Understanding Spiritual Versus Secular Recovery for Healing at the Cellular Level

Addiction Recovery Publishing Nutrition June 6, 2024

Understanding Spiritual Versus Secular Recovery for Healing at the Cellular Level

The iconic American author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force – that thoughts rule the world.” Seemingly, this is a solely spiritual maxim. However, it can be interpreted in a secular way as well. What are “thoughts” if not cognitions understood in the realm of science? Thus, one can be spiritual yet still connected to scientific understanding. This is important when it comes to spiritual versus secular recovery and how they can actually exist both separately and together.

What Does Healing at the Cellular Level Look Like?

It is important to understand that one can heal at the cellular level, whether one chooses a spiritual or secular path of recovery. The key is to heal holistically, meaning to heal all aspects of “the self.” This is the physical, emotional, and mental for those focusing on secular recovery and the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual for those who choose a more soul-seeking journey of recovery.

The fact of the matter is there is no right way to recover – there is only the right way to recover for each individual. One should never try to fit themselves into some type of “box” just because they feel that that is the path that is most taken. No, one must stick to their ideals and create their recovery goals based on those ideals. This is how healing at the cellular level is going to be achieved.

Healing at the cellular level also requires that one get to the root/core causes of their issues – what is going on underneath the surface. It is very rare that one’s actions and behaviors while in active addiction or untreated mental illness are not related to some type of underlying issue. For example, many more people struggle with untreated and unresolved trauma than people may realize.

According to the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Medicine, “General population studies have shown that a large proportion of people in developed countries have been exposed to at least one TE [traumatic event] in their lifetime (estimates from 28 to 90%), with the most common events being the unexpected death of a loved one, motor vehicle accidents and being mugged.” Underlying issues like these must be addressed to heal at the cellular level, and this can happen in both secular and spiritual ways.

Spiritual Versus Secular Recovery: A Personal Journal

Recovery must always be personalized. The Buddha famously said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can, and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Yes, it is critical to reach out for help when it comes to addiction and mental illness, but ultimately, the success of the journey comes down to the efforts of the individual. People can help, but they cannot recover for the person – that is up to them.

Many people come into recovery with a spiritual practice already in place. These people often choose to lean on that practice as they progress in their journey of recovery. Yet, there are many other people who have either given up on spiritual principles or have long chosen a secular lifestyle. These individuals may choose to incorporate spirituality into their recovery, or they may choose a path of secular recovery. The fact of the matter is that all of the ways just mentioned are perfectly acceptable as long the individual is committed to getting well.

Some people worry that recovery is strictly a spiritual process. These are people who are often concerned about recovery programs like those that utilize the Twelve Steps. The key to remember is that no one has the right to push any type of ideology on anyone in recovery. There may be suggestions but never demands.

This is even true in seemingly strictly spiritual programs like 12-Step programs. There is a reason that 12-Step programs use the term “Higher Power of your understanding” rather than God because the program remains open to anyone’s spiritual or religious or, yes, secular leanings. The main component of 12-Step recovery is understanding that the individual does not have the power to do it alone. For those who are spiritual, this may be a Higher Power. But, for those who are secular, this may be the “power” of their recovery group or something broader like nature or the concept of the unconditional love of a pet. Again, the key is to remember that there is no right way to recover. 

Better Understanding Secular Recovery

The Dalai Lama (a very spiritual person) famously said, “If you have religious faith, very good, you can add on secular ethics, then religious belief, add on it, very good. But even those people who have no interest about religion, okay, it’s not religion, but you can train through education.” This is a secular recovery of the “educational variety.”

Secular recovery tends to have a greater focus on science and what is more tangible in the recovery world. This type of recovery focuses more on understanding the physical components of addiction and mental illness rather than those more metaphysical.

However, many people confuse secular recovery as a type of recovery that does not utilize any type of holistic healing. This is simply not the case. For example, many people who choose secular recovery also meditate and practice yoga because there is tangible evidence that these practices promote physical and mental well-being. The same is true for spiritual people who utilize more scientific methods as part of their treatment plan.

Better Understanding Spiritual Recovery

The iconic French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin famously said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This is an ideology shared with those individuals who choose a spiritual path of recovery.

Individuals who choose spiritual recovery choose to give their lives over to “something greater than themselves.” They do this because they believe that their will is ineffective in helping them overcome their addiction and/or mental health issues. By giving it over to spiritual principles, these individuals become open to a new way of life, and in recovery, that new way of life is one free of alcohol, substances, or untreated behaviors.

It is also important to understand that just because one is spiritual does not mean that one must be religious. Spirituality can be anything that one utilizes to get outside of themselves and find deeper meaning in the universe. Religious dogma is not required for this. It is also a misconception that spiritual and scientific recovery cannot exist in unison. As previously mentioned, many people who choose a spiritual path of recovery also utilize scientific methods like psychotherapy. This is why a multi-angled approach to recovery is so beneficial. 

A Multi-Angled Approach Regarding Both Spiritual and Secular Recovery

Regardless of whether one chooses spiritual or secular recovery, one should always try to make their treatment plans as comprehensive as possible. This is the methodology behind the multi-angled approach to recovery.

Recovery should pull from all facets of treatment. This includes psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), experiential therapies like nature immersion therapy and surf therapy, and holistic approaches like meditation and yoga. All of these can be practiced whether one is taking a secular or spiritual path to recovery.

Secular Recovery and Psychotherapy

Often, secular recovery includes the use of some type of psychotherapy. This is because psychotherapies like CBT and DBT are considered “evidence-based,” which means that they have enough scientific backing to show their efficacy.

Psychotherapies (also commonly referred to as “behavioral therapies”) can be highly effective. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Behavioral therapies help people in drug addiction treatment modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use. As a result, patients are able to handle stressful situations and various triggers that might cause another relapse. Behavioral therapies can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people remain in treatment longer.” This last aspect is important because it shows how psychotherapies can help individuals avoid potential relapse.

Relapse is more common than many people may wish to believe. According to the peer-reviewed thesis Addiction Relapse Prevention by Doctors Guenzel and McChargue, “One primary concern in addiction treatment is the high rate of relapses within a short period after even the most intensive treatment. Many studies have shown relapse rates of approximately 50% within the first 12 weeks after completion of intensive inpatient programs that often last 4 to 12 weeks or more and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.” Of course, psychotherapy is not the only type of therapy that can help individuals stave off a relapse.

Spiritual Recovery and Surf Therapy

Many people find spirituality via their connection to nature. This can be especially true in the way that one connects to the ocean and all of the power it exudes. 

Many people find surfing itself to be a spiritual experience. However, just because surfing may be spiritual to some, does not mean that the benefits that it has cannot be felt by all. 

Surfing and surf therapy are becoming more and more prominent in the recovery realm. The primary reason for this is that surf therapy offers many tangible and intangible benefits. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Carefully planned water activities tailored to the needs of the individual can contribute to correct psychosocial and cognitive development. The International Surf Therapy Organization summarizes the benefits of adequately indicated surf therapy as follows: improved physical health and mobility; improved mental health, including reduction of specific symptoms, such as posttraumatic stress and depression; improved well-being (strengthening of trust and confidence, encouragement of independence, resilience and protective coping strategies) and improved social skills.”

There are other types of therapies that can benefit both those in secular and spiritual recovery. One of these modalities is nutritional therapy.

Secular Recovery and Nutritional Therapy

While many people closely associate their spirituality with the food they eat and the gratitude they feel toward their food, this is not a requirement for nutritional therapy. Nutritional therapy can benefit anyone in recovery.

Nutritional therapy is just as much about the foods we don’t eat as the ones that we do. It is also about the way foods are handled and delivered. According to the Journal for Nurse Practitioners (JNP), “In order for foods to be therapeutically beneficial, the appropriate micro- and macronutrients must be delivered in a nutritionally dense format without contaminants… Fruits and vegetables picked before their peak ripeness contain fewer phytochemicals. These phytochemicals protect plants them from all kinds of invaders, and when consumed, transfer these same protective advantages to the human body.”

This is the type of scientific information that can benefit both those in secular and spiritual recovery. Also, this is the type of information that is delivered by our exceptional team of licensed nutritionists and dieticians at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. We also staff renowned professionals who teach holistic healing methods like yoga.

Spiritual Recovery and Yoga

The renowned yogi and spiritual teacher B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless stresses and struggles of life.” B.K.S. Iyengar was a very spiritual being, yet there need be no spiritual component to the concept of finding “inner peace” in yoga. Ultimately, it is being able to quiet the mind and free it from internal struggles. 

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. Yes, it originally started as a strictly religious practice, but it has now moved into many different areas of life, including the realm of recovery.

One does not need to be religious to experience all of the benefits of yoga (of which there are many). According to the International Journal of Yoga (IJOY), “Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions. Yoga therapy involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”

Understanding That All Recovery Options Can Have Secular and Spiritual Components

As one can see, all of these recovery options (and many more) can be practiced by individuals who choose a secular recovery path or a spiritual one. They all have spiritual and scientific components. 

Two aspects to remember about recovery are to stay open to new possibilities and opportunities and to stay true to oneself. When these two components are practiced, recovery can be right on the horizon. The key is not to scoff at any option of recovery. As many recovery communities say (both secular and spiritual) – “Take what works, and leave the rest.”

Recovery for All at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we understand that each client is on their own personal journey of recovery. This is why all of our treatment plans are individualized to meet the specific needs of each client. 

We are also proud to be able to offer a vast array of means, methods, and modalities that can be applied to both spiritual and secular paths to recovery. There is no one way to recover, and we ensure that our clients have the best treatment options that suit their beliefs and lifestyles.

A very scientific Albert Einstein famously said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” This is true for anyone who wishes to recover – always remain open, and the world will open itself up to you. Recovery is possible, the key is to reach for it.

Recovery is a very personal process, and the treatment journey should always meet the specific needs and wants of the individual. This includes two different paths of recovery: the secular and the spiritual. Ultimately, both paths can be effective as long as the individual puts in the time and effort. If you feel like you or a loved one is struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you on the positive path toward long-term recovery right away. You do not have to do this alone. For more information regarding both spiritual and secular recovery options, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.