The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion

It is helpful to separate spirituality and religion.  We often unconsciously link the two.  But spirituality does not need to be defined through the lens of religion.  Religion can be thought of as a set of beliefs, rituals and practices regarding belief in God or gods to be worshiped.  Spirituality is a personal search for meaning in life, for connection with all things and for the experience of a power beyond oneself.  Some find it helpful to think of religion as rules or practices agreed to by a number of people, whereas spirituality is completely related to one’s individual experience and connections.  Spirituality is recognizing a power greater than ourselves which is grounded in love and compassion.  It is a power that gives us perspective, meaning, and a purpose to our lives.  It is a desire to connect with more than ourselves, to connect with everything.

So, Why Is Spirituality Important In Recovery From Addiction?

Spirituality is important in addiction recovery because addiction takes away our ability to be spiritual.  It disconnects us from our spirituality and from powers, people and things outside ourselves.  To fully recover from our addiction we must reconnect to our spirituality, our search for purpose in our life and connections beyond ourselves.

How Does Addiction Take Away Our Spirituality?

First, alcoholism or drug addiction takes away our ability to choose because EVERYTHING becomes centered on using.  Our entire focus is on the drug of addiction…how to get it, when to get it, who to get it from, where to get it, when to use it, actually using it, and recovering from using it.  The sole focus in life revolves around the addiction.  We tend to only value people and things based on our addiction.  An important element of spirituality is choosing for ourselves: deciding on our beliefs, exploring our purpose and meaning and honestly connecting with people and powers beyond ourselves.  Addiction keeps us from choosing anything but the object(s) of our addiction.

Second, addiction takes away our ability to grow and change.


Although the life of an addict can seem random, chaotic and uncertain, it is actually very predictable and extremely routine.  Because the addict focuses exclusively on their addiction, their life ceases to have any growth or change: it is solely about getting the drug, using the drug and recovering from the drug, repeated over and over.  Life become robotic, the addict is no longer themselves.  Not being able to be our true selves’ stops us from growing.  Spirituality is about growing, changing and evolving.

Third, addiction takes away our ability to have any real relationships because our sole focus and connection is wired to be exclusively with the addiction.  Addiction causes us to be dishonest, we say and do things based on the drug. Because we are no longer ourselves, we cannot form honest relationships with others (or ourselves).  We cannot connect to anything beyond ourselves and our drug.  Our world soon shrinks to become just us and our addiction, everything and everyone else just becomes a means to using.  Addiction eventually results in a loss of all real relationships and connections. An important element of spirituality is connecting to more than ourselves, ultimately with everything.

Finally, addiction takes away our ability to experience surprise, wonder and awe.  If there is one experience that can immediately let us know we are connecting with our spirituality, it is experiencing awe and wonder.  Many expect wonder and awe to come only in the form of extraordinary events with loud fanfare.  But actually wonder and awe come mainly during ordinary events and things.  They come when we take the time to recognize the incredible beauty and wonder in everyday objects and happenings.  The beauty and complexity of a sunflower, the wonderful fragrance of a rose, seeing the night sky filled with stars, and watching the sun slowly set are often sources of wonder.  Any moment can be an opportunity for awe and wonder:  a moment to feel connected to more than ourselves, to feel that there is a power or powers beyond ourselves, to appreciate things and people for their own beauty.

If we view spirituality from this perspective we can see how recovery and sobriety gives us our spirituality back. Spirituality is individually defined, it is however one chooses to assign meaning, value, and purpose to their life.  Therefore, someone who walks into a 12-step room does not have to be deterred by the spirituality of the program because they can choose anything greater than themselves as their Higher Power, such as their own sobriety.

Practicing Spirituality

Being spiritual is a practice that restores all of the things addiction takes away from us.  Addiction is a predictable disease with a predictable outcome.  Practicing spirituality involves getting comfortable with the uncertain.  It can be practiced and strengthened by taking the time to celebrate what we are grateful for, what we trust in, what inspires us, and how we exercise faith.  Being spiritual requires us to be mindful of the ordinary moments that make a simple life extraordinary and to be vulnerable to change, to risk having honest relationships and to grow.  It’s these ordinary moments and brave bouts of vulnerability that allow us to connect with others with love and compassion.

1. What does spirituality mean to you?

2. In what ways is spirituality important to you?

3. Do you feel that you are contributing enough time and effort toward this area of your life? If  not, how would you like to improve?

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©2019 by Christopher Thompson.