In Matthew’s gospel, he reports an event in which Jesus was walking on water to his disciples who were on a boat. Boldly, the apostle Peter said, “Tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus did. Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus, but in Matthew 14:30 it says, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Peter took his eyes off Jesus and started to focus on his fears.
People in recovery may find that story relatable, especially if they’ve gone through a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. The first three steps involve realizing your powerlessness over your addiction and trusting in God to take control of your life. When you start to lean on your own power, you may find yourself becoming more vulnerable to a relapse.
But what does it mean to stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on God’s help in your recovery?
Removing Focus From Yourself
An excessive inward focus is one of the biggest challenges to mental health. This can lead to social issues like selfishness, but it can also cause isolation, anxiety, and shame. For instance, people with social anxiety are often consumed with self-doubt that they struggle to pay attention to what the people around them are saying and doing, which can worsen their feelings that they struggle in social settings.
People in recovery from substance use disorders may also struggle with issues related to guilt and shame that are worsened by an excessive focus on themselves. Group therapy is one way addiction treatment addresses issues like this, and it is a vital part of treatment for many people. Addiction can lead to isolation, which is like fuel on the fire of many mental health and substance use issues. Isolation forces you to focus on yourself, your problems, and your failings.
Isolation can allow you to fall into some unhealthy routines. A lack of accountability can also lead to continued drug use and unhealthy habits.
Group therapy can help you remove focus from yourself by listening to others and thinking about what they may be experiencing. This helps you realize you’re not alone. It also builds your social skills and helps you empathize with others. These skills are vital in building connections with the community around you, which has been found to be a vital part of addiction recovery.
What Does it Mean to Shift Focus to God?
Shifting focus away from yourself is one thing, but how can you shift your focus to God? According to the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, it involves acknowledging that a higher power is in control. The second of the famous 12 steps, which a wide variety of organizations uses, says, “[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The third step follows that up with, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
AA uses open-ended language to encourage people of all beliefs to participate. The original Big Book of AA even specifically encourages agnostics to participate alongside Christians in the spiritual healing aspects of the program. Today, other 12-step programs like Celebrate Recovery use the same 12 steps with a specific focus on Christian beliefs.
But what does it mean to turn your life over to God? The Bible speaks about God as omnipotent. There are dozens of verses that explore that concept, like Proverbs 19:21, which says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Like the steps of AA, the Bible also encourages us to trust in God. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”
The story of Joseph, in the book of Genesis, talks about a man who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Joseph trusted God’s plan even though that meant betrayal, estrangement from his family, and imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit. Though no one would blame him for giving in to despair, Joseph worked hard in all that God put in front of him, and he eventually became the second-in-command of all of Egypt and was able to prevent disaster in the midst of a famine.
When he finally confronted his brothers, he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Does the Bible Address Addiction?
Since psychoactive substances have been used for almost as long as there have been people on earth, both the Old and New Testaments address substance misuse. In the Bible, Hebrew and Christian cultures of the first century and earlier most commonly used alcohol, so that’s the only substance that specifically mentioned. While the use of alcohol isn’t forbidden in the Bible, there are warnings about misusing alcohol.
Moreover, the Bible speaks about other things that might be relevant to someone struggling with a substance use disorder.
For instance, there is hope in the face of temptation, or compulsions to do what you know isn’t right. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Today, we know that addiction is a chronic but treatable disease. For most people, there is a way out through effective treatment.
Spiritual Healing in Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment is vital in effectively addressing a substance use disorder. Treatment will address physical, psychological, and social issues related to your substance use problem. Addiction treatment should also be tailored to your individual needs. Because addiction is such a complicated disease, it usually requires a complex treatment approach. However, even with an effective treatment plan, many people benefit from approaches that address spiritual healing.
But how can you seek spiritual healing and shift your focus to God in addiction treatment?
Some addiction treatment programs offer faith-based tracks where you can have meetings with a chaplain or a pastor to discuss the spiritual aspects of your recovery. This can be good for people in inpatient programs who need in-house access to treatment. However, if your treatment center doesn’t provide a faith-based track, there are still several options. You might be able to find a 12-step program to supplement your treatment.
Most treatment centers encourage participation in 12-step programs as a way to continue your recovery, even after formal treatment has ended. Major 12-step groups like AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) focus on spiritual healing and shifting focus to a higher power. However, groups like Celebrate Recovery take the same 12 steps and apply them to Christian principles.
Finally, while in recovery, you may also speak to a local pastor or minister and ask about church ministries for your or for spiritual counseling sessions. It’s important to note that local pastors without expertise in addiction treatment won’t be able to speak to specific medical, psychological, or social issues related to a substance use disorder. But they might be able to help you grow your faith and shift your focus to God in your recovery.