Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about the dimensions of recovery. I have covered the first three dimensions: clinical, physical, and functional. This post will focus on the fourth dimension of recovery, existential.
The existential dimension of recovery focuses on your soul, heart, and core of being. According to the SAMHSA National Consensus Statement, “these secular psychosocial factors may allow individuals to feel more in control of their lives and less subject to the whim of an uncontrollable illness or a capricious mental health service system .” This dimension encourages you to look at yourself, your purpose, your hope, your empowerment, and your sense of direction. Although we may not have the answers or be where we would like to be, we can work towards finding the answers and towards finding our path.
In the beginning of my recovery, I had a hard time looking at myself; I didn’t have a purpose and I didn’t feel hopeful, but I knew that I wasn’t meant to live the way that I had been and that I wanted to change. So I kept taking action, kept doing the next right thing. Shortly after I entered treatment and started seeing a counselor, and attending support group meetings, I realized that when I was being of service to others was when I felt most fulfilled. I had found my purpose, and as I continued to put days together in recovery I started to feel hopeful that my life could and would be different. It was also around this time that I started to like the person that I was becoming.
Another area of existential recovery is spirituality, which can mean different things to different people. Spirituality is a broad term that encompassess many ideas or beliefs. Depending on the person, spirituality may be represented by a connection to nature, the universe, or other people. While others may view spirituality solely through a religious lens. Regardless of the lens that one views spirituality through, there are shared practices that can help a person become more strongly connected with their beliefs. Some examples include:
Meditation or quiet time
Being of service to others
Time in nature
Joining a group
Reading a book
Attending a service.
Just like with all dimensions, there are professionals that can help you with the existential dimension. These include spiritual leaders, religious leaders, members of a congregation, counselors, and case managers.
You can gauge your progress within this dimension by:
Reflecting on what hope means to you and how it shows up in your life
Prioritizing the practices you engage in that promote your spiritual well being
Checking-in with yourself regularly about how you are feeling about life and your future
Taking time to journal and reflect on things like hopefulness, purpose, and spirituality.
If you struggle to feel hopeful, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and that the first step to addressing an issue or problem is acknowledging it. When we are aware of an issue then we can take steps to change it. The following worksheet will help you to better understand how you view hope and how to create more of it within your life.
If you’d like to learn more about the five dimensions of recovery, read this article by Dr. Rob Whitley and Dr. Robert E. Drake.
 Hiring people in recovery: The case for how it benefits employers, 2021. https://www.hcamag.com/ca/specialization/mental-health/hiring-people-in-recovery-the-case-for-how-it-benefits-employers/251183  The Importance of Employment in Recovery, 2018. https://www.higherplanerecovery.com/importance-of-employment-while-in-recovery/
Download our Existential Dimension of Recovery Worksheet:
 Recovery: A Dimensional Approach, 2010. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/ps.2010.61.12.1248
Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.