By Dr. K.J. Foster, LMHC, CAP

spiritual women with broken chain

Spirituality is considered to be a critical component to achieving a successful recovery. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of most 12-Step programs. It’s also a concept that’s frequently misunderstood, which can create a significant roadblock for many. It’s been my experience, that spiritual confusion is often the result of religious bias associated with the concepts of spirituality and spiritual practice.

Truth be told, 12-Step programs, although touted as “spiritual” in nature, can contribute to this issue of spiritual confusion, especially, if you know anything about the history of 12-Step programs, in particular Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA was the first 12-Step program and served as the model and basis for all those that have since followed. The use of the word “God” and “Higher Power” along with the use of Christian prayers in AA, all derived from the program being rooted in Christianity.

In response to spiritual confusion, bias, and outright aversion to the religious feel of 12 Step programs, secular programs such as LifeRing and SMART Recovery have become very popular. One of the major distinctions being the emphasis on human efforts rather than divine intervention. Within these programs, your spiritual or religious beliefs are encouraged to remain private. And although I believe these programs are beneficial alternatives to 12-Step recovery, I do believe the philosophy of these programs don’t do much to clear up the issue of spiritual confusion.

Recovery Dharma is another popular alternative to 12-Step that is an off-shoot of Refuge Recovery. Both programs are based on the use of Buddhist principles to achieve a successful recovery from any addictive behavior or compulsion. They encourage each individual to follow their own path to recovery through Buddhist practices and principles.

My assertion here is not of one program being better than any other, but that there is a place and a need for all of them. My assertion is that spirituality is, in fact, critical to a successful recovery, no matter what program you’re participating in, whether it be 12-Step, SMART, LifeRing, Dharma or any other. My assertion is that all of these programs are “spiritual” in nature and that spirituality and spiritual practice is essential to recovery success, even for an atheist!

This is where an understanding of spirituality and spiritual principles outside the context of religion can help the spiritually confused to gain more clarity, resilience and recovery strength. You see, I myself was once spiritually confused. My understanding of spirituality, like many others I’ve met and worked with, used to be understood relative to religion, during a time in my life when I didn’t want to have anything to do with religion.

There were two powerful turning points for me in going from spiritually confused to spiritual clarity. The first was learning about spirituality relative to the trinity of beliefs, practices and experiences. The other was learning about behavioral kinesiology relative to consciousness and power.

Let’s first look at the spiritual trinity: beliefs, practices and experiences. Beliefs are exactly that, your beliefs. What do you believe? Do you believe in God or no God? Do you believe in a Higher Power? Do you believe in Nature or Science or Energy? Maybe you believe a little of this and a little of that. It doesn’t matter and yet it does matter. It doesn’t matter in that you have a right to believe whatever you choose to believe. It does matter, in that you need to know what you truly believe. Perhaps you grew up believing something simply because you were told to believe it. Yet, there has always been this feeling in your gut. This nagging, this questioning. Is that what I really believe? Gaining clarity is important because it will impact your spiritual practice.

The second spiritual trinity is practice. Religion is a way in which many people choose to practice their spiritual beliefs. But it’s not the ONLY way! There are many other ways to practice spirituality. Some examples would be in nature, in exercise (such as yoga), in relationships with others, or in artistic pursuits (such as music and art). There are a multitude of different ways to practice spirituality. There is also another part to this concept of “spiritual practice.” What is spiritual practice? Spiritual practices are positive actions you take to cultivate the growth of your spirit. A strong and powerful spirit translates into a strong and powerful recovery.

The third spiritual trinity refers to our experiences. This is where understanding how our experiences impact our beliefs and our practices is helpful in gaining more spiritual clarity. For example, many people have experienced deaths and tragedies in their lives that have made them question what they believe and for some, completely change what they believe. Perhaps going from believing in God to not believing in God. This, in turn, impacts how they practice spirituality or in extreme circumstances can result in discontinuing any spiritual practice whatsoever. On the other hand, there are many people who have had near-death experiences, or the like, that have similarly resulted in a total change in their belief and spiritual practices from not believing in God to believing in God. Either way, our experiences can have a powerful impact on our beliefs and the ways in which we choose to practice spiritual principles.

Moving on to the second turning point for me in gaining more spiritual clarity, happened as the result of a book I read by Dr. David Hawkins, “Power versus Force.” For me, it confirmed everything that I had come to believe about spirituality and spiritual practice, and with research to back it up!

The information presented in this book is based upon research conducted starting in 1965 through 1994 relative to behavioral kinesiology. The depth and breadth of this book is impossible to accurately summarize within the context of this article. That said, I’ll attempt to explain as best I can.

Kinesiology is a well-established science, with extensive research supporting the kinesiologic response: A positive stimulus provokes a strong muscle response and a negative stimulus results in a demonstrable weakening of the muscle. This research resulted in a testable phenomenon relative to consciousness and the energy and power associated with measurable attractor patterns and energy fields. Dr. Hawkins presents an anatomy of consciousness that lays out the arch of human spiritual evolution from its lowest expression and frequency (shame) to its highest (enlightenment).

Higher consciousness radiates a beneficial and healing effect, verifiable in the human muscle response, while non-true and negative energy fields induce a weak muscle response. Think about this relative to addiction recovery and spiritual practice. It supports core principles commonly held to be true across religions and across cultures: love is more powerful than hatred; truth sets us free; forgiveness liberates both sides; unconditional love heals; and courage empowers.

Active addiction weakens a person’s life force to the point of powerlessness. Therefore, as part of a successful recovery program, all things that weaken life energy should be reduced and avoided. This includes shame, guilt, confusion, hatred, fear, pride, hopelessness, anger, resentment and falsehood. In contrast, that which uplifts and energizes life force is to be realized. This includes truth, courage, acceptance, compassion, kindness, love, joy and peace.

This is where I argue that regardless of your recovery program, regardless of your religion, regardless of whether or not you believe in God or you don’t believe in God, spirituality is a necessary and critical practice in order to successfully recover from addiction… even for the atheist! The way to gaining strength, resilience and a powerful recovery is through the practice of spiritual principles. What are you doing today to gain more strength, resilience and power?

Dr. K.J. Foster is Founder of Fostering Resilience, LLC, Co-Founder of the Center for Sobriety, Spirituality & Healing and Family Program Director at the Beachcomber Family Center for Addiction Recovery. She is a Resilience Expert, Educator, Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, YouTube Creator, and Author of The Warrior’s Guide to Successful Sobriety, available at www.drkjfoster.org