Help From Your Higher Self: How Spirituality and Life Purpose Aid Recovery
If you have attended an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or another 12-step group, you are probably familiar with the term “Higher Power,” which embodies the essence of the spiritual component of such groups. This philosophy suggests that when you are unable to handle your addiction, you can ask that it be handed over to a spiritual “other” which can, through its higher spiritual nature and powers, manage this (and any other issues) for you.
Belief in a Higher Power is a cornerstone of 12-step programs. Unlike traditional religion, it does not dictate specific beliefs, preferences, or denominational guidelines. Instead, it refers to a broader, overarching sense of meaning and purpose in life and a desire to “do the right thing,” as exemplified by the characteristics of the Higher Power model.
A clarification of the spiritual perspective in addiction counseling was introduced in a 2006 report in Counselor Magazine, written by William White and Alexandre Laudet. The report noted that studies consistently confirmed that people with a greater sense of spirituality were more likely to remain abstinent following addiction treatment. Those who had a “spiritual awakening” through involvement with programs like AA were more likely to be abstinent three years after treatment.
Higher Power and Higher Self
While it may be a mere matter of semantics to many, there is benefit in delineating the differences between the terms Higher Power and Higher Self, which is another term used to describe belief in one’s spiritual connection and resources.
Traditionally in AA and other 12-step groups, Higher Power can be synonymous with God. The term Higher Self, if used, is often synonymous with one’s soul, or conscience – the part of us that is connected to God or a Higher Power and that can receive guidance from that source.
Belief in either one, or both, determines how we respond to life. It is by identifying with a higher source of wisdom and guidance that we re-write our story from “unworthy” to “worthy” and “incapable” to “capable.”
Listening to the “inner voice” through which our guidance comes is how we connect with new meaning and purpose and change the trajectory of our lives toward positivity and service to others versus shame and denial.
The Power of Purpose
Having a sense of purpose is one of four major dimensions of recovery support, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Defined in their 2012 Working Definition of Recovery report, purpose involves conducting meaningful activity, caretaking and participating in society.
Purpose and meaning are often described together because they go hand in hand. Purpose really emerges from meaning. Having meaning implies having some kind of intrinsic value; it comes when an idea or an action is deemed – on a grander scale – to be worthwhile of pursuing. It is often through the communication link with our Higher Selves that we determine what is meaningful in our lives. Once we determine that, then we set out to pursue the objective associated with this meaning, using the power and focused determination that come from having acquired a sense of purpose.
Common Sources of Spirituality, Meaning and Purpose
Since having a perspective of spirituality and a mindset focused on meaning and purpose plays such an important role in sustaining recovery, how then does one gain this unique vantage point?
Common experiences of those who have had a spiritual awakening include:
- Feeling “saved” from self-destruction. Many report feeling that their lives were turned around so that they could accomplish a greater purpose—both by being more productive themselves and by helping others.
- Sensing hope and feeling gratitude for the opportunity to turn their life around. A feeling of receiving “grace” encourages the receiver and often inspires a readiness to show appreciation.
- Feeling drawn to help, to be of service to others. Receivers of a spiritual awakening often want to “pay back” the favor in some way, and this leads them toward a service-oriented path.
Steps to Finding One’s Own Sources of Meaning and Purpose
So what about you? How can you find more meaning and purpose in your life? Eric Maisel, Ph.D., creativity coach and developer of a new psychology of meaning, suggests that you ask yourself two important questions:
- Is your addiction fueled by too few experiences of meaning and too weak a sense of life purpose?
- What experiences in your past have felt meaningful to you?
If upon self-reflection you can honestly identify a need for more meaning and purpose in your life, and you can recall times when you may have experienced it – possibly prior to your addictive state – then you can use these prior experiences to help you. They can provide examples of the types of things you can do in the future that may help you regain a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
Having both the intent and the desire to live a more meaningful, purposeful life will “tune you in” to your Higher Self nature, which will then come to your assistance, if your aspirations are sincere. Remember, you can’t fool Mother Nature and you can’t fool your Higher Self! Intentions matter. Seek to find meaning and purpose that can fulfill both your needs and that can also be helpful to others.
Putting Meaning and Purpose into Practice
So how does this all play out in daily life? How can you infuse a sense of meaning and purpose into your life in practical ways? Here are some suggestions:
- “Take the elevator up” to a Higher Self perspective. When dealing with people and circumstances, instead of responding with an auto-pilot, habituated reaction to emotional triggers, take a deep breath and imagine yourself merging with your Higher Self. How would this part of you react? What would be its perspective? This simple choice to view a situation from a higher spiritual viewpoint can quickly diffuse feelings of anger, hurt or resentment and can lead you to a more reasoned and understanding response.
- Recognize and practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude has a host of positive effects, including increased optimism, improved relationships, improved self-esteem and better physical, mental and emotional health.
- Become service-oriented. Help and share with others. “Doing the right thing” and doing good pays off. In helps develop character, which makes you feel proud of yourself vs. feeling shamed, and helpful vs. helpless, thus taking you a big step toward sustained recovery.
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