Addiction, Trauma and Transformation: An Invitation To The Soul

By Rivka Edery, L.M.S.W.


Addiction, Trauma and Transformation: An Invitation To The Soul. There have been many developments in addiction medicine over the last few decades that have made us question the effectiveness of old practices and led to the development of new ways to treat addiction. In fact, the separate branch of medicine with a view at addiction is already unique. While we know today so much more about addictions than decades ago, we are still far from finding effective approaches that would eradicate the suffering of many people who are addicted.

The disease of addiction is neurophysiological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, spiritual or none at all. The reality is that human beings have been consuming drugs and alcohol for thousands of years. The last few thousand years of human evaluation has been a stupor for which today we, the descendants, are paying the price.

The active addict knows all too well the capacity that this interlocking and reciprocal relationship has on their tenacious hold on their drug of choice. However, addiction is as much an individual disease as it is a family disease. Addiction is an obsessive compulsive, repetitive problem that is dramatically hindering a person trying to live a satisfying life. Since the user is unable to permanently sustain a state of Euphoria, he/she locks self in a destructive cycle.

Over the last three decades, medical research has advanced extensively in the field of addiction medicine, revealing the biological mechanisms of addiction, and the pathway leading from experimentation, recreational use, and dependency. Clinical work has been changing the Freudian view of addiction as explained by drive psychology, to more humanistic approaches of addiction. At this point in time, human beings are no longer viewed exclusively through the lens of Freudian drive psychology. But rather, there is an increased emphasis on the soul of the person, and the role of spirituality, as critical factors. Under the umbrella of the humanistic framework, spiritual approaches to recovery have provided an increased understanding that along with behavior, psychology, and physiology, spirituality is another domain that cannot be left out while working with individuals suffering from addictions. Such a domain must be addressed regularly, thoroughly, and with care.

In one approach to recovery the addict’s decision to begin a process of recovery from substance abuse begins with the admission that they are powerless over their disease, and they need a different source of power other than the drug. At this point of complete surrender, the addict creates for themselves an internal space where they can let go of their delusion that they have power over their substance, and begin their healing process. An important factor for people who are struggling with addiction is the understanding that they are powerless over the mind altering substance. There is no chance to exercise any form of control once the individual is locked in a cycle of addiction.

The application of spiritual principles can aid in their spiritual growth, so the
person can unlock the vicious cycle of addiction that encourage abstinence, which
is critical. Some addicts do not consider themselves having a spiritual dimension,
and will find no need to investigate the needs of their soul. By applying spiritual
principles and tools, one can significantly alter a life of pain and confusion. Such
an investigation instigates a truly effective treatment process. This person can
then show the next suffering addict spiritual tools that can help to surmount the
challenges one has to face in order to heal.

The primary goal of healing from addiction is to remain completely abstinent from any mood-altering substance, and to utilize the potent power of spirituality to unify your inner and outer life. Each of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous serves as a guide in self-honesty and soul-searching. The ultimate theme of the steps is to connect with your True Self, live a life that is meaningful, and free from bondage of the past. I view the Twelve Steps as Twelve Lamps, each shedding light toward a meaningful life, free from unnecessary pain and suffering, filled with hope and possibility. Since the Steps were formulated by men in 1939 for alcoholics, the language and structure of the steps can seem dated and even intimidating. I hope to carry you beyond some of the stilted language to the profound usefulness of these spiritual principles. I also hope to accentuate the need for spirituality as the empowering invisible cord underlying addiction recovery.

What about the addict who has not survived a trauma, and does not see a need for spirituality as the primary solution? For the majority of addicts who are in touch with their conscience and emotions, the consequences of active addiction are clear and in some cases, too frightening to linger on their details. In evaluating the disease of addiction, we can all agree that the most common defense mechanism involved, and the toughest one to work through, is denial. Throughout human history, lack of knowledge of addiction as a disease has placed the suffering of addicts behind an armored wall, and in some cases, literally, as they were locked up, isolated, banned from family, community, and society at large. True healing and recovery cannot take place behind any barrier of ignorance, silence, and with the lack of appropriate interventions.

Since 1939 when the Twelve Steps were organized and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, there was scant information on addiction, none of the numerous self-help groups, treatment centers, knowledge and programs that are abundantly available for today’s addict seeking treatment. What these original pioneers discovered, was the amazing power of applying spiritual principles to their “alcohol problem”. The experience, strength and hope of those that have applied the steps to their life, speak to the certainty of their power. Especially, in a time period where little else was available and they were shunned, rejected, and discarded as “drunks” without any hope for answers or recovery. Conversely, it is imperative to acknowledge that the Steps were authored by men predominantly for their needs in recovery, at a time when there was little known about addiction or trauma and its effects.

Over the course of each addict’s life, there will be people who will undermine or impede their attempts to seek treatment for the toxic effects of substance abuse. In some unfortunate cases, those in the addicts circle will criticize their efforts to deepen their understanding of their condition, or investigate the strong link between substance abuse problems and the power of spirituality. There will never be a shortage of nay-sayers accusing people in recovery who seek to examine the evidence, that they are wasting their time. In examining the source of such criticism, it is easy to attribute it to limited empathy, or to one’s own denial about the power of spirituality: their own or that of others. Properly credentialed and qualified professionals in the field of addiction science can attest to the fact that the overwhelming effects of addiction create a terrible burden on the addict.

My impression is that the role of spirituality in addiction sits uneasily with a lot of addicts themselves, especially ones that have been abused or mistreated within the religious order. While parents often do the best they can, religion is often passed down and taught with a sense of force, forbidding, and with the threat of punishment and annihilation if deviated from. It is no wonder at all that spirituality is so often misunderstood, minimized, feared, or outright rejected.

Let us now bring into focus the value of, and need for, an open mind when we speak of spirituality and its application to addiction and trauma recovery. We begin this discussion with suspending judgment on our original teachings, and contain our urge to judge, reject, or fear this concept. The human mind is an incredible entity, along with its defensive strategies, patterns of adaptation and twists and turns; further complicated by unconscious behavior. However the addict gets there, the open mind will help him/her find true control and understanding, for the ultimate goal, which is freedom from the ensnarement of their disease and subsequent Soul-Anguish. This ensnarement to which I refer to, includes not only the disease of addiction, but for those who suffer from co-occurring disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and other brain disorders that need psychiatric intervention.

Addicts, as with trauma survivors, usually have a difficult time experiencing their vulnerability and their feelings of having once been profoundly helpless and alone. The process of unearthing one’s memories and re-experiencing anguish requires the help of skilled, knowledgeable and spiritually grounded professionals who have done healing work on themselves. With issues as delicate and sensitive as deep emotional wounding, each survivor and counselor must approach the recovery path with patience, self-love, self-care and the development of an appropriate spiritual support network.

The Twelve Steps comprise a spiritual program used to treat alcoholics and other individuals with a range of self-destructive and addictive tendencies. Inviting the soul into one’s recovery process is heeding a faint, unanswered cry. A cry, that once answered, will take the addict and the trauma survivor, into a powerful spiritual process. This process is available to help in healing the physical, mental and spiritual wounding caused by both addiction and traumatic experiences. I hope the reader will be able to understand that recovery just like addiction is highly unique for each individual. Although society has been plagued by substance use for thousands of years, each addict has a unique opportunity to end their suffering and live spiritually happy.

Rivka Edery, L.M.S.W. is a resident of Brooklyn, New York since 1994, and a native of Montreal, Canada. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Social Science and a Masters in Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. She is a highly intuitive and sensitive licensed social worker and a first time author specializing in trauma recovery and spirituality. She has been active in the treatment and recovery field for more than sixteen years.

To contact Ms. Edery for speaking or consulting, please call (646) 691-7771 or e-mail

Author of: “Trauma and Transformation: A 12-Step Guide”.
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