A Spiritual Experience Is Messy

I have always been a girl with an imagination. It’s a blessing and a curse really. I hate scary movies because if I believe it’s possible that it could happen in real life, it becomes too real for my consciousness. Until I was old enough to truly separate imaginary from reality, life was full of fear, but also overwhelming possibility. I remember being crushed when I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real. I remember using the Ouija board to communicate with my dead relatives at the age of 12. Call me crazy, but deep down inside even as a child, I felt intuitively special. I felt in touch with my inner voice. My sister and I still joke around about how I said I had psychic abilities because there were times when I would predict the phone would ring before it did.

Back then I felt spiritual, but I never gave that name to how I felt. College was when I started to really numb myself with alcohol and pot. It was where I felt my spiritual nature and intuition slip away. I forgot about my imagination and spiritual nature. The most spiritual I felt in college was seeing emo punk rock shows and swaying back and forth to the music while reciting all the lyrics. As is pretty typical with alcohol misuse, my drinking was progressive and it wasn’t long before I didn’t feel much at all.

In Cancun just looking at the clear blue water of the Caribbean Sea was spiritual, and I felt it, but it was always for a fleeting second and then gone again. It felt super far away, that feeling, and I could never hold on to it. Music made me feel in Mexico too, but this time it was house music, not screamo. It wasn’t until I got sober that I heard about having a true spiritual experience.

What is a spiritual experience anyway? Have you heard this phrase yet? If you’re new to recovery you’ve probably heard the phrase spiritual experience, or spiritual awakening, thrown around. It’s talked about in 12 step meetings. It’s talked about in books and by bloggers. It’s known to go hand-in-hand with sobriety.

When I first started hearing about a spiritual experience, I assumed it was a time in life when I would feel or see white light and angels would surround me. Or something like that. Maybe I would hear voices or see ghosts. I thought it had to do with “God.” The more reading I did, the more I learned about what a spiritual experience actually is.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, a spiritual experience is described as an experience that brings about change and it can take on many different forms. This can be a personality change, or a moment in time when things are different. Their literature states, “a profound alteration in his reaction to life…..the educational variety occur over a period of time.” These are often described as experiences that have to do with a power greater than ourselves, or as AA calls it, a higher power.

For me, it wasn’t until I began understanding what being spiritual meant to me, that I began to experience it in the world. I wasn’t searching for it, but it came back to me in sobriety. I began to feel everything deeper. My senses are sharper. I finally feel in touch with my inner voice once again. But what I know now about a spiritual experience that I didn’t know before is that it’s an actual journey of healing. I hope I’m not getting too woo woo for you right now, but I believe sobriety itself is a spiritual experience. Oh it’s wonderful, isn’t it? But it’s also MESSY.

I think the phrase spiritual experience has a positive connotation and we’re often told that it will feel and look amazing, but that’s not always the case. A spiritual experience, spiritual awakening, or spiritual healing, whatever you want to call it,  can be painful, it can hurt, it can be exciting one day and sad the next. Healing of any kind is a dramatic undertaking. It would be silly of us to believe it feels good all the time.

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In the beginning of my sobriety, I felt like my spiritual experience was getting to live each day awake, free from the shackles of addiction, existing without hangovers and feeling the ocean breeze on my face. I was on the “pink cloud,” as they say and everything felt amazing. As I dive deeper into healing and life hands me new experiences and hurdles to overcome, my spiritual experience evolves. I’m met with raw emotions, feeling ALL of my feelings, and being faced with not always making the best decisions for my life, despite being sober.  

Don’t get me wrong, spiritual experiences are great and I cherish every sober day I have, but they’re not always pretty. Sometimes spiritual experiences look like holding on for dear life, crying during meditation, grieving job loss, and fighting with your partner. Some days they look like not being able to get out of bed, honoring your depression, and not being able to do more in a day than make it to your workout. Sometimes spiritual experiences are constantly having to remind yourself that you’re a human being and you deserve compassion, love, and care just like everyone else and just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you do everything right.

The point is I feel spiritual again. My spirituality today isn’t based on childhood imagination or a fake high reached by 20 vodka sodas or 3 ecstasy pills. Today my spiritual experience is reality, living every single moment, being mindful, soaking it ALL in - even the hard days - and realizing this is it. This is the healing. This is sobriety. This is my spirituality. The spirit is in the healing.

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