Spirituality Gone Awry


Spirituality refers to our harmonious connection with Reality. Our connection to Reality is made up of our experience of Reality, the understandings that arise from our experience, and our behavior based on our experience and understandings. The primary spiritual experience of Reality is Oneness. From Oneness we humbly and gratefully see our roles as part of the Whole. From our experience and understanding, we act with love—simultaneously for ourselves and others. Loving action feeds back to experience, as we experience the Universe responding with love to our love. This positive feedback loop confirms the truth of our experience and fuels our spirituality.

For many people, addiction is spirituality gone awry. In the quest to feel good, people who fall prey to addiction instead feel miserable. They choose numbness as a substitute for peace. They indulge themselves in a misguided attempt to experience abundance. They seek gratification instead of fulfillment, and intensity instead of intimacy. As addiction takes over, people sever their connections to others and to the world in exchange for their all-consuming attachment to their addiction. With the loss of connection comes separation and alienation. This makes our original longing for connection and harmony only grow greater. Rather than boosting spiritual experience, addiction poisons it. Rather than freeing us to be who we are, addiction robs us of our authenticity and enslaves us into bondage to the addiction. We no longer live to nurture and savor life, but to serve the demands of the addiction. We lose our freedom and capacity to live authentically on life’s terms.

In addiction, the capacity to experience, joy, wonder, and awe whither away as they are crowded out by the compulsive preoccupation to get the next fix and the pain of recovering from using. Gone is any sense of the Sacred, substituted instead by the preoccupation with cravings to get high, seeking to get high, getting high, and recovering from getting high.

Rather than submitting our lives to a set of higher principles—to a higher Truth, we now submit our lives to the addiction, which lives for itself at any cost, up to and including the cost of our lives. We sacrifice our integrity. Abandoning what is true, right, and good, we do whatever we must to feed the addiction, even if that means acting destructively. When we sacrifice our connections for the addiction, we also sacrifice harmony. As we put bad out into the world, bad comes back to us ten-fold, true to the law of Karma. Disharmony leads to conflict, which lead to stress, pain, and suffering. In the addiction’s attempt to suppress hopelessness, we sacrifice hope. In the attempt to suppress meaninglessness, we sacrifice meaning. In the attempt to suppress disconnection and longing, we sacrifice connection and belonging. Rather than acting intelligently to secure our safety, we attempt in addiction to control the uncontrollable.

Whereas spiritualty leads to continuous growth and transformation, addiction leads to regression and decay. While spirituality enhances life, addiction destroys it.

The antidote for healing the diseased spirituality of addiction is recovery. Some people go so far as to say that talking about the spirituality of recovery is like talking about the wet part of the ocean. Spirituality overlays and organizes all aspects of human functioning, from the biological to the psychological to the social. As the overarching organizing force of our lives, spirituality informs every aspect of our recovery. The transformation from addiction to recovery requires a change in our awareness of ourselves in relation to everything else. It is our spirituality that ignites this change of awareness.

The gift of addiction is our suffering, as it is our suffering—the gift of desperation—that spurs our spiritual growth. This is why some say said that, “Religion is for those who fear Hell, spirituality is for those who have been there.” We grow spiritually because we must. Our choice is to either change or eventually die from our disease.

Inspired by the combination of pain and hope, we take the first step of recovery, which is renouncement. We renounce the addiction as a spiritual pathway to feeling whole. As Gandhi once said, we “renounce and rejoice.” We choose to let go of our compulsive grasping for pleasure and pushing away of pain, choosing instead to be with our experience, savoring pleasure when it comes and enduring pain when it comes. Only when we stop addicting can we discover another way. We choose to be with and deal with our pain authentically, through connections to others and to the world at large—Reality.

There is a saying that the way to love is through a broken heart. Likewise, the way to recovery is through the heartbreak of addiction. We start where we are, in our woundedness, and get back on track to cultivate an authentic spirituality that works, unlike the addiction that almost worked, but did not. Recovery includes a recovery of our spirituality. In addiction, we lost our way. In recovery, we find our way back. We recover our capacity to encounter each moment of life freshly, with authenticity and integrity…with love.

Recovery entails cultivating our spirituality through spiritual practices. As we develop a new way of being and of acting, we reestablish a renewed sense of connection to the “something more” of Life. We taste Oneness. Longing is substituted with belonging again. Our newfound integrity allows for the privilege of interdependence. We develop a new sense of meaning and purpose based upon our connections and belonging to something greater than ourselves—what some might call a “higher power” and others might call Reality, the World, Life, Nature, God, or the Universe.

Through the practice of presence, we gain clarity, seeing each moment freshly and honestly. We regain the childhood capacity to experience wonder, to simply savor each new moment. We might call this direct awareness of the Now “Right Seeing.” We see for ourselves the way things are, moment to moment. Right Seeing stimulates our intuition, leading to “Right Understanding.”  We understand, for example, that life is good and perfect as it is, that our purpose is to nurture and savor life, that life is precious and sacred, and that good begets good. We understand the primacy and power of love.

Right Understanding then triggers Right Action. We pursue recovery, acting with love and integrity, giving ourselves over to the world. We become trustworthy. We begin to have value to others, offering more than we take.

From Right Seeing, Understanding, and Action, we taste the fruits of recovery. We cultivate inner happiness, peace, joy, gratitude, serenity, and fulfillment. We dissolve shame, guilt, regret and judgment through our growing capacity to forgive ourselves and others. These are the consequences of a healthy spirituality.

Spirituality is not a static state that we someday arrive at. Instead, it is a dynamic process that arises out of our gentle, persistent spiritual practices over a lifetime. If we stop turning the crank, the light will go out. This is why spirituality is more a verb than a noun. Through our practice, we gently cultivate the conditions for spiritual experiences and understandings to arise in us. It is something we both do and allow. As with everything in life, the positive consequences of a spiritual life come from our positive efforts. As with everything in recovery, we must choose to do the work. If we make this choice, the return on investment is great. Through recovery, we replace addiction with a spiritual pathway that truly works. This is the gift of recovery.