Many people in traditional recovery love to talk about how simple the program is. They love to say “this is a simple program for simple people who like to complicate things.”
Well, maybe I am guilty of trying to complicate things, but my belief is that alcoholism recovery is anything but simple.
In fact, I think it can be rather complicated. There are a lot of variables to keep straight.
Just look at the onslaught of information that the newcomer receives when they first get clean and sober and check into rehab. They are generally overwhelmed with information about how to recover, what actions to take, what steps to work, and so on.
Let’s be honest: A simple program would have 3 steps, not 12 of them! Seriously, who can juggle and keep 12 different things straight all at once? Can you focus on 12 different things in one day? Many people would argue against this and say “that’s not really how it works.” Well, why doesn’t it? The only time that we have is the present moment, and before AA was really formalized, the founders used to take the newcomer through the entire recovery process in a single afternoon. By the end of the day they were at the last step, reaching out and helping other people to recover. And yet later they expanded the steps to 12, and introduced all of that extra complexity. Was it really necessary? I am not so sure.
I think the problem lies in the fact that the basic principles of recovery are fairly simple, but the implementation of those concepts can get complicated in a hurry. The basic concepts being things like surrender, disruption, willingness, action, and so on.
But through the implementation of these ideas we can get more complicated ideas. And when these concepts join together in our recovery journey we can get even more complicated.
That said, below are some of the more advanced concepts that I have found in recovery that go beyond the mere principle of surrender. They are not necessarily “advanced” because they are harder to implement (some of them are very easy), but they are more advanced in that it is more difficult to understand how they might apply to recovery and help someone to remain sober. For example, it is difficult to describe how the concept of accumulation works when it comes to recovery benefits, or how our success can build on our successes in recovery.
The holistic approach to recovery that goes beyond spirituality
In traditional recovery they have a tendency to push the idea of spirituality.
A spiritual awakening is presented as the solution to addiction. Take these steps and you will eventually have a spiritual awakening, and this will help you to stay clean and sober.
The problem is that they often focus on this idea to the exclusion of all other forms of personal growth.
It is important to realize though that spiritual growth is only one sliver of the overall pie in recovery. If you go to AA or NA, then spiritual progress is viewed as being the entire pie. But you are missing out on other forms of growth which can be vitally important to your success in recovery.
For example, you can make progress and personal growth in the following areas as well:
* Physical health, fitness, nutrition.
* Mental health, wellness.
* Emotional stability.
* Social health, good relationships.
If you focus only on spiritual growth then you can miss out on a lot of opportunity in these other areas.
And here is the important point: These other areas hold the key to success in many cases for continued sobriety.
I have watched many peers in recovery who have relapsed because they were not emotionally stable. Or they got sick and ended up needing strong medications that led them back to alcohol. Or they were devastated by a relationship that went bad, and it caused them to relapse.
None of these problems necessarily stemmed from a lack of spiritual growth. They all stemmed from a lack of growth in one of those holistic areas listed above.
Now, is it possible that a person could use their spiritual strength in order to overcome a shortcoming in one of these other areas?
Probably. But the truth is that you will have a stronger recovery if you do NOT put all of your eggs into one basket.
There are a lot of benefits to the holistic approach that go beyond the traditional spiritual route.
In other words, traditional recovery (and AA) teach you to put all of your energy into making spiritual progress. If you have a problem in life then it is expected that your spiritual strength will carry you through that problem so that you do not relapse. For example, if you go through a bad breakup and you relapse, then traditional recovery will blame the fact that you were not more connected to your higher power. If you had more faith then you would have been strong enough to make it through that breakup.
Or if you get sick in recovery because you don’t exercise, continue to smoke cigarettes, and eat bad foods, then what is your excuse for relapse? Again, traditional recovery would look at such a relapse and say that you should have been stronger spiritually. They would argue that if you really were working on your spiritual growth, then you would “love your body and take care of it.” So they turn even a physical problem into something that has a (theoretical) spiritual solution.
I suppose at some point we are just arguing about the words. But I also think it is important to get this concept in your mind about the difference between a spiritual solution and a holistic one.
The real solution in recovery goes beyond spiritual growth. Instead of just looking at things through the lens of spirituality, you need to expand this to include other forms of growth. You need to consider your physical health, your emotional stability, your relationships. These are areas of potential growth in your life that lie outside of spirituality. Treat them separately.
The reason I suggest you start thinking in terms of holistic health is because alcoholics can justify almost anything in their minds. I have had many peers in recovery who ended up relapsing over the years. Yet many of these peers believed that they were on a spiritual path, and yet they were neglecting one of these other holistic ideas.
For example, I had a friend who was much more “spiritual” than I was, and I often felt like I should be doing more in terms of my spiritual growth when I compared myself to him (I know you are not supposed to compare like this, but I could not help it!). So he was very spiritual. Yet he still ended up relapsing, because he was neglecting his physical health. Things deteriorated and he needed medications that ended up leading him astray. Now some people would look at his situation and argue that he was not really spiritually fit, because if he was then he would have taken better care of himself physically, or if he was in better spiritual standing then the medication would not have led him to relapse, and so on.
The other side of that argument is to say that he could have used a more holistic approach. Sure, you should still pursue spiritual growth in your life. But don’t depend on it to carry your progress in every single area of recovery. Overcoming alcoholism is a battle that takes place on many, many different fronts. People relapse after a bad breakup. People relapse after getting physically sick. These things happen all the time, I have watched it over and over in my journey. If you try to fight all of these potential threats with just one weapon (spirituality) then you are shorting yourself.
Don’t go into battle unprepared. Don’t bring the one single weapon of “spiritual growth” to the biggest battle of your life (alcoholism or drug addiction) and expect to be able to conquer your enemy without resorting to any other methods.
You need the power of the holistic approach if you are going to triumph over addiction.
Positive action and daily habits
This is a simple concept and in fact it is even more simple than a 12 step program is. But again, it is the implementation of it in your everyday life that makes it more “advanced.”
The idea is simple:
Take positive action every single day.
Find and create daily habits that lead you to the outcomes you desire in recovery.
This can be done in a few different ways. The first way that you should try to do it is via modeling.
If you go to AA and you get a sponsor and you start working with that sponsor in order to make changes, then you are modeling. You are imitating their actions in order to get the same results that they got in life. This is why they tell you to find a sponsor “who has what you want.” Because the idea is that you are going to build a life similar to what they have built. How could it turn out any different? They are just going to tell you to do what they did, so it is likely that you will get the same results that they got. Simple.
There is nothing wrong with this but doing it efficiently would still look pretty “advanced” to most people. Because usually we hem and haw and dance around the truth and we procrastinate and keep ourselves from making the important changes. If you actually model someone effectively then you will get incredible results in a very short amount of time. It works, but of course it takes real work on your part.
You can also do this more indirectly and from a broader base from which you “sample.” In other words, you might find several people in recovery and talk with all of them, then decide what actions you want to model in order to get various results. This is really how I pieced together my recovery journey over the last 12+ years, drawing from the experience of different people who had achieved different results in their recovery. For example, one person really influenced me to go back to college and finish up a degree. Another person really influenced me to take a look at daily exercise, and I eventually turned into a dedicated distance runner. Another person led me to explore meditation, and so on. I did not get all of my life changing ideas from a single source in recovery. I did not just blindly follow one person (such as a sponsor) without also drawing from other sources of knowledge and experience. I think it is a mistake to put all of your faith into a single human being, who can only guide you from their own limited perspective. Much better to draw from multiple perspectives. This is also why it can be so powerful and enlightening to ask for specific feedback at an AA meeting. You will hear many different perspectives, some of which will undoubtedly be useful.
Discovering your daily practice
The only way to live a long term life of success in recovery is to establish the sort of daily habits that will allow you to remain clean and sober.
You cannot be successful in recovery if you are not taking action.
Lazy people relapse. Plain and simple.
It takes work to recover. So one of the things that you can do in order to increase your chances of being successful is to create a system that moves you forward every day.
This might be known as your daily practice.
These are the positive habits that you engage in that help keep you grounded in recovery.
If you go to traditional recovery programs such as AA, then their suggested daily practice for you is entirely spiritual. All of the suggestions will relate directly to spiritual matters.
My suggestion to you is that you need to develop a daily practice that allows you to make progress in ALL areas of your life, not just spiritually.
So you need to find daily habits that improve your:
* Physical health.
* Mental health.
* Emotional health.
* Spiritual health.
* Social health.
Every day you need to make forward progress in each of those areas. If you fail to make progress in those areas every day then you will start to stagnate and eventually slip backwards.
They have a famous saying in recovery that you are either “working on recovery, or working on a relapse.” You can’t stand still. You can’t just sit idle for a while and put things on hold. If you do that then you are actually sliding backwards. This is evidenced by the fact that people who stand still for too long without making any progress in recovery will eventually relapse. They were never standing still, they were sliding backwards.
So if you use the AA method (or traditional recovery) then you will be putting all of your energy into just one of those areas of health: spirituality.
Your daily practice needs to encompass more than just spirituality. It needs to help you grow in other ways as well.
Forcing yourself to take advice and suggestions from other people
If you want to make progress on this holistic health idea, then start taking advice and suggestions from other people.
You might even ask them something like:
“Other than spiritual growth, what would you suggest that a person do each day in order to help with their recovery?”
Or something like:
“Aside from spiritual suggestions, what actions do YOU take every day in order to help keep you health in your recovery?”
Start asking people in recovery this question. Some of them will undoubtedly start preaching about how spirituality is the solution, and that this is all you need. But others will talk about other forms of personal growth, and those are the suggestions that you want to pay attention to.
Ideally, you want to talk to many people and get lots of ideas. Then you want to test those ideas in your own life.
Actually take their suggestions and go try them out. Take action.
If something seems to help you, keep doing it.
I would suggest that anything you try might benefit a great deal from giving it a 30 day trial. So if you are going to do meditation, then do it for 30 days. Give it a real chance to show you what the true benefits are. You don’t always get that in a day or a week. So try to give every suggestion at fair trial by implementing the idea for at least 30 days.
If you keep doing this over and over again then you will be amazed at the amount of personal growth you have achieved in a very short period of time. This is because you will be short cutting the discovery process and benefiting directly from the wisdom of others.
It is easy to talk about recovery and even to listen to others. But it is another thing entirely to actually take their suggestions and to test them out in your day to day life.
Synergy and incremental improvement
There is a pretty fancy sounding word called “synergy” that happens in recovery when you are doing everything that I suggested above.
The idea behind synergy is that all of the goals you are working towards in recovery will enhance the others.
For example, let us say that you have the goal of being physically healthy. So one goal might be physical fitness, and another might be quitting smoking, and another might be to eat healthier.
Because those three goals are in perfect alignment with each other, doing all three of them gives a synergistic effect. So instead of 1+1+1 equaling 3, it equals more like 5. It’s magic!
The reason this happens is because the processes that you go through to achieve those specific goals are all complimentary to each other. So eating better food will help you to exercise. And exercising every day will give you the chemicals to your brain that you used to get from cigarettes. And so on. The goals enhance each other and work together to produce a result that is much greater than the sum of the parts.
This is why many people in recovery are “amazed” at the results they are getting. The reason they are often shocked at their progress is because they are pursuing many holistic goals that actually enhance one another. So their results are explosive and the benefits tend to multiply on top of each other. Success breeds more success. Positive action yields more positive action. Recovery can thus become an upward spiral of ever increasing benefit, happiness, and joy.
This is the exact opposite of what you experience when you are trapped in addiction.
In order to take advantage of “synergy” you have to be pursuing a holistic approach to recovery, rather than the more narrow approach that is traditionally taught in recovery programs.