by Katherine Clancy
My spiritual life means a great deal to me. It is through awareness and spiritual experiences that I connect to a power greater than myself. And it is this connection that holds deep meaning for me. Almost every person in recovery that I know (myself included) has a spiritual experience (or many) that leads to or strongly instills the idea of getting sober. It is often unexplainable unless experienced. I used to try and explain certain experiences to friends or family and they wouldn’t fully get it. In addition, they may even be concerned or poke fun. “Oh, Katherine is our ‘spiritual one.’ When they said spiritual, I heard what they meant: crazy. I used to get offended. Hence, I stopped talking about it. In fact, I started to question it: am I insane? Am I really losing it? Is it connecting dots that are not connected? But, I could not shake the feeling of these experiences. They felt warm. And, they felt relieving. What’s more, they were deep and pervasive. They evoke a feeling that I now describe as the feeling of truth.
Self-Care—A Spiritual Life
As my life and sobriety progressed these experiences did not cease, they grew. I might feel too shy to share in a meeting, and someone random shares exactly what is on my mind. Maybe I pray for a sense of connection while driving. and then hear the friendly toot of a newly sober friend passing me at that exact moment. Perhaps I see or hear phrases or see a certain type of animal so many times it challenges coincidence. I call these synchronicities. These moments are part of my spiritual awareness. The unexplainable things that happen lead me to believe there may be a higher intelligence.
I grew up Catholic and I am used to phrases like archangels and praying for divine guidance. But the spiritual teachings I began tapping into are not acceptable to bring up to my Catholic grandmother. I also have well-intentioned East Coast family and friends that hardly know how to feel their own feelings let alone speak about their emotions or the intelligence of trees. I found myself isolated when these realms of thought were new. Now, I know better. In addition, I made mistakes trying to “take my friends with me” on this spiritual journey. Or, as my one friend calls it “pushing someone through the door.” As a result, I’ve learned how to process these experiences thoughtfully, with others who share my interests and who I trust. It’s really about self-care.
Tips for Sharing & Integrating Spiritual Experiences:
If you want to share an experience, I usually assess the situation with the phrase “small and safe.”
Share in small amounts, with one or only a couple of people you trust. I wouldn’t recommend entertaining an entire party with a 3-hour story about how you were thinking about an important decision and then you saw a license plate with the numbers 555 on it, which is a sign for you because you read a book about the synchronicities of triple numbers and 555 means a connection with higher consciousness, and then after you saw the license plate you saw a billboard which you felt was speaking directly to you because…(etc, you get the picture.) Impart simple phrases in conjunction with your feelings like: “I felt that I am being shown a sign today about this decision.” If people want to know more about your spiritual life, they will ask.
Share with friends or family members who you know are respectful and open-minded. Don’t try to CONVINCE anyone that the experience has to be true for them too. This can be damaging for your connection to that person, yourself, and your higher truth. When you feel called to, share with no expectation. It could start a beautiful conversation or it could yield an interested ‘hm’ and nothing else, and that’s fine.
There are many ways to process spiritual experiences. Choose what works for you.
Journal. Journaling is therapeutic. Certain experiences can be difficult to integrate so talking it over with yourself by way of journaling can be a healing exercise on many levels. Respect yourself enough to put down on paper what you felt to be true, even if you are nervous someone will read it and think you’re crazy. I feel these experiences are more about our connection to ourselves and our own personal truths more than anything. When you start with validating your own spiritual experiences, you can share from a grounded space which I can almost guarantee will resonate within someone else.
Listen. DO listen respectfully when someone else shares a ‘sign’ or synchronicity that has a higher meaning for them. If we are quick to judge another’s experience and b.s., we may be doing that internally to ourselves, invalidating ourselves from the inside.
Find your tribe. If you do not have people directly in your life to talk about spiritual things with, books and youtube are amazing resources. “Surround” yourself with like-minded people who share similar experiences. There are meetup groups for just about anything you can think of, and there’s this super cool sobriety meetup group called AA which has foundations in the acceptance of a higher spiritual power ;).
Substance Abuse and Spirituality
I believe alcoholism and addiction are about an intense disconnection from life, friends, family, and most of all, ourselves. We disconnect from a spiritual life when we are active in substance abuse. If we look at nature, everything is intertwined. The web of life is delicately balanced in harmony. We have a right to feel connected. We are a part of this grand organism called earth too. So, what some would call ‘woo woo’ I would call natural. Consequently, if you want to put the spider outside instead of stepping on it, and someone calls you a treehugger, do it anyway. And, be proud because you’re doing something that feels right for you. If you want to sage your vacation home and end up yelled at by your father while you are deep in prayer (true story), do it. Because connection in sobriety is a lifeline. The connection with your own personal truth is immeasurably powerful and will light the way for others to do the same.