With the profoundly sad and untimely death of several high profile celebrities recently flooding the media, addiction has been on the minds of many. I live and work in the world of the social sciences, and my focus is on understanding human behavior. Anyone who knows anything about addiction of any kind (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, etc.) understands, through current research, that it is an extremely complex, multi-factorial, progressive, and chronic brain disease by marked changes and malfunctions in brain chemistry and triggered and affected by biological and environmental factors. But what if, without discounting the disease model and other scientifically based and supported models of addiction but rather adding to them, we look at addiction through a spiritual lens? What would we see?
Spirituality can be defined in numerous ways but it largely refers to a belief in a power governing the universe that is greater than oneself, the sense of interconnectedness with all living beings, and the quest for self-knowledge, meaning, and purpose in one’s life. When an individual uses his/her substance of choice, the usual outcome is a detachment and disconnection from the present moment, uncomfortable feelings that the individual seeks to avoid through self-medication, and ultimately, the self. Addiction is a disease of isolation, and as the individual sinks deeper and deeper into the disease, he/she becomes more isolated from others and oneself as deeply rooted feelings of inner insufficiency and not being “enough” create the overwhelming need to use.
A lack of connection to authentic self, important others, a higher power, and the larger community can each contribute to feelings of isolation and emptiness, low self-worth, and a pervasive sense of unhappiness that can contribute to and/or perpetuate addictive behaviors. Being of service is a profound way that recovering individuals often give back and regain a sense of self-worth and purpose as they work toward maintaining long-term sobriety. This suggests that aspects of spirituality, including healthy interpersonal relationships and feeling deeply connected to others in profound ways, contribute to overall feelings of health, well-being, and meaning in one’s life.
If we can connect to who we really are and face the dark parts of ourselves that we invest so much energy into repressing, we would have the opportunity to shine a light onto our shadow selves, those dark corners of our minds where we store trauma and mad ideas, and experience them for what they are in the moment without judgment or denial. The disease of addiction is so complex, and long-term, interdisciplinary professional help is most often needed to confront and heal from past traumas and maintain abstinence and sobriety. I have a profound respect and admiration for those individuals who are committed to putting in the daily work that is often required to maintain sobriety, and I have a deep compassion for those individuals who are currently struggling with the disease of addiction.
No amount of wealth, beauty, fame, power, knowledge, achievement or success can replace the satisfaction and fulfillment that exist when we feel connected to something greater than us. A regular spiritual practice allows us to find meaning and purpose in our lives as we travel down the sometimes windy and bumpy road we call “life” and can be a powerful tool in recovery from any condition. Feelings of contentment, peace, joy, and love replace feelings of fear, unhappiness, anxiety, and discontent as one connects deeply with oneself and with others. As the mental chatter begins to cease and one feels centered in and connected to the present moment, however uncomfortable, true healing can begin.