Spirituality as a Recovery Tool

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • I'm not sure if I have shared this deep, dark secret with many people, but at an earlier time in my life, I worked in a series of Lutheran churches as a deaconess. Back in the day (I am 49, after all), women were still not allowed to be clergy, so becoming a consecrated deaconess was a way of working in the church. Think of it as being a nun. Well, maybe not. Martin Luther, after all, is best known for his quote, "Sin boldly so that grace may abound." So, I'm not at all sure a Lutheran nun is quite the right analogy.


    At any rate, the issue of spirituality has been an important one for me for most of my life. And it has never been simple or easy. Somehow, nothing in my life ever is.

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    I was listening to an African American woman tell me how bitterly disappointed she had been in her church, how she experienced more judgment than support during the worst of her illness. I, too, have been deeply hurt by one congregation or another at times when I most needed help and strength.


    I have also been fascinated by the insights of such amazing consumer leaders like Edward Knight, PhD, who talks about his spiritual journey through Eastern spiritual disciplines including meditation. I have also used meditation as a helpful recovery tool.


    A connection to spirituality of some kind-Judaism, one of the Native American religions, Islam, Buddhist, Christian or whatever your culture and belief system holds dear-seems to be an important part of the recovery journey for many of us.


    I remember a conversation at one of my first DBSA conferences with the sweetest gentleman who admonished me not to lose sight of how important this is and not to let DBSA focus only on research and researchers. "You may not be able to prove it, but our faith helps us tremendously", he told me. But there actually is some data out there about the power of a spiritual belief.


    A 1995 study from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., monitored 250 people after open-heart surgery. And it concluded that those who had religious connections and social support were 12 times less likely to die than those who had none.


    In an attempt to understand the depression that often accompanies hospitalization, Duke University researchers assessed 1,000 hospital patients from 1987 to 1989. What they found was that patients who drew on religious practices, including prayer, were found to cope far better than those who didn't.


    NIH recently convened a panel to determine the merits of integrating conventional medicine with behavioral and relaxation therapies to treat hypertension. The team found that this fusion of therapies, of which prayer was a key component, "can lower one's breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure."


    In the most widely publicized studies on the effect of intercessory prayer, cardiologist Randolph Byrd studied 393 patients admitted to the coronary care unit at San Francisco General Hospital. All the men and women received medical care. But some were prayed for by home prayer groups; others were not. In this randomized, double-blind study, neither the doctors and nurses nor the patients knew whom would be the object of prayer.


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    The results were dramatic and surprised many scientists. The men and women whose medical care was supplemented with prayer needed fewer drugs and spent less time on ventilators. They also fared better overall than their counterparts who received medical care but nothing more. The prayed-for patients were significantly less likely to require antibiotics; significantly less likely to develop pulmonary edema (a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid because the heart can't pump properly); and significantly less likely to require insertion of a tube into the throat to assist breathing.


    If this is an area of interest to you, you may want to consider joining me at Peter Ashenden's upcoming "Spirituality and Recovery" presentation at the DBSA 2007 National Conference this August in Orlando. Peter will lead an interactive, struc­tured discussion of spirituality and recovery to promote individual transformation through alternatives. Being careful not to define "spiri­tuality," "spiritual experiences" or "spiritual practices" for participants, this workshop will explore the power and purpose of our definitions of these terms in our everyday lives.


    Whatever your faith or spiritual belief, I hope it is sustaining you as you move along your recovery path.




Published On: July 25, 2007