What Is a Spiritual Awakening?

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Spiritual Awakening

The concept of a spiritual awakening has been around for centuries, and can be summed up as a major spiritual shift a person might experience as the result of a particularly profound experience. A spiritual awakening might also be called enlightenment, achieving nirvana, or undergoing a spiritual experience. But what exactly does this mean, and why is it such a fundamental component of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

The Appendix of the Big Book (the main piece of literature used in AA), reads, “The terms ‘spiritual experience’ and ‘spiritual awakening’ are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.” Basically, the term is used to describe the incredible shift a recovering alcoholic undergoes when they move away from their old life and begin to live a life of meaningful sobriety. Someone who is programmed to drink themselves to death does not simply wake up one day and think, “You know what? It’s time to quit. I’ve done enough drinking, I think I’ll stay sober from here on out.” They must truly experience a change in personality, one that is often attributed (at least in large part) to the development of a spiritual connection.

If you or someone close to you has been struggling with an alcohol use disorder of any severity, recovery is always possible — regardless of how unattainable it might seem to those who are in the grips of active alcoholism. To learn more about the concept of a spiritual awakening or for more information on the steps you can take to begin your personal journey of recovery, contact us today.

A Spiritual Awakening in Alcoholics Anonymous

What is a spiritual awakening? The idea was first popularized in Western culture when Carl Jung, widely followed psychiatrist, described the experience of bringing the highest self to light. Jung once said, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” The famed psychiatrist believed that spiritual awakening happened when a person came to terms with the darkest parts of their own being, addressing and accepting themselves fully.

Because spiritual development is such a highly individualized process, your spiritual experiences will look drastically different than the experiences of anyone else. Some people experience a sudden shift in the way they think and process uncomfortable emotions. Others experience significant changes that take place slowly, over the course of months — even years.

A section of the Big Book reads, “Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the ‘educational variety’ because they develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could hardly be accomplished by years of self-discipline. With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it ‘God-consciousness.’ Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual principles. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.”

As Carl Jung communicated, spiritual experiences are more inclined to happen when a person comes to terms with their own darkness, and becomes willing to reconcile this darkness. The 12 Steps are laid out in a way to gently facilitate this change.

10 Signs of a Spiritual Awakening

There are several ways you can determine whether or not you might be moving in the direction of a personal spiritual awakening. Of course, as previously mentioned, the specifics will look different for everyone. It is important to acknowledge the fact that if you are a serious alcoholic and you are seriously considering or actively moving towards a life of recovery, you are undergoing a phenomenal shift — one you should absolutely be proud of.

  1. You have started to reevaluate your personal belief system. Maybe you were entirely closed off to the prospect of a higher power, but you are starting to open yourself up to the idea that you are not the end all, be all in a massive, unfathomable universe.
  2. Spiritual development has become an important part of your life. You might not know exactly what your spiritual practice looks like yet, but you are open to exploring.
  3. You feel like your intuition is on point. Your gut instinct has not been leading you astray, and you might be more tuned into synchronicities in your daily life.
  4. You feel more inclined to be of service to others. When in a place of active alcoholism, it is not uncommon to think of yourself almost exclusively. You might be moving towards a spiritual awakening if you find yourself thinking of others and wondering how you can improve the day of someone around you.
  5. You start to feel more connected to the world around you. Maybe you simply take notice of your environment more than you used to.
  6. Sometimes, you feel overwhelmed with positive emotion seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe you get teary-eyed because you are so immensely grateful for something you did not previously give a second thought to.
  7. Your routine is shifting. Maybe you used to sleep in until 9am every morning, but you find yourself waking up earlier and earlier so you have more time to do things that bring you joy — make coffee, walk the dog, write in your journal.
  8. You are curious about things that never crossed your mind before. You find a new willingness to learn.
  9. People irritate you less. This could be because you are developing a deeper sense of empathy and compassion.
  10. You are staying sober. This, in and of itself, is a significant sign of a spiritual awakening and of ongoing spiritual development. If you are staying sober one day at a time, you are making powerful, positive changes in your life.


If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a substance use issue of any type or severity, engaging in a 12 Step program might be a beneficial solution. 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can serve as a standalone treatment option in some instances, though we recommend a step-down treatment program for those who have been using chemical substances continuously for an extended period of time. A higher level of care might also be beneficial to those who have underlying, co-occurring issues, like unresolved trauma, anxiety, or depression. If you would like to learn more about the treatment options available to you, or if you would like help determining which course of action makes the most sense for your unique case, contact us today. At 12 Step East Coast we are dedicated to helping people of all ages and walks of life move in the direction of recovery. We understand how difficult it can be to take the initial step and reach out for help. However, once you take this step, you are well on your way to living a beautiful and fulfilling life free from the devastation of addiction. We look forward to speaking with you soon and answering any additional questions you might have.

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