Recovery and Rituals

Photo illustration by The Phoenix Spirit

As the New Year has begun, I am sure we are all aware that we are living in a time of chaos – wars, divisions, homelessness, immigrants and polarization, to name a few realities. There don’t seem to be any simple ways to resolve these conflicts and differences. We also are looking ahead in this country to elections that will keep the volume up on our differences, and we can already hear the rhetoric escalating. I believe this chaos and the unsettled conditions affect almost all of us in some way. I also think as a recovering addict that these conditions can be especially unsettling to people struggling with addictions – whatever the substance or process might be. These conditions can often lead us into feeling powerless and out of control – at the heart of Step 1 of the 12 Steps – and make us more vulnerable to addictive behaviors. In this article, I would like to suggest the importance of RITUALS as one way to bring some order into our lives as well as empowering us to make good choices about how we want to live day in and day out. My hope is that you are already performing some practices which are rituals in the way I will talk about them.

What’s a ritual?

My understanding of a ritual is that it is an activity that an individual or a group does that helps people find meaning in their lives and often creates the possibility of us connecting with others. Rituals can also help us discover some order in our lives. Rituals often involve gestures and actions – for example, shaking hands, exchanging gifts, expressing congratulations, writing things to remember. Rituals can also involve symbols – for example, cards and diplomas. These practices help keep individuals or groups stay focused and on target.

I believe practicing and developing rituals helps us grow and keep our focus in the face of challenges that can trigger us.Think about a group coming together to celebrate a person’s birthday. The ritual often involves a birthday cake which involves the birthday person cutting the cake and making wishes. “Happy Birthday” is sung, cards and gifts are exchanged. Think also about the ritual around a school graduation – people often dress differently in caps and gowns, speeches are given, diplomas are received, the graduates are celebrated for their hard work. In our society, churches of all denominations as well as synagogues and mosques have rituals that celebrate what the community is all about as well as celebrating different rites of passage – initiating new people into the community, celebrating marriages, as well as the lives of people who have died. Countries also have rituals – like the inauguration of a new President or Governor.

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I also experience rituals in the meetings of the 12 Step group I attend. There is a format we follow for every meeting – introductions, readings, sharing – which creates order from week to week and eliminates surprises. I suspect we all pretty much have rituals for preparing for bed as well as waking up and preparing for a new day. We take the same way to and from work. These can help us find some order in our lives, which can be especially important in the times of chaos that we are living in.


Before diving into rituals that I have found helpful for recovery, I think there are also rituals that we as individuals need to develop around the important elements of our lives. I suggest we look to develop and maintain rituals that help us live orderly lives individually and with our families. First of all, I think we need to seek to be specific about what we want to do and achieve in these areas of our lives. So as the Greek philosopher Socrates said many, many years ago: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Rituals flow from what gives meaning and purpose to our lives as individuals and the groups to which we belong. For example, families have rituals – meeting regularly for dinner and sharing what is happening as well as scheduling zoom meetings where people from everywhere come together and catch up with each other.

Rituals for recovery

I would like to suggest some rituals that I have come to create for myself as part of recovery, self-care and connecting with significant others in my life. I attend weekly 12 Step meetings and meet regularly with my sponsor. I walk 4-5 times a week and seek to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep as well as monthly massages. In the morning, I meditate for about 15 minutes, which leads to some journaling in which I write about what’s happening in my life, expressing gratitude for what I have been given, and remembering people who have asked me to remember them. I am a practicing Catholic and attend weekly services with my wife which opens me to Higher Powers and deepens my connections with others in the community. There are also other rituals which take place in the church that celebrate milestones and passages for ourselves and others. I also like to write. Besides journaling, I enjoy writing articles for The Phoenix Spirit and have written 3 books. Writing is a ritual I really enjoy which leads me to new awarenesses and insights. I have decided to watch only one hour of news nightly. More than that agitates me. I also belong to 2 men’s groups that meet monthly that I have been part of for many years. These are some of the rituals that I practice and are part of my self-care and recovery as well as relationships with significant people in my life. I hope that you can identify with some of these as rituals which you also practice. I believe the ol’ adage that “practice makes perfect” is not really correct as perfection doesn’t really exist in this life. I believe practicing and developing rituals helps us grow and keep our focus in the face of challenges that can trigger us.

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So, as you think about your life, what rituals do you practice for yourself as well as with the important people in your life? How do you ritualize your recovery as well as what is important in your life? Do you regularly attend support meetings? Do you have a sponsor? How do you ritualize your connections with important people in your life? What are your ways – individually and communally – that you acknowledge the different stages in your life with others? As you are thinking about rituals for yourself, it might also be helpful to talk with others about how they ritualize important moments in their lives. Lastly, a person without meaningful rituals runs the risk of being swallowed up by the chaos and disorder of life! I hope you are able to avoid being swallowed by the chaos we are experiencing these days, and I believe developing rituals is one way to avoid it.

Mark Scannell is an avid 12 Stepper and has written three books, one of which is The Village It Takes: The Power to Affirm. He can be reached at

Last Updated on January 24, 2024

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