Spirituality a key step in addiction recovery

  • September 26, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - For many people suffering from addiction, the belief in a higher power, or the belief that such a higher power actually cares for them, is often a difficult concept to grasp, addictions counsellors say.

Feelings of shame and guilt because of the hurtful things they have done or said during their addiction can make it difficult for recovering addicts to forgive themselves. The concept of a Creator who loves them and wants to help them seems very unlikely.

C.J., a former cocaine addict with Tourette Syndrome, has had to fight several addictions triggered by his compulsive illness.

'Because of the Tourettes, I had a difficult childhood with teasing and my way of coping was hanging out with the bad crowd and drugs were a way of coping with myself,' he said.

Six years ago he entered Vita Nova, an addictions rehabilitation centre in Woodbridge, Ont. After dealing with his drugs addiction, he left, but soon developed a gambling addiction. After trying several programs at other addiction treatment centres, he returned to  Vita Nova this past year.

Vita Nova offers a program that strongly invites participants to explore their spirituality and reconnect with God. The founder is Catholic and learning sessions are offered about the Catholic faith on a weekly basis.

Like many centres, it also offers psychotherapy, family counselling, career counselling and physical health assessment. Clients can stay for a minimum of three to six months, but can even stay for a year or longer, if needed. Every day after dinner, clients are invited to take part in a 'spiritual hour.'

'I believe in a higher power and I know that Vita Nova is based on a higher power, God, and I've attended a few Masses here. But I still grapple with it,' C.J. said. 'I feel I'm not worthy of God's love because I've disappointed a lot of people. I have a lot of regrets.'

Emilio, an alumnus of Vita Nova,  said he stayed in its program for six months in 2004 because of a cocaine addiction. He said that after leaving, he 'ran into issues,' had a relapse and it wasn't until about three years later that he walked back through Vita Nova's doors.

'I didn't take spirituality seriously (the first time),' he said. 'The place had always taught me the right way but I chose the wrong way. The second time, I started taking it seriously.'

After about a year, he was able to recover and is to be married this fall.

Many other addiction treatment centres make spirituality an option, if not a priority in their clients' rehabilitation.

'When life has meaning with a mission, rarely we accept to waste it : faith and hope together with service and love (foundation of any spirituality) are the directions needed to recover and not only recover from drugs, but also from an empty life which seem to be so common nowadays,' Fr. Gianni Carparelli, chair and founder of Caritas Project , told The Catholic Register.

Caritas, which has centres in Toronto, Orangeville and King City, offers a 25-month non-medical residential treatment program for addictions rehabilitation that addresses biological, psychological, social and spiritual conditions of each individual. It was founded on the principle that addiction is an illness of body, mind and spirit that makes 'the whole personality and life itself' wither away, contaminating society in the process, according to the Caritas web site.

Carparelli said that sobriety itself is no cure for his clients and the entire life of each person needs to be re-evaluated and restructured. This needs a spiritual component.

'Spirituality is not to be understood as devotions or religious rituals,' he said. 'Spirituality is first and foremost an understanding/acceptance that we are not an interesting accident in the life of the universe.

'In our program ‛spirituality' is present in many ways. We have people from many different religious experiences or even from none. We cannot impose one over the others.'

In order to cater to religious differences during the rehabilitation program, Carparelli said faith-related events include moments of silence throughout the week, time for reflection and reading, gatherings to share ideas and feelings and cultural days where clients reflect through poetry, music and the arts.

Also, residents can go to church or synagogue if they want, but they must be accompanied by a staff member. Caritas has also invited priests, rabbis and ministers, and it makes spiritual counselling available.

'(During) major festivities they come to the church : some of them after a while ask (to do their) confession : but again it is not a ‛must' within the program as it is a must to get up at 6:30 a.m. or to keep the room tidy and clean,' he said.

Michael Taylor is manager of spiritual and religious care services at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health , which has beds for 450 inpatients. Canada's leading addiction and mental health teaching hospital, CAMH is located in downtown Toronto. Science takes the forefront at CAMH, although the centre does not forget about faith as an option.

Taylor said spiritual counselling is definitely not for everyone, that some clients' addictions might be a 'completely medical thing' or simply a question of better nutrition. At CAMH, he said, clients determine what is best for them in their treatment and if they choose spirituality, the services they need are there. 

'It is not religion per se but a look at the impact of substance abuse on their spirituality, what it means and how they might connect or reconnect with it,' Taylor said.

'Spiritual' remedies could be any of a variety of activities, he added, including yoga, walking and meditation. Basically, anything that helps clients 'name and claim what is important for their life.'

CAMH does not use the '12 steps' guiding principles used in recovery programs worldwide, which was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the first of the 12 steps, participants are required to admit they are powerless over their addiction, to believe there is a higher power that can help them recover from addiction and that they must decide to turn their lives over to God (whatever they understand God to be).

Beckie O'Neill, a social worker at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Centre in Saranac Lake, N.Y., said the centre encourages the 12 steps of AA, but takes into account that not everyone is ready to think about the existence of God. St. Joseph's is a 58-bed free-standing inpatient facility sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

Clients spend a minimum of 28 days or as many as 90 days in recovery care, where they receive personal counselling, family counselling, small group discussions, lectures, recreation and other activities. Clients, she said, are encouraged to perceive 'GOD' in the 12 steps as 'good, orderly, direction' or 'group of drunks,' meaning the help they receive from staff and from their peers. O'Neil said many clients find it difficult to embrace the notion of God and can learn a lot about each other and themselves by sharing with peers.

'Every person who comes here, we consider they have a problem with spirituality,' she said. 'My experience is they go into AA and there is a certain energy they experience.'

O'Neil said she personally thinks a focus on their relationship with God is the most important piece to their recovery. Clients can choose to take part in a monthly retreat and attend weekly Mass or services.

Cathy Barrick, the director of operations at Renascent , has also seen the effect of faith on clients within the 12-step model.

Renascent, which has three treatment centres in Toronto and one in Brooklin, Ont., offers a 21-day residential program with a relapse prevention 15-week continuation program.

'Renascent in itself is not a faith-based centre, but we use the 12-step method and the 12 steps are very focused on a sense of faith – accepting there is a higher power,' she said.

Renascent receives visits from volunteer clergy (generally Catholic priests) who are kept fully occupied when they come in, she added.

'A lot of (clients) have a strong desire to confess their sins and have some affirmation from someone in a faith background.'

See also: Rehab centre puts Catholicity front and centre

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.