Defining a Spiritual Experience

I recently found myself in the appropriately common discussion about how spirituality manifests in early recovery. My friend and I laughed about the skepticism we had both had when hearing members share about their spiritual experiences. Before working the 12 steps, the idea of having a spiritual experience seemed on par with the probability of finding Bigfoot. Like many before me, I had read the Bigbook and thoroughly examined Appendix II for clues to how I might become aware, if at some point in time, I was having one. Erroneously I assumed that given my agnostic upbringing mine would be of the educational variety. As I shared my story about my first Step 4, and the clarity and serenity that followed, I realized that defining a spiritual experience is challenging; like our stories there are common threads that bind us together but the authentic experience is deeply personal. And so with a curious mind I went looking for more information and came across a special issue of the Journal of Addictions Nursing that focuses on the role of Spirituality in Addiction.

The journal examines how spirituality plays a central role in most addictions prevention, treatment, and recovery, while it lacks a clear definition. For centuries, people have made efforts to document and account for spiritual experiences, and modern science attempts to interpret these and the role they play in the restoration of wellness in us alcoholics. Ann Solari-Twadell and Joan Kub, both nurses and researchers in the field of addictions, touch upon the importance of the “We Agnostics” chapter of the Bigbook, and how it differentiates spirituality from religion and belief in god. “As described, it is acknowledged that this journey will entail talking about God and that this may stir up ‘‘anti-religious’’ feelings…the emphasis here is not on the formalized religious understanding of God that is often derived through prescriptive rules…but through the creation of an individual relationship with a God of one’s own understanding. The intention in this text is that the ‘realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; and never exclusive or forbidding.’” For me, the distinction made all the difference in both my willingness and openness, when approaching the idea of having a spiritual experience.

 In my quest for more answers, only more questions were presented. Research identifies vagueness and “a lack of consideration of the dynamics of the ‘‘spirit’’ in the prevention, treatment, and recovery from this chronic progressive illness.” When I reflect upon the spiritual experiences I’ve had since I began my journey of recovery it seems unlikely that I will ever be able to truly express to another how they’ve felt and shifted my paradigms and perceptions. In a world filled with categories and boxes, perhaps the inability to define or label something speaks to its weight, and that maybe it’s not meant to be described, but rather lived.

“Spirituality in Addictions Research” Journal of Addictions Nursing 2013, 24(2), 207-208