The Benefits of Disorganized Religion: Spirituality and Recovery

Spirituality is the single most vital component to recovery of any kind. Unfortunately, it is most often the case that we enter recovery physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt. My friend Ardis would often say, “It’s the hardest thing in the world to believe in something more powerful than yourself when you don’t believe in yourself.”

Ambivalence and indifference flourish in the presence of shame. Working from false beliefs we reason that if a Higher Power did exist, why would He/She/It want anything to do with someone as messed up as me?

It takes courage to have faith in anything or anyone. I spend my days urging folks to believe in themselves. This is best achieved by unlearning what was taught to us by sick and selfish people and coming to honor the truth that healthy people have of us. It also requires a willingness to judge oneself and others not by their past deeds but by what they do and who they are becoming from today forward.

I’ve never tried to convince my clients of the presence of a deity or to embrace an existing belief system. The one exception to this rule is that I often encourage folks seeking freedom from addiction to embrace a spiritual connection to G.O.D. (a Group Of Drunks). (A.K.A. Alcoholics Anonymous).

Spirituality is a relationship between oneself and something greater than oneself. Being a part of a community of people who genuinely care about your recovery is invaluable. This commonly occurs in Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, other 12 step programs, Weight Watchers, Cross Fit, and countless other forums including rehabs and some of the better therapy groups.

I view these communities as delightful forms of disorganized religion. My experience is that while people in recovery tend to be deeply spiritual, they often lack the piousness that my religious friends embrace. As Richard Rohr pointed out, there’s often more spirituality occurring in the basement of churches than in the congregation.

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun” – Billy Joel

Too often, I’m working with people who are so beaten down by life that nihilism is the only thing that makes sense to them.

“Nothin’ matters and what if it did.” – John Cougar Mellancamp.

I point out to those I serve that mattering is a choice. It’s a choice to love, to create, and to invest. If nothing matters, then one has no responsibility to the world, to oneself, or to others. I honor all belief systems except those that totally exonerate a person of all personal responsibility. If naught else, we must always be accountable for ourselves and ideally, to those we love.

I ask my clients to, “just believe that I believe.” If I choose to speak to you it’s because you matter to me. (I won’t serve anyone I don’t believe in). I choose to uphold and convey your importance because I care. If caring does not matter, then you’ve embraced a belief system that is inherently depressing. To choose is fulfilling. To care is to invest.

I take heart even in the worst case scenario: If I’m wrong and nothing does matter but I had more fun, or more love, or laughed more often because I choose to believe that lots of people, places, and things do matter in a very literal sense – what am I out?

I’ll be just as dead when I’m done.

I’ve witnessed too many miracles to have doubt that there’s something. I find that the less I try to understand my Higher Power and the more I try to experience He/She/It, the better off I am. I experience (what I choose to call) God’s grace most when I keep myself in the company of misfits like me who seek connection and to become ever more happy, joyous, and free.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.