Spirituality and Recovery

By Gary W. Reece, Ph.D
Founder of the Stepcare Institute

There are probably no more volatile or ambiguous words which provoke endless debate and controversy than spirituality, God, higher power and recovery. When you put them all together in one brief article it becomes even more problematic. Part of the difficulty is that everyone is an expert with a definite opinion, secondly, even the greatest of thinkers have written volumes on this topic. And thirdly, our language and use of terms is so imprecise that it naturally leads to misunderstanding. What do you mean when you talk of spirituality and recovery? What do you think you hear when I discuss it? A minister? Your sponsor? A Priest? Is it the same if you are a catholic? A Baptist? A Unitarian? An atheist? And finally, are spirituality and recovery related in any meaningful way to self-esteem?

I believe answers to these questions come from a number of basic assumptions we all carry around with us. Assumptions we may not even be able to verbalize. The first assumption has to do with your image of God: language and belief about this will in large part determine your idea of what it means to be spiritual. A second major assumption has to do with what your image of being human is all about. Usually this comes from your idea about God. Thirdly, ideas about recovery and healing also are dependent on what we believe is the nature of human existence. Most people do not even think about these kinds of questions very often, yet they carry around ideas about these realities and act on them all the time. I once asked a young man what the purpose of life was. He answered, "to live." Not a very well thought out response, yet it was his philosophy of life. We all have one.

Fundamentally, ideas about recovery, spirituality, and self-esteem come from your philosophy of life. We all have one even if we haven't thought it out completely or put it into an elegant philosophical statement. Our behavior speaks loudest about our philosophy of life, it is our modus operandi; our M.O..

With all of this as a preamble, then, let me suggest my few thoughts on this matter. I believe that the deepest and most profound issues in life are spiritual. And by that I mean all of us in order to live with any degree of satisfaction must come to grips with these basis questions. Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Who are you to me? And what—does it mean to be fully human? If we wrestle with these questions in an authentic and serious manner we will be living spiritually. Not everyone is spiritual even though the basic issues in life may be spiritual. I am fond of quoting my favorite theologian Paul Tillich on his ideas about God and Faith. He states that faith is the centering act of the human personality in response to his/her Ultimate Concern. What does this mean in personal terms? It speaks to me in that faith is essential to being human. It is what organizes our lives, makes hope possible, gives our lives shape, direction and meaning and is the foundation of society. Faith for Tillich was always faith in something. His insight for us is that we become what we worship; that with which we are ultimately concerned. In other words spirituality becomes our defining act. How does this become operationalized on a psychological level? Very simply. We become what we are attached to: what we care about, what we identify with, become committed to, strive after and passionately pursue (ultimate concern) we become. Check it out in your life. If I value fame, money, achievement and success this will become my destiny. Again, Tillich's wisdom is very instructive in his discussion on Idolatry. If that with which we are Ultimately Concerned is not worthy of our worship (idolatry) it will destroy us. I think this is a good description of any addiction or obsession.

In other words, if we fail to live spiritually and worship lesser gods we may end up like the Children of Israel led by Moses, wandering about in the wilderness. Notice how addiction fits this model. It gives you an initial feeling of ecstasy, you feel like you have found paradise, you become preoccupied with the pursuit, you become dependent on the chemical to help you achieve this worshipful state, it takes on ultimate power over you and you sacrifice your self-esteem, health, family and all your earthly goods on its altar, Addiction is a very demanding God. You cannot have any other gods before it. Finally, you take on all the characteristics of an addict; a worshiper of your god.

It seems to me that the implications for this way of looking at things are rather obvious. The first is that recovery must be based in authentic spirituality. By definition, to live spiritually is to be defined by your pursuit and relationship to your higher power. What we worship; i.e., strive for, care about, value and are devoted to we become. If we strive to live honestly, authentically, care about others, live responsibly within a moral structure, and seek to live with a sense of meaning and purpose we will fulfill our greatest potential as human beings. In this model self-esteem is a natural outcome. We will not only feel good about ourselves but others will as well. In the words of Jesus, "where your treasure is your heart will be also, seek and you will find."

Spirituality is not about being religious. Spirituality is about responding to the deepest questions posed by our existence with out whole heart. How we do this defines us. Again, Jesus had very little patience for the people who were preoccupied with laws, rules and living by the orders of the religious establishment of his day. I think this can also be said of the other great religious (spiritual) figures in history. Collectively their wisdom teaches us, "seek and you will find, open your heart, be at one with life, do not be attached to the things of this world, love one another, forgive and live with compassion.” These are the great but simple spiritual principles that are also the foundations for recovery as well as the well-lived life. They are one and the same. When we violate them we experience the natural consequences. When we actualize them we become more fully human, aware, compassionate, and loving.


Author Biography
Gary W. Reece, Ph.D. received his doctorate in clinical psychology and a masters degree in theology from the graduate school of clinical psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1978. He has twenty five years of teaching, training, consulting and clinical work in the private sector. Here are just some of his activities. Dr. Reece designed the emergency and trauma response program and trained the emergency responders for Pasadena-Hollywood-Burbank Airport. He has authored a recovery manual for substance abuse. And recently published The Hero’s Journey, a course on Self-Esteem. He has consulted with numerous local hospitals in the area of staff development and professional burnout prevention. He conducted Work Place Stress seminars for the Veterans Hospitals in Sepulveda, and Bakersfield, California campuses. He has also taught psychology and done clinical supervision at Azusa Pacific University. The Palm Springs Girl Scout bus crash and Chino Hills Murder afforded Dr. Reece the opportunity to gain valuable experience and knowledge in the area of Community Disaster Intervention. He was also member of the Charter Oaks Hospital Disaster Response Team for whom he did many community critical incident debriefings.

In addition to these numerous opportunities to work with victims of disasters, trauma, and abuse, he is himself the survivor of traumatic bereavement. He and his wife lost a 6 month old daughter because of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. These experiences have left him with a special knowledge of trauma and have resulted in devoting his professional life to the study, research, and development of effective recovery programs for a broad spectrum of individuals with life crises.

Currently Dr. Reece is finishing his next book, which is designed to help people survive and recover from traumatic and life changing experiences. He also writes a monthly column for L.A. Steps For Recovery, a widely distributed publication for the recovery community. As the founder and executive director of The Stepcare Institute, Dr. Reece has built a distinguished career as therapist, author, educator, lecturer, and consultant. He is noted for his sense of humor, relaxed presentation style and skill in facilitating learning experiences.

Dr. Reece has written a book: Trauma, Loss & Bereavement which details the effects of trauma and has many helpful self-tests for recognizing the effects of trauma, stages in bereavement, and complicated mourning. The book may be purchased for $20.00 For details check out his web page www.stepcare.org or call to order at 626 355 2407

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