A spiritual awakening is a term that’s often heard in recovery communities – mostly in recovery from addictions. But looking at someone’s spiritual condition is something that is increasingly being considered as part of recovery from many other mental health problems now.
In fact, it is not a new approach, more so a return. Our ancestors most often regarded the spiritual side as a solution to what is known as mental health problems these days.
It is the thinking behind the Twelve Steps recovery program that started in the 1930s. Now an increasing number of mental health experts are considering the fact that people with mental health and addiction issues are suffering from a “spiritual sickness”.
In the book called Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the world’s bestselling recovery books and from which the worldwide recovery fellowship took its name, it says: “For we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”
What is the spirit?
Also commonly called the soul, the spirit is essentially the non-physical part of a person. It is the real source of our character and our emotions: it is our spirit that lets us know if we are truly happy or sad.
This is why those who look to have it all materially can and do still suffer greatly, to the point of ending their life. Think about the countless tragedies of many wealthy celebrities.
The word “spirit” itself is very revealing, as many words used in recovery are when we look at their etymology. It derives from Latin spiritus meaning “breath”, and spirare meaning “breathe”. So it is our essence, our life force.
Interestingly, the word “psychiatrist” derives from the Greek words psukhe meaning “breath, life, soul, spirit” and iatros meaning “healer”. “Psychiatrist” actually means “breath, life, soul or spirit healer”.
Carl Jung on the human spirit
Spirit is the immeasurable quality that makes up the human spirit. That is, how much joy, inspiration, creativity, sense of connection and hope does someone have?
In therapy, it’s often possible – without even speaking much or despite what someone might be saying – to pick up on the internal state of someone. If they are suffering from inner pain and despair inside it can usually be spotted because how we are on the outside is a reflection of what’s going on inside.
As one of the world’s bestselling self-help authors and a respected motivational speaker, Dr. Wayne Dyer said: “We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.”
Many experts in the field of recovery also talk about the human spirit and the need to mend it in order for people to heal. Indeed, eminent psychologist Carl Jung frequently spoke about the spirit or soul.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul,” said Jung, talking about how to find recovery. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
A spiritual awakening…
“Making the darkness conscious” could be one way of describing what a spiritual awakening is – because otherwise this darkness blocks and engulfs people from what Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) terms the “sunlight of the spirit”. It stops people from being who they truly are meant to be: people living happy lives with meaning.
AA literature also talks about “picking up the simple kit of spiritual tools” and as a result being “rocketed into the fourth dimension of existence”. That is another way of describing what a spiritual awakening is like.
There is something beyond what we see in front of our eyes. Something much bigger and all-powerful…
Or it is as with Star Wars creator George Lucas who was inspired to come up with the name and concept of the metaphysical and ubiquitous power known as The Force. This arose from a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and cinematographer Roman Kroitor.
McCulloch argued that living beings are just like highly complex machines, but Kroitor felt there was much more to it than this. “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things,” said Kroitor, “they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”
In fact, it is extremely hard to describe because much of what is spiritual is that which transcends thought. So to put it into words that describe it is very difficult.
Perhaps this is because anything is easier to understand if we can see it or measure it in some way. Maybe this is why – along with the rise of science and the development of new medications – so much of modern mental health treatment pays attention overwhelmingly to the mind.
However, those who’ve spiritually awakened will point to how the influence of spiritual things can be seen everywhere. It’s like cell phone signals: we cannot see them, yet we all see and hear the effect of them.
The Twelve Steps and spiritual awakening
In the Twelve Steps recovery program, Step 12 states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” It could be concluded then that the main purpose of going through the Twelve Steps is to have a spiritual awakening.
Without a doubt, for 80 years the Twelve Steps have helped millions of addicts around the world not only beat their addictions one day at a time but also to recover their true selves and totally transform their lives. This includes alcoholics and drug addicts as well as those who have had behavioral addiction issues.
Now as an increasing number of people look to a spiritual sickness as being at least a part of their problem, more people are seeking a spiritual solution. For instance, there is new and ongoing research into using such as MDMA (ecstasy), ketamine, and ayahuasca to help people with recovery, with these drugs giving people a spiritual experience.
Some therapists are introducing adapted versions of the Twelve Steps too. This has had some astoundingly positive results.
Here at Tikvah Lake, we can offer an introduction to the Twelve Steps. We also ensure everybody who stays with us has one-to-one therapy every day as we’ve found this to give the most effective help.