Constructing meaning from life’s events is an essential human characteristic, “a critical element of psychological well-being, and one that can lead to physical and mental discomfort if blocked or unfulfilled,” wrote Laudet, Morgen, and White in 2006 in their study “The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems.”
Scientific literature strongly supports the notion that spirituality can enhance health and quality of life. “In a review of 200 + studies, positive relationships were documented with physical and functional status, reduced psychopathology, greater emotional well-being, and improved coping,” wrote Laudet, Morgen, and White.
Understanding the core of belonging centers on the spiritual energy within. Substance misuse and disorder block that vital energy. In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Annetta Sutton, MA, AAPC, discussed the critical role a spiritual outlook can have in recovery from addiction. Sutton is the author of Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction and Redemption, an inspiring autobiographical work about how alcohol use disorder touched every area of her life as a family member, spouse, parent, and professional. She is also the founder and CEO of Five Point Consulting. With over 40 years of recovery experience, 12-Step spirituality, and transitions, Sutton’s greatest passion is helping the human spirit recover and transform trauma, grief, and addiction.
At the beginning of the webinar, Sutton identified spiritual blocks to recovery such as dishonesty, despair, grief, unwillingness, isolation, arrogance, shame, irresponsibility, shame, and anger. “We’re seeing those constantly in our society,” she said. “In fact, it’s been exacerbated in the last few years. In recovery, we ask ourselves, ‘How can this change?’ What I like about places like Harmony is the principle of the spiritual journey that they use.”
Spiritual blocks are countered by a value system of spiritual principles. These include honesty, compassion, hope, courage, integrity, humility, willingness, perseverance, and service. “Everybody has a value system,” Sutton said. “It comes from our parents, teacher, and coaches. Often, it takes only one person to give us a value system, but when we’re in the throes of the disease of addiction, it goes away because our attitude and our behavior change.”
Maintaining a functional value system is a process: we never arrive at a state of perfection where this spiritual endeavor would be finished. It requires work every day. “In recovery, our attitude changes again and we find back to our spiritual principles,” Sutton explained. People in recovery tend to look for things they are grateful for instead of focusing on things that make them angry.
The Role of Trauma and Grief
Sutton then explained two issues “that have surfaced the most” in her own work. The first one is trauma—especially childhood trauma and abuse. “When this happens to a child, they lose the spark. They lose their energy. To bring it back is a major accomplishment.” If you add drugs and alcohol into the mix, the impact gets even worse.
That explains how addiction has a high probability of perpetuating itself: a troubling 75 percent of adults in treatment grew up with addiction in their families, Lindsey Chadwick, manager of the children’s program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center, explained in a Harmony webinar in 2021. Children living through abuse, violence, and other traumatic events, such as parental substance misuse, often suffer the ill effects of what is known as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) for the rest of their lives.
The second area is unprocessed grief resulting from traumatic experiences. “We sidestep this issue too often, but of all the spiritual blocks, it will control more of our lives if we don’t have the tools to work with it.” Sutton cited the example of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson who experienced multiple ACEs in his childhood that contributed to his subsequent substance use disorder because he didn’t have the means to process that traumatic grief.
In therapy sessions, Sutton frequently starts by asking about a client’s grief.” It’s confusion, abandonment, and anxiety, she said. “Every person’s grief is very individual and very personal.”
For Sutton, the answer is the 12-Step way of life with the ultimate aim of a spiritual awakening (Step 12). Making a fearless moral inventory (Step 4), admitting our wrongs to ourselves (Step 5), being prepared to have God remove our character defects (Step 6), and humbly asking him to remove our shortcomings (Step 7) are important stages for Sutton on the 12-Step journey.
Finally, Sutton emphasized the importance of Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of
His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
“When you listen to yourself, and you quiet the mind—that’s what meditation is—when you live in the present moment and concentrate on your breathing and let go, you relieve all that tension and stress,” Sutton said. “How simple is that?”
Harmony Foundation has long utilized a holistic approach to healing trauma and addiction. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Realizing that addiction is a biopsychosocial and spiritual disease, Harmony’s treatment program promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering patients to embark upon a lifelong recovery journey.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.