One thing I’ve heard a lot over the years is that addiction is a three-part disease: mental, physical, and spiritual. Addicts and alcoholics tend to have an unhealthy obsession with their substance of choice and seek it out compulsively—that’s the mental part. When they use it, they experience an abnormal react to it: the overpowering urge to take in more, also known as craving. That’s the physical part. Both are easy enough to understand. The one I could never really wrap my head around was the spiritual aspect. Those who struggle with addiction are said to have a spiritual malady. When I finally did understand it, I was able to identify something that had been missing for my entire life.
Even when I was a kid, I often didn’t feel like I fit in. I was sensitive and emotional, and often had problems related to that in school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I felt like something was missing from my life. There were early warning signs of compulsive behaviors—playing video games addictively, overeating and struggling with my weight. And then it happened. I got high for the first time as a teenager and everything changed. In that moment, I felt like everything was complete. I had found my missing piece (or so I thought), and everything felt perfect.
Of course, we know how this story ends. Over the next few years I chased that feeling with reckless abandon, only to find it getting farther and farther out of reach. Chasing that amazing feeling turned into trying to maintain a buzz, which finally turned into trying to find an escape from how horrible I felt all the time. I was sick, but I would need more than sobriety to feel better.
I did up end getting sober, or I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. But as I said, sobriety wasn’t enough to fix me. It got me back to where I started (minus a few scars, of course), but where I started still meant I was in a position to start using again. And I didn’t stay sober. I had several relapses before I managed to figure it out. I had to address my spiritual malady.
A lot of people talk about having a “spiritual awakening,” or some giant moment of revelation where they see a flash of light and find God. I didn’t experience anything like that. But I suppose you could call what I experienced a spiritual awakening. I just experienced it in my own way. Over time, I started to recognize that nothing I did by myself would ever make me feel complete. I could keep my body alive and sober (at least, for a little while), but I needed something external to complete me. That’s where spirituality came in.
I’m not one of those people who prays or meditates. I’m still not sure if I believe in God at all. But I find peace in other ways—like taking good care of myself, finding balance in my life, and most importantly, being part of a community. Relationships with others give me a sense of peace and comfort I had never been able to find before. And I don’t mean codependent emotional relationships. But real, loving support and the power of a community are the forms my spirituality has taken.