Spirituality in Recovery from Addiction and Eating Disorders

Spirituality in Recovery from Addiction and Eating Disorders

Five Myths about Spirituality in Recovery

Why Spirituality in Eating Disorder and Addiction Recovery is Essential and How to Unmask the Myths

During the 25+ years that I have been a clinician specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and addictions, I have witnessed about 75% of my clients reach a place of freedom which I call “complete recovery.” These clients experience an identity beyond the image in the mirror, a truly healthy relationship with food and fitness, the ability to effectively cope with emotions, and a life which is congruent with their authentic values. These clients may occasionally have “eating disorder thoughts,” but no longer act on them, viewing these as “messengers” pointing to an unmet need. Is it for nutrition, relaxation, or connection? Perhaps introspection, intuition, or meditation? These clients have fully embraced the process of Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™ – and as they continue to practice the EDIT™ Principles, they experience ongoing recovery and lasting freedom.


The other 25% of clients that I worked with who did not fully recover had one thing in common – they were unable to find a concept of spirituality which they could integrate into their recovery and their lives. These clients may have had other issues which needed to be addressed  (for example, trauma healing), before they could explore spiritual concepts. Or, they may have been blocked by some common myths about spirituality:


Myth #1: Spirituality is the same thing as Religion
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010, the five most widely practiced religions of the world were Christianity (2.2 billion), Islam (1.6 billion), Hinduism (1 billion),  Buddhism (500 million), and Judaism (14 million). I find it interesting that in the 2 weeks around the timing of my blog post (April 22, 2019), each of these religions has a religious holiday – Easter (April 22), Ramadan (begins May 5), Hanuman Jayanti (April 19), Theravada New Year (April 19), Passover (April 19-27). This means that about 76% of the world’s population was, is , or soon will be in the midst of religious rituals. Is this what spirituality is all about – finding a world religion that one can practice, along with the majority of people on this planet? It’s estimated that there are about 4300 religions which are currently practiced, so surely there must be a religion for everyone. However, religion is not the same as spirituality. Religion may be a way that a person chooses to express their spiritual beliefs, but religion is not required to be a spiritual person. When I guide clients in recovery with the EDIT™ method, I use the term “spirituality” and encourage clients to explore what this term means to them – either with or without a specific religion.


Myth #2: Atheists or Agnostics can never recover
The same Pew Research Center study conducted in 2010 revealed that about 1.1 billion people around the world had no religious affiliation. That’s about 1 in 6 people. So, if myth #1 was in fact true (spirituality equates religion), and if spirituality is a necessary component of recovery (as I have found in my own research) – then we could conclude that non-religious folks are doomed to be mired in their eating disorder or addictive behaviors for the rest of their lives. Well, thank goodness that myth #1 is just a myth! Some have incorrectly stated that those who are Atheist or Agnostic form the world’s 3rd largest religion. While it is true that if this group held specific religious beliefs, they would fall in 3rd place behind Muslims. However, these non-religious folks may in fact hold non-religious spiritual beliefs and practices. In my clinical work, I enjoy using the EDIT™ concepts to guide this group to move beyond religion, to find a spiritual path that is right for them on their journey of recovery.


Myth #3: Spirituality in Recovery requires the 12-Steps
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935, by “Bill W.” and Dr. Bob” in Akron, Ohio. Since that time, the AA fellowship of men and women in recovery from alcoholism has spread worldwide. The 12-Steps are guidelines for fellowship participants, which are considered a “spiritual program of recovery.”  The 12-Steps have been applied to other types of addictions, including gambling, sex, and food addiction. There has been extensive research conducted at treatment centers which use a 12-Step model, now considered an “evidence-based practice.” So, does this mean that the 12-Steps are the only way to effectively incorporate spirituality into recovery? Perhaps if this was the only research that had been conducted about spirituality in recovery. In fact, the field of Spiritual Psychology (also known as Transpersonal Psychology) has conducted numerous studies which incorporate a wide range of spiritual practices – including mindfulness and meditation. Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are two newer methods which incorporate evidence-based mindfulness practices, and show promise for addiction recovery. EDIT™ has roots in these evidence-based practices, and when I’m guiding my clients in recovery I offer a variety of effective ways to explore spirituality in recovery.


Myth #4: Any Non-Christian Spiritual Practice is “cult-ish”
Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in the United States (about 75% of Americans polled in 2015 identified themselves as Christian). Sadly, other religious or spiritual practices which are in the minority are often misunderstood, and mistakenly considered “cults.” Cults are considered to be relatively small groups of people with obsessive religious beliefs or spiritual practices. Some view cults as “evil,” and think that its members have been “brainwashed.” This fear-based concept is sometimes what creates a sense of separation between Christians and “others.” Of course, the opposite is true – in countries where Christians are in the minority, they are the “others” whose spiritual practices may be considered “strange” or cult-like. Throughout the world, one person’s religious or spiritual practice could be “right,” while another’s would be “wrong.” When guiding my clients to explore what spirituality means to them, I encourage them to be curious about all religions and spiritual practices. Instead of dwelling on differences, I guide clients to look for the “common threads” in all. Developing a sense of connection with everyone and everything is a type of spiritual practice, which we might call LOVE. The first EDIT™ Principle is “Love Your Self” (and with a Capital-S, this involves physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of who we are) – in a deeper way, this involves loving others as Self.


Myth #5: Spirituality through Nature  implies “tree-hugging”
And Birkenstock-wearing while mantra-chanting. Actually, none of the afore-mentioned is needed to enjoy spirituality in the wilderness. One can enjoy walking in a park, sitting on a beach at sunset, or just touching the leaf of an indoor plant. Native Americans incorporate deeply spiritual traditions which involve nature.  Going back to what I previously mentioned about the world’s major religions having a holiday at similar times in the Spring, many Native American tribes hold “thunder dances” at this time of year. The first crack of thunder is honored through a spiritual ceremony, and there are numerous other nature-inspired spiritual practices throughout the year. Although I do not have this heritage, I intuitively knew as a young girl that I felt drawn to be in nature. I loved hiking, camping, and yes – hugging trees! Now, when I’m guiding my clients with Wilderness Therapy (applying the EDIT™ Principles while in nature), I always smile when someone walks up to a tree and gives it a big hug 🙂


Article may be reprinted with the author bio below.

©2019 by Dr. Dorie McCubbrey. Dr. Dorie is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Licensed Addiction Counselor who is passionate about training professionals to effectively guide clients in recovery from eating disorders, through her Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™ Certified program. She also meets with clients at her treatment center, Positive Pathways PLLC, located in Evergreen Colorado. Learn more at: https://www.drdorie.com


Want more that this “taste” of EDIT™? Dr. Dorie is passionate about her method of Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™ to help people overcome eating disorders and addictions.  She provides customized counseling for eating disorders and alcohol / drug addiction at her Positive Pathways treatment center in Evergreen, Colorado – and EDIT™ eating disorder training and certification for coaches and clinicians worldwide. CALL 303-494-1975 – EMAIL DR. DORIE – GET CERTIFIED

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