How does the struggling alcoholic actually get clean and sober and then heal their life?
The typical drug addict or alcoholic has gone through quite a bit of chaos. Most all of it is (usually) brought on by themselves, but this doesn’t change the fact that their life is often chaotic and screwed up by the time that they get sober. In many regards they are left with the challenge of “putting the pieces back together” in terms of rebuilding a healthy life.
So how do they heal? What is the process by which a person rebuilds their life?
Let’s take a closer look at these ideas.
The decision to get sober is a decision to heal your life
First of all, the decision to get sober is, in itself, a decision for better health. It is a decision to heal.
Some people miss this critical point, and their actions in recovery reflect this glaring error.
You don’t get sober in order to be unhealthy. That doesn’t really make much sense. If you are going to be unhealthy in sobriety, then why exactly did you get sober in the first place?
This is why many recovering alcoholics will eventually take a more holistic approach to their health over time, and realize that they may want to, at some point in their recovery, do things such as:
* Quit smoking cigarettes.
* Eat healthier foods.
* Get better sleep.
* Meditate or find new ways to relax.
* Seek spiritual progress.
* Find emotional balance.
* Get into shape or exercise regularly.
And so on. These are not generally things that you would find as strong ideas in a basic recovery program such as AA, for example. Of course no one in AA is telling you specifically not to do these things, but they are usually not pushing for you to do them as part of your recovery from addiction.
But in my opinion this might be a mistake. Because if you are not doing the sort of things that are listed above, then your life will have weak points in it. It is like having holes in your recovery plan.
So someone might focus really hard on spiritual progress and dedicate their life to a spiritual journey, but they might neglect one of those other areas listed above. And this can cause a huge problem down the road or even kill them eventually. I have a serious question to ask you now: What is the point of sobriety if you are dead? I am not joking when I ask that. It is a serious question. Because I know some people who were working a pretty good recovery program but they were not necessarily taking care of themselves in all of the ways listed above, and they are gone now as a result. They conquered alcoholism and they were on a spiritual journey but the lifestyle still killed them in the end. It is quite easy to find examples of this in modern day AA programs, especially with people who are smokers, out of shape, unhealthy eaters, or some combination of all of those things. Throw in some of the other variables and it can get ugly in a hurry. Again, what is the point of sobriety if you are dead? The correct answer is: “There is no point to it.” Sobriety implies good health. Or rather, sobriety is worthless without your overall health. If you die from lung cancer after one year sober then how can you really carry a message of hope to others in recovery? Answer: You can’t. If you are sober then your life is worth living and you should strive for better health.
Of course this is just my opinion and I base this opinion on the fact that I have watched many good people in recovery pass away because they were not working a holistic program of recovery. They neglected certain parts of their health and it cost them their lives. Of course, we all have to die some time, and I realize that. But many of these people were quite young. The mortality data on recovering alcoholics is rather scary. The number one killer of them is lung cancer. That is some serious food for thought in light of the fact that you could, you know, quit smoking when you get sober as well! And I can make a strong case that doing so helps you to remain sober, even though it is more difficult at first.
Building a foundation in early sobriety
How do we actually heal?
First you surrender. You decide. You give sobriety a chance.
I did this by going to rehab. Many others go to rehab as well. There are other paths to sobriety but in my opinion going to a professional treatment center is a powerful first step. You could certainly do a lot worse.
The foundation is based on abstinence. You stop putting drugs and alcohol into your body. This is the foundation of your recovery. It is also, in my opinion, your highest truth in recovery. Above all other things, your goal should be to NOT put any drugs or alcohol into your body, every single day, period.
Sure, you can have other goals. Get a higher power. Go to meetings. Work the steps. Get honest with yourself. Get a sponsor. Do the work. Go to therapy. Counseling. Whatever it takes.
But none of that stuff is anywhere near the importance of that one single truth: Don’t put drugs or alcohol into your body today. Period.
That is your mantra above all others. Nothing in your life is anywhere near as important.
Maybe you have a spouse that you think is more important than your sobriety. Maybe you believe that your connection to a higher power is more important than sobriety. Maybe you believe that a newborn child is more important than your sobriety.
In all of those cases I would argue that you are wrong. You are confused. Don’t ever put anything in front of that one goal, in front of that highest truth.
Because if you drink, then your relationship with your higher power evaporates. If you drink, your relationships with a spouse or with children diminishes rapidly. You cannot put those things in front of your sobriety. They are NOT as important as the fact that you can not take a drink today. Get your priorities straight. If you fail to get this part right, then a relapse will eventually show you who is boss. Results don’t lie.
Therefore your foundation of healing in early recovery is based on abstinence. You stop putting chemicals into your body. I highly recommend professional treatment to get started on this path, though that is not a requirement for everyone. Some people can do it without rehab. I could not. I needed more help than that.
So you make a decision to stop, then you actually stop.
Next you have to live with your decision. You made the right choice, now you have to figure out how to live with it.
How do you do that?
You need to ask for help.
Taking advice from other people is one key to better health in recovery
One of the concepts that really turned me off at first about recovery was the idea of asking for help. Why can’t I just do this all by myself? Why do I have to get help from other people? Why do I have to listen to what they tell me? Why is that necessary? Can’t we just find some easier way to sobriety?
It seems that we cannot find an easier way. If you want to get sober then you are going to have to reach out and get help from other people. You are going to have to get new information that cannot come from books or websites.
Why is this? What is it about face to face human interaction that is so critical to the recovery process?
I think that in order to heal we have to relate to people in recovery. The key word here is relate.
If you read books about recovery or go on recovery websites, you might relate a little bit. But you won’t get that deep connection that you can get from the back and forth interaction with a live human.
This is what makes face to face contact so important to recovery. Because you interact with others in sobriety. You tell them your story, and then they tell you their story, and a deep connection is made. And if you keep doing this over and over again, at some point you will meet someone who tells your story. They will have gone through almost the exact same struggles that you went through. And suddenly you will gain massive hope from this interaction. You will realize that it is, in fact, possible for you to recover. Because this other person was almost exactly like you and they somehow have 4 years sober.
So it is about hope, at first. You relate to others in recovery and you gain hope.
Next you need a solution. You need a path forward. Again, you could get this from a book or from a website, but if you get the information from a real human being then that information is tailored specifically to your situation. It is more dynamic, more customized, more helpful.
Furthermore, if someone is giving you advice in some way then they can also see how you are taking that advice. They can measure your response. And if you are not really getting it, they can try again and frame it in a different way. So it is more likely that you will learn what you need to learn in order to remain sober. Because they will be able to teach you in a dynamic way.
The holistic path to long term sobriety and real healing
Real healing in long term sobriety is about your overall health in recovery. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t do you much good to be both sober and dead. We want to focus on being sober and alive. That way you can enjoy a sober life and also help other people in some way. Being alive while sober is just so much more powerful than being dead!
Therefore the holistic approach becomes important. Much like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, your health in recovery is only as strong as the least healthy part of your life.
This becomes painfully evident when a part of your life gets really bad and out of control. For example, physical health is pretty hard to ignore because the consequences of poor health can be rather immediate. So everything that goes into physical health is going to be a factor in terms of your quality of sobriety: Fitness, nutrition, sleep, being disease free, etc.
But it also becomes evident if other parts of your life are out of balance. For example, if you have even been in a toxic relationship then you know just how damaging this can be to the other parts of your life, and to your health. It drags you down and wears you out to deal with a toxic individual.
And therefore we heal our lives by eliminating the negative stuff in many cases.
If you have a toxic relationship, then you find a way to eliminate it or avoid it completely. Surround yourself with positive people who are striving for greater health.
If there is something in your life that creates emotional unbalance, you would strive to fix that or eliminate the problem.
If there is something in your life that is physically unhealthy (out of shape, poor sleep habits, poor nutrition, etc.) then you would strive to fix that as well.
It doesn’t really matter what part of your health is affected by something negative, because all of it is connected. And any one thing could potentially trip you up and cause you to relapse in the end.
Relapse prevention requires a holistic approach in order to remain sober. Whichever part of your overall health is weakest is where your disease of addiction will attack you. That is where you are most vulnerable.
Many people do not like to get overwhelmed with the idea that they need to juggle so many responsibilities in recovery. They like the idea that “the solution is spiritual” and therefore they only have to focus on one aspect of their health, spirituality. But this is not realistic and it is a dangerous path that can lead to relapse. You are responsible to maintain your sobriety and you have to realize that your disease is going to attack at the point of least resistance. Where is your recovery weak? However you are not taking care of yourself is where you become vulnerable to relapse.
Real healing in recovery happens over the long term as you focus on holistic health. This means juggling many different aspects of health in recovery. Fitness, emotional balance, mental health, good relationships, spirituality, and on and on. You don’t have to do some of it, you have to some do all of it! It sounds overwhelming but in practice it is not so bad. Being honest with yourself and taking advice from others in recovery can both be a shortcut to wisdom. It is easier to prioritize when you are honest with yourself and know where your weakness is right now. But in order to get to that point you need extreme self honesty or some peers in recovery who are not afraid to tell you when you have wandered astray.
Long term goals and healthy changes
The long term goal in recovery is to be healthier, more at peace, and better able to help others. These are certainly worthy goals for anyone, but they are especially important for recovering alcoholics.
Who will carry a message of hope to others in recovery, if not you? You have a responsibility to take care of yourself so that you can give back to the world after it graciously granted you sobriety. You don’t necessarily have to go to AA meetings and sponsor people directly, but everyone can find a way to give back to the world and do their part.
The idea is to build the sort of life where this comes naturally to you. The idea is to become the sort of person in recovery who inspires others to be healthy as well, to strive for personal growth.
After a while in recovery the changes become incremental. At first, the changes are huge, of course. You stop drinking and taking drugs and you get a whole lot healthier in a short amount of time. Then maybe you start sleeping better, eating better, and so on.
After a few months or years in recovery it is much more difficult to make huge gains in terms of your health and your lifestyle. Yet it is still a worthy goal that you should continue pursuing. Because you can always refine things in your life and improve. You can always get even more honest with yourself and say “Now how could I be healthier today in terms of my emotional balance?” Or in terms of your physical health. Or in terms of exercise. Or in terms of working with others in sobriety. And so on.
The potential never ends for self improvement. And this is good, because it is that act of self improvement that allows us to fight off complacency and remain sober. If we get lazy then we open the door to relapse.
I think it is a mistake for a recovering alcoholic to declare “I’m healed now!” and stop trying to refine their process. There is always another layer of truth to discover within us. There is always another improvement that we can make in ourselves. To become a better version of ourselves in recovery.
This is what I believe we are meant to do in sobriety: To self actualize. To become better versions of ourselves. To improve our health and use that as a foundation to try to help others as well.
The thing is, this whole thing becomes one giant positive feedback loop. Because once you start making positive changes in your life, this creates a platform that makes it easier to continue to do so.
Once you improve, for example, your nutrition and your fitness level, you realize that this has also had a hugely beneficial impact on your sleeping habits. Suddenly you are sleeping through the night and getting good rest as a result of the daily exercise (just an example, your mileage may vary!). In other words, it is all connected. The benefits that you get in one area of your life will start to spill over into other areas of your life in ways that you could not have anticipated.
This is another reason why it is important to accept advice and feedback from others in recovery. For example, I can tell someone else to exercise daily and get a good workout in because it will help their recovery. But can I really explain why to do this? I can give a few reasons, but none of it even scratches the surface. Because after the person starts actually doing the work, they will start noticing deep benefits that neither one of us could have predicted. Maybe their jogging sessions will inspire massive creativity and really jump start their work again. Maybe the meditation that they do will unlock a need to do therapy sessions and work on forgiveness, giving them a whole new level of freedom.
We can’t always predict the positive benefits of the holistic approach. Which is why we need to take suggestions from other people in early recovery, so that we can tap into some of this “hidden power.”
What about you, how do you heal your own life in recovery? What has worked well for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!