Though there are many paths to recovery, the holistic approach is typically accepted and considered an effective route in preventing relapses. For that reason, spirituality is most always included in one’s recovery journey. After all, individuals are composed of physical, emotional, psychological/mental and spiritual components. In fact, it is often said we are not humans having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human one.
However, though spirituality is certainly an aspect of a person–even if that is defined quite differently from individual to individual–religion is not.
Noting the differences between religion and spirituality is necessary for recovering individuals and addiction recovery professionals. Both populations need to understand that spirituality is something that already exists within every person, just like emotions and cognitions. Religion, however, is an external force – a manmade and organized set of beliefs which are typically taught.
That latter fact is one which can become problematic. Why? Because many times religion is not merely taught as an option, but forced with threat of severe punishment (in this life or the afterlife) if it’s not accepted. This is known as religious abuse. And, of course, like any other form of abuse, it creates an environment that is not emotionally, spiritually and/or physically safe.
That all too common reality speaks to the very reason it is vital for both populations to know, clarify and respect the differences between religion and spirituality in regards to recovery.
Religious abuse is often noted as a factor in an active addict’s family of origin, which is why many individuals are hesitant to seek treatment due to the fear of being subjected to religious teachings or terminology in recovery. For the record, they’re not exactly wrong.
Concern is warranted as the existence of religious abuse in some treatment and recovery programs is staggering. In fact, there are some programs whose approach aligns more with that of a religious cult than a rehab or recovery center. This is why it is important for anyone seeking treatment to ask about any religious components in advance. Spiritual components are expected, but religious ones are not. Though it is perfectly acceptable for anyone who is comfortable to choose a religious-based treatment and recovery program, it definitely is not something that should be forced.
To those who are in the addiction and recovery fields, here’s a gentle reminder: recovery is about saving lives, not saving souls. More specifically, it is to provide an emotionally, physically and spiritually safe environment in which individuals can physically detox, emotionally and spiritually heal and holistically begin to recover from the disease of addiction.
Treatment and recovery are not to be confused with Sunday school and church. In fact, to do so is to speak from the moral model of addiction, which claims it is a choice rather than a disease. Therefore, the spiritual aspect needs to be separated from any personal religious beliefs or agendas. The spiritual aspect of any treatment and recovery program must also feel safe, something of an individual’s own choosing based on their individual perspective and experience. To force anything otherwise is to engage in religious abuse and codependent behavior which only adds to a recovering individual’s pain and sets them up for relapse.