What does it take to heal your life in sobriety?
How do you make the transition from basically trashing your body and trampling your spirit in addiction to the role of self care in recovery?
Let’s take a closer look at this concept because self care is a critical component of long term sobriety….without it, you really can’t sustain success in recovery.
The decision to get sober is the decision to become healthy again
The decision to get clean and sober is ultimately a decision for better self care.
Think about it.
Why are you choosing to sober up in the first place?
What is the point of that decision? What are you trying to achieve?
Most people realize that there are a couple of major objectives in getting sober:
1) Take control of your life back.
2) Avoid an early death at the hands of alcoholism (Google the mortality rates if you doubt this, scary stuff!).
3) Avoid the misery and chaos of addiction.
4) Build a happier and healthier life in recovery.
5) Improve relationships that are damaged due to addiction.
And so on. These concepts actually just gloss the surface and hit some of the main points, but there are actually a lot more good reasons to sober up as well.
So when you make the decision to embrace recovery, you are actually making the decision for better health.
Nobody gets sober just so they can self destruct in some other way. Nobody gets sober in order to live an unhealthy life. Those ideas don’t even make any sense.
No, the only reason to get clean and sober is if you want to live.
There is a movie about addiction and recovery where they say “choose life” in reference to quitting drugs and alcohol.
And that really summarizes the situation pretty well: Either you continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, or you can “choose life.” But it is definitely one or the other for people who are addicted. Because anyone who is addicted is, by definition, slowly killing themselves with their drug of choice. There is no other way to describe it really. Addiction is a slow (but sometimes fast) suicide.
So if you “choose life” then that means you are choosing recovery. You are literally recovering your life back from the clutches of addiction and death.
That is what you recover. You recover your life.
Therefore the decision to get sober is actually the decision to take better care of yourself.
It is a declaration of self care.
“I choose to be sober today. I choose life!”
Taking care of yourself in 5 key areas of your life
Now then, let’s take a look at what it actually means to take care of yourself.
What does “self care” really mean in terms of alcoholism recovery?
Most people would think that it means “try to be healthy and don’t drink.”
And you would be right to say that.
But we can go a little bit deeper than that and get a little bit more detailed.
Consider for a moment the fact that our addiction attacks our entire life.
You are not just physically addicted, right? You also have a mental obsession with your drug of choice.
And from a spiritual perspective, you become selfish and ungrateful due to your addiction.
Emotionally you are changed as well because of your addiction. You medicate away your unwanted emotions such as fear and anger.
Finally, your addiction or drinking changes you socially as well. Over time, you tend to associate with other heavy drinkers or drug users that mirror your own behavior patterns. Or if you are really advanced in your addiction then you tend to isolate completely away from everyone.
So your addiction affects you physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Given that, do you think that taking care of yourself in recovery should be limited to only physical and spiritual health?
Because essentially that is what is taught in most forms of traditional recovery. They teach physical health in the sense that they support physical sobriety and an abstinence based solution. They teach spiritual health because their programs are based on spirituality and they even claim outright that “the solution is spiritual” and “if a solution isn’t spiritual, it isn’t practical.”
But what about the other kinds of health that you have? Your social, emotional, and mental health?
What about taking care of yourself in terms of this holistic approach?
Wouldn’t it make sense that if your addiction attacks you in all of these different areas, that you should fight back in recovery by taking care of yourself in all of these 5 areas as well?
Healing your life has to be a holistic approach
Let me tell you a story about relapse.
When I first got clean and sober, I went to treatment. They suggested that I live in long term rehab, and I took that suggestion and moved in.
While I lived in this transitional housing setup, I lived with eleven other men who were all in early sobriety.
I watched many people relapse during this time. In fact, I watched about 30 people relapse over the twenty months that I lived there.
And during this experience I was slowly realizing what drove people to relapse. In nearly every single case, it was because of a relationship.
There was some popular wisdom that I heard around the AA meetings at the time, and it was this: “Don’t get into a new romantic relationship in the first year of your sobriety.”
What I noticed about that was two things:
1) None of my peers were following this advice, and
2) All of them were relapsing as a result.
I’m not kidding. It was really amazing to watch this happen in front of my own eyes. Nearly everyone that I lived with in early recovery at that sober house ended up relapsing because of a relationship.
My point here is simple: Relationships are tricky in early recovery, and they can certainly be a source of danger and relapse.
But then later I learned something else.
Another story: I had a close friend in sobriety and he got sick. He tried to shake it off, went to the doctor, got some medicine, tried to alter his lifestyle. But it didn’t seem to matter and he got even sicker. Eventually this led to relapse. At about the same time, I knew another man in recovery who found himself injured and in an emergency room. He later found himself hooked on painkillers, and when he ran out of pills, he went back to the booze.
I started to notice this new theme, that some people who relapsed were doing so because of health issues. Either they got sick, or they got injured, and sometimes this led them to relapse.
These two stories are illustrating a simple concept: There are many different ways that relapse can sneak into your life.
You can relapse due to social reasons. You can relapse emotionally. You can relapse spiritually.
I have watched many people relapse spiritually. I did not know it at the time, but now I can look back and see exactly what went wrong in most cases.
What happens is that selfishness replaces gratitude. This is a warning flag for relapse.
You would think that a “spiritual relapse” means that someone stopped attending church. Or they forgot to pray for a week or something.
No, it was never like that. Instead, it is a shift in attitude. It is a return to selfishness. And suddenly the person is no longer grateful, and in fact they are the opposite of grateful. They become demanding. The world owes them something, and they are upset. They deserve better. And so they become able to justify relapse.
All of these examples are pointing towards the same basic ideas, the same concepts.
You can relapse in many different ways.
Each part of your life can be labeled with “health”: Your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health, your spiritual health, and your social health.
And if one of those areas of your life becomes too compromised, too neglected, then it can open the door to relapse.
If you want to use a Christian analogy, then this is how you let the devil back into your life. One of these 5 areas has to become compromised first, and it gives that devil just enough of a crack to get his foot in the door.
This is how relapse works its way back into your life. The disease is cunning, as it says in AA.
This is why the holistic approach is necessary.
You must defend on all 5 of these fronts. You are in a lifelong defensive battle when it comes to your holistic health.
Relapse can sneak up on you in so many different ways.
How are you going to defend yourself against all of them?
In order to do so you must take care of yourself in all five of these areas, every single day.
And how do you do that? How do you take care of yourself holistically?
It comes down to habits. Daily habits have the power to change your life.
Just consider the idea that when you sober up and stop drinking or using drugs, you are simply changing a bad habit into a good one.
Now you must extend that idea in other areas of your life. You must find new ways to take care of yourself every day.
For example, I exercise every day. I did not always use to do this. I had to learn to do this. I had to discover this method of self care.
And to do that I had to listen. I had to take suggestions. I had to take action based on what other people were telling me to do.
Achieving your life purpose starts with healthy self esteem
Think for a moment about the alcoholic who is at the moment of relapse.
Here they were, clean and sober, and they were doing good for the most part. But suddenly they decided to throw it all away and go back to drinking.
What is going through their mind at that moment? What is their decision based on? What are they thinking?
I can give you a glimpse into that mind that is about to relapse:
There is little to no self love. Therefore there probably not much self esteem. The person who relapses is not valuing their life as much as they should be in that moment.
Instead of “choosing life” they are choosing relapse, addiction, death. In order to make this choice you cannot care about yourself very much.
This gives us insight into the mindset and the attitude that we need for preventing relapse.
If you relapse when you hate yourself (or lack caring for yourself), then the solution must be to find out how to love yourself. How to take care of yourself and to love yourself.
This is definitely an important part of relapse prevention.
So how do you learn to love yourself?
There are several ways. One way is through positive self talk, though this may not work for everyone (it didn’t for me to be honest, though I know it works for some).
Another way is through action, through new habits, through taking care of yourself every day. This was ultimately the path that worked for me. I had to go through the motions before I could get the right attitude.
That is an important concept so allow me to explain it a bit more: “Go through the motions to get to the right attitude.”
I needed self care in order to remain sober. And in order to take good care of myself in a holistic sense, in order to take care of myself in all of those critical ways, I had to love myself.
But my problem was that I was early in sobriety, and to put it a bit bluntly….I hated myself!
So how do you go from hating yourself to loving yourself?
One way is to go through the motions.
That means you have to start engaging in self care, even if you don’t see the point in doing so.
That means, for example, you might get a sponsor in AA and listen to what this person tells you to do. They might tell you to do things like: Go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days. Write out a gratitude list every day. Exercise. Write in the steps, write in a daily journal.
And so on. So hopefully you start doing those things and taking those positive actions, even if you may not see the point in doing so right away.
I had to do this myself when I got clean and sober. I had to take this plunge into the unknown, and trust that things would work out for the best.
I asked my therapist at the time: “Why do you want me to exercise? Shouldn’t I focus on this spirituality stuff instead?”
And the therapist sighed and said: “Trust me, you will feel better, just do it. I can’t explain how or why, but it will help you. Do it anyway!”
And so I did it. I did some things that were suggested to me even though I was not sure that they would really help.
But here is the key:
I was taking advice from people who were recovering alcoholics. Not only that, but these people were happy. They were successful. And they were living a life that I wanted to be living. Or at least, it was better than the misery that I was coming out of at the time.
So it made sense to listen to them, to indulge their ideas, and to learn how to take care of myself.
And this is how I started on the long road to self love.
I did not start out in recovery by loving myself instantly. That is not realistic.
No, when I first got sober, I did not like myself much. In fact, I pretty much hated myself.
And I had to somehow learn how to love myself again, so that I would be naturally better at taking good care of myself in all of these critical ways.
And the only way that I could figure out how to love myself again was to go through the motions. I had to “act as if.” I had to have a bit of faith in what I was being told to do.
And in the end it all worked out. At some point I started to care about myself and my own life again. At some point, I realized that I might even have some value in this world, some value to other people, and perhaps even an ability to help others.
Success builds on success in long term sobriety
You know what is really amazing about the recovery journey?
The amazing part is this: That healed people heal people.
That is a pretty cool concept.
Just think about the fellows who started AA, and how they helped to heal a small group of alcoholics. Now think about how that has spread and helped so many others to recover.
All because one person sobered up, and had an idea.
So it is the same potential with you. Or with anyone else who finds sobriety.
Because then you can go on to possibly heal and help someone else. And that person, in turn, may go on to heal others as well.
It is a pretty amazing concept to think about, and to be a part of.
And this is just one of the ways that your success in sobriety can lead to more success.
This is just one way in which the benefits of recovery can snowball into something much bigger.
There are actually several ways in which this happens. Another great example is how much your relationships with friends and family will improve in sobriety, and how that in turn will affect the other areas of your health (emotional, spiritual, etc.).
It’s all connected, in other words. When you make progress in one area of your life, it lifts up the other areas and enhances those as well. Just one of the many gifts of sobriety that you could never really anticipate, and will probably never get done appreciating. Because it really is amazing when you start loving yourself again in recovery!
What about you, have you found a way to start taking care of yourself again in recovery? Are you sort of “going through the motions” as instructed by others, or are you in a place where you genuinely care for yourself with real self love? Do not be intimidated, as there are some areas of my own life where I am still learning, still going through the motions. We are all on a path of growth. How did you take care of yourself today? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!