When is the last time you felt alive?
I mean, really alive.
Free to be the person you have always envisioned and hoped you could be.
Free to be the person that you know deep down in your heart you are.
If you are feeling less than alive (or if you are wondering, “Do I even have a pulse?!”) then it’s time for a spiritual check-up.
Let me explain why.
The essence of who you are, who you were created to be, and the seeds of your divine purpose and destiny reside in your spirit. Yes, you have a spirit!
Merriam-Webster defines the word spirit as that “vital principle” that “animates” and “brings life” to a being. Your spirit is eternal and what enlivens you – it is that which gives you life with a capitol “L”.
God created you with a body, soul and spirit and His divine order sets up our human spirit as the head of our being with our soul, (which I define as the compilation of your mind, your will, and your emotions) and our bodies, as secondary to the spirit. Your spirit brings life to your body and soul. This is because our spirits are eternal. When the body and soul cease to exist, your spirit lives on.
Eating disorders, addictions and mood problems all take a toll on our ability to be truly free and to feel fully alive. Therefore, they take a toll on the human spirit. When an individual is in the throes of an eating disorder or addiction, this causes the divine order to be “out of whack.” The drives of these disorders seek to usurp the power of the spirit, the functions of the body and an individual’s thoughts, emotions and ability to make choices.
Additionally, if you have grown up in an environment that has not nurtured your spirit, or in an environment that overvalued or over-nurtured some other aspect of your being (for example your mind) to the neglect of the other aspects of your being; or, if you have been exposed to an environment that was toxic to any aspect of your being – your sense of freedom and capacity to feel and live fully alive can become seriously compromised.
Taking your Spiritual Pulse
There are three primary ways our spirits respond when spiritual health is compromised:
1. A “captive spirit”
When a disorder like an addiction or an eating disorder thrives and threatens to upset the divine order, it can actually begin to “rule” over your soul and spirit. That’s why I call this a captive spirit. As this occurs, you live less and less out of the essence of who you are and begin to look more and more like the disease that holds you captive.
An individual struggling with substance abuse, for example, may long to feel alive and the abuse or addictions have become superficial substitutes. Often times, this individual has unknowingly functioned with a “slumbering spirit” or an “orphan spirit” for years. In their attempts to “enliven” themselves, they look to drugs, alcohol, or compulsive behaviors, etc.
2. A “slumbering spirit”
If you have grown up in an environment that has not nurtured your spirit, or in an environment that overvalued or over-nurtured some aspect of your being to the neglect of your spirit; you may experience what is called a slumbering spirit. It’s like your spirit went into hibernation due to lack of nurture, strengthening, or under-development.
Alternatively, trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, can also contribute to a slumbering spirit. This is especially the case when the individual has repressed emotions or disassociates from the negative effects of the trauma or toxic environment.
3. An “orphan spirit”
Finally, someone with an “orphan spirit” has wounds that come from deep feelings of emotional abandonment.
Individuals with an orphan spirit struggle to trust or receive from relationships. They have essentially closed their hearts off to others, even those they are seemingly close to. They do this out of fear of being hurt. They struggle to believe that their emotional and relational needs could ever be truly met in relationships.
As a result they tend to be overly self-reliant and hide from God. This type of wounded spirit also struggles the most to feel connected with God. They may be angry with God or feel God is angry with them or just not believe they are worthy of His full attention or love. While someone with an orphan spirit may appear fiercely independent, in actuality this independence covers hurt and pain.
But there is Hope!
You were created to be a free spirit.
The first step to having a healthy spirit is paying attention to your spirit and identifying and nurturing the needs of your spirit. Many of the groups at Timberline Knolls like the “Awakenings”group, are designed to do just that.
Once you have taken your spiritual pulse, here are some practical ways to begin the journey towards hope.
Liberate and Empower:
Individuals with a captive spirit struggle to connect with life.
The only connection they have is with their addiction or disorder. If you are struggling with a captive spirit, it is important to understand how the addiction or eating disorder has taken your spirit captive.
Admitting this is a powerful step and making decisions that will strengthen your recovery, instead of choices that only strengthen the power of the addiction, is key. The journey involves giving your spirit a voice to restore proper alignment of your spirit being in control of your mind and body instead of the addiction being in control.
Just like in the movie “Shawshank Redemption”, individuals coming out from under the captivity of their disorder struggle at first with re-engaging in life (the good and the bad) and what it means to be truly free and feel empowered without the addiction or disorder.
“True freedom is always spiritual.
It has something to do with your innermost being,
which cannot be chained, handcuffed, or put into a jail.”
OSHO, Freedom: The Courage to Be Yourself
“Caged birds accept each other but flight is what they long for.”
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, Camino Real
Awaken and Nurture:
Individuals with a slumbering spirit struggle the most to connect with themselves.
They have lost sight of what they really think, feel and want out of their lives. If you are struggling with a slumbering spirit, then you have an under-developed, “malnourished” spirit. Do all that you can to engage the spirit and have a healthy relationship with yourself by learning to identify and respond to your thoughts, feelings, and needs in a healthy way. Once again, connecting with your spirit and with God through prayer, scripture reading, music, art, and the outdoors is important. Do things that you used to do as a child – play, dream, explore!
“The free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.”
Restore and Strengthen:
Individuals with an orphan spirit struggle to connect with others.
The orphan spirit needs to identify and heal their emotional wounds and exchange the lies they have come to believe about themselves and relationships that have contributed to the lack of trust in relationships and pessimistic outlook towards life and disconnect with God. Prayer, scripture reading, music, arts and nature are important here as well and orphans are encouraged to learn how to connect with their spirits while learning to connect with and build a healthy and nurturing community around them.
“Freedom is the basic condition for you to touch life, to touch the blue sky, the trees, the birds, the tea, and the other person.”
NHAT HANH, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
“The truth shall make you free.”
JESUS, John 8:31
Born to be a Free Spirit
Your spirit is most activated and at its strongest during those times in which you feel most alive and free. This will give you insight into what is unique to you in helping to liberate and empower, awaken and nurture, and restore and strengthen your spirit.
Learn about and respond to the truth about your true identity and destiny as a child of God because …You were born to be a free spirit!
Dr. Margaret Nagib is spirituality clinical coordinator at Timberline Knolls. She works with our clinical staff to develop programming that promotes spiritual healing and growth for women of all faith traditions and belief systems. Dr. Nagib is a clinical psychologist who specializes in Christian counseling and treatment.