being a business owner for nearly 30 years. She enjoys working with people experiencing life transitions, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, trauma, addictions, relationship issues, and figuring out life’s direction, using a holistic approach. Please contact her at 720-331-2454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.