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  • Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC

The Role of Spirituality in Recovery: How a Higher Power Helps Adult Children of Alcoholics

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


Recovery from the effects of growing up in a household with alcoholism or other family dysfunction can be a long and challenging journey. For adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), healing isn't just about overcoming addiction; it involves addressing deep emotional wounds and reclaiming a sense of self. For many, spirituality or connection to something greater than one's self plays an important role in that process.


In this blog post, we will explore the role of spirituality, or a higher power, in recovery, and how a higher power can guide and support ACOAs on their path to healing.


Whether you participate in an organized spiritual practice or not, this article will give ACOAs new ways to think about accessing your own personal higher power in your recovery.


Many people have painful associations with religion or spiritual practices out of their past trauma or ideas imposed on them by wounded people in their early lives. Many ACOAs also graft their dysfunctional relationship patterns onto their relationship with a higher power. For example, if you fear authority figures, then you might view a higher power as an adversary or balk at the idea of surrendering to a power greater than you. Or if you judge yourself mercilessly, your concept of a higher power might be one of a judge sitting in the sky waiting to catch you doing something wrong.


If you have experienced this, it may be important for you to allow yourself to deconstruct - and reconstruct - what spirituality means for you today. Giving yourself permission to redefine this aspect of your life can in and of itself be healing.


A higher power is a deeply personal concept that transcends religious beliefs. It is an acknowledgment of something greater than oneself, a force or energy that can offer support, guidance, and solace. This higher power can take various forms. For some, it is called God. For others, it is nature, the universe, a divine being, Spirit, or even a collective energy. In her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron refers to it as "good orderly direction." No matter how you define your higher power, the crucial aspect is that it provides a source of wisdom, strength and hope for you.


There are a number of benefits for ACOAs in accessing God as you understand God in your recovery.


Here are a few ways that having a relationship with a higher power can benefit you in your healing journey.

  1. Finding meaning and purpose: Spirituality helps ACOAs find a sense of purpose beyond their past experiences. I often tell my clients "You are more than your painful past experiences, and your life is bigger than that." A higher power offers a framework for understanding life's challenges and provides a pathway to personal growth.

  2. Cultivating inner strength: Believing in a higher power can bolster resilience and inner strength. It instills a sense of faith and trust in the process of recovery, even during difficult times.

  3. Letting go of control: There is a reason why a higher power is part of most 12-step programs, and why surrendering is an important step in recovery. ACOAs often carry a heavy burden of control due to the chaotic environment they grew up in. Spirituality encourages surrender and the acceptance of things beyond one's control.

  4. Connecting with community: Many ACOAs find solace and support within safe spiritual communities. These connections offer a sense of belonging and understanding, and provide opportunities for building healthier adult relationships.

  5. Healing emotional wounds: Spirituality provides a safe space for ACOAs to explore and heal their emotional wounds. It allows them to develop self-compassion, forgiveness, and a deeper understanding of themselves and their past.

  6. Developing healthy coping mechanisms: By fostering a connection with a higher power, ACOAs can develop healthier coping mechanisms to replace old patterns of self-destruction and addiction.

Like any relationship, your relationship with your higher power takes time to build, and is a process. You may need time to heal old wounds first, if you have pain associated with religion or spirituality. Giving yourself time to engage in and embrace this process is important.


Here's a question to ask yourself: If there were to be a higher power who was a loving and supportive presence for you, what would that be like for you?


Some possible ways to begin are exploring different spiritual practices, engaging in self-reflection, and seeking guidance from mentors or spiritual leaders. Practices such as meditation, prayer, journaling, and mindfulness can facilitate a deeper connection with a higher power.


For adult children of alcoholics, the role of spirituality in recovery cannot be overstated. By recognizing the need for healing and embracing the concept of a higher power, ACOAs can tap into a source of strength, guidance, and support. Spirituality provides a pathway to healing emotional wounds, cultivating inner strength, and finding meaning and purpose beyond past experiences. Whether through organized religion, personal beliefs, or a connection with nature, the journey of recovery can be deeply enriched by the transformative power of spirituality.


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