If you dip your toes into the world of alcoholism or addiction recovery today, you could definitely fall under the impression that there is only one way to get clean and sober.
It would not be too shocking for a person to go to treatment or reach out for help and come away from the experience with the idea that they only have one option: Traditional recovery.
You know, go to AA, get a sponsor, work the steps, attend meetings for the rest of your life, and so on. Traditional recovery.
This is the dominant treatment method that is out there these days. If you want to poke around online you can find percentages and data that attempts to show how much of the treatment industry is based on the 12 step model, how many rehabs are 12 step based, and so on. Depending on which data you are looking at it is always a fairly strong majority of programs, institutions, and rehabs that are primarily 12 step based in their methodology.
This isn’t necessarily right or wrong. I am not here to try to convince anyone to ignore the traditional recovery method, because it certainly does work for some people.
But it doesn’t work for all people. No one could possibly argue that it works for everyone…and if they do try to argue that, then I don’t think they are being realistic about the hard numbers. Many, many people who try to get sober via the traditional method end up failing. When this happens, the proponents of traditional recovery always blame the individual and say that they are not taking personal responsibility. Yet at the same time, when an individual gets sober through traditional recovery, they typically give all of the credit to the magical program of recovery rather than to the individual. Well, which one is it? Does the personal responsibility matter, or doesn’t it? Some of these people want to claim that when the program works, it is magical, but when the program fails, it is strictly the fault of the individual.
I reached a point in this sort of hypocrisy where I recognized the truth–that personal responsibility is what keeps people sober, regardless of their program choice.
Part of this was due to the Internet, where I did some research and realized that not everyone who is living sober today is using a traditional recovery program. Many of them have found alternatives that actually work.
And this is big news. Because some people try to get into traditional recovery and nothing clicks. It just isn’t for them. Traditional wisdom argues that this is because “they just aren’t ready yet” or because “they haven’t surrendered fully” but I don’t necessarily believe that line of reasoning. You can surrender to your disease but still reject the solution. And there are different paths to recovery, so who is to say that we must all travel the same path?
The myth of a single path to addiction recovery
If you explore traditional recovery circles you will encounter this myth a great deal.
I think the reason for this is fear based. The people in traditional recovery need to spread the idea that their path, their way, is the only one that works.
Because if something else works then it somehow threatens their own sobriety. This is a fear based reaction.
There are several different kinds of selection bias going on when it comes to addiction recovery programs. There are so many different ways that we can fool ourselves.
One such way is “the last place you looked” syndrome. Say that someone is looking for their keys, and they say that their keys are always in the last place that they looked. Well of course they are, because you don’t keep looking after you find your keys.
The same is true of a recovery program. After you find something that works for you and keeps you sober, you don’t run off and keep looking for new solutions. You found your solution, so you stop looking.
In the case of traditional recovery, you will hear stories from many people who tried and failed, tried to get sober and failed many times over again, and finally they got to AA and it worked. Therefore they “stopped looking for their keys” as they finally found a way to stay sober.
But then they do not realize their fallacy, and they assume that traditional recovery programs such as AA are the only possible solution that could ever work for anyone.
They don’t realize that the same thing has happened with other programs of recovery, such as a religious based program. Or a therapy based program. People have recovered using those techniques and strategies but they don’t generally go around and tell everyone that “they found the only true path to sobriety, the only thing that works.” Why do people in AA tend to do this? Why do they cling to the belief that there is only one true path to recovery, and all other paths are false and lead to relapse?
I am not sure exactly why this happens, but it definitely happens. And it is definitely a fear based response.
So it is up to you to educate yourself about this particular fallacy, and protect yourself against it. Realize that people who are trying to tell you that there is only one possible path in recovery are doing so out of fear. They are afraid.
And not only are the afraid, they are also ignorant of the truth.
There is more than one path to sobriety.
Examples of other paths to recovery
Let me give you an example.
I am not trying to convince anyone to rush out and try any of these “crazy” ideas necessarily, I am just giving examples in order to prove a point here. There are many different ways to recover.
1) Equine therapy. There are programs where people learn to groom and ride horses in order to remain sober. I am not making this up. This has actually been used as a real model with which to treat addiction and alcoholism. And it has proven to be successful for some people. One of the things that you are going to discover in your search for the perfect recovery program is that it does not exist. No single program works for every person. And there are some alcoholics and drug addicts who simply are not ready to change yet, no matter what program you introduce them to.
2) Creative recovery or artistic therapy. There are people who live a life of creativity in order to overcome addiction. There are actually books published about this strategy. I used to call my own personal philosophy of recovery “the creative theory of recovery,” with the idea being that you have to create your new life in recovery based on goals and purpose. But one day I researched this phrase and found that there were entire books published about creative recovery already in which people use creative arts in order to stay sober. I was quite surprised at this.
3) Survival treatment. Have you ever watched the show “Survivor?” Can you imagine if you took a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics and dropped them on a deserted island with maybe a guide to help them forage for food, and had them rebuild their lives from scratch? This has been done, and they have actually turned it into a form of rehabilitation. Survival treatment is a real recovery strategy. It exists, and it works for some people.
4) Fitness based recovery. There are some very large and successful organizations out there that help people to get clean and sober through the idea of intense fitness. One such program is called “Racing for Recovery.” Again, there are books written about this, how you can use exercise and fitness as a means to remain clean and sober. It works for some but not for all. Are you noticing a pattern here? These are fringe ideas and they don’t work for everyone, but they all work for some.
5) Religious based recovery. This is the biggest alternative to traditional 12 step based recovery. Much of the principles and concepts are similar though.
6) Counseling or therapy. Some people go see a counselor or a therapist and they remain sober simply based on weekly visits.
These are just a sampling of what is available out there. Obviously there are more ways to stay sober than what I have listed here.
But just the fact that these alternatives exist should teach us something about ourselves and our own recovery.
What we can learn from the existence of alternative methods for beating an addiction
There was a time in my own recovery journey when I believed that the solution to sobriety was 100 percent spiritual.
Much of what I was learning in traditional recovery told me that this was true. That my spiritual condition was the only thing that really mattered in terms of staying sober.
Now at that time I had a therapist who was trying to help me. This therapist was trying to convince me to meditate and also to exercise.
I gave them both a shot. I tried seated meditation for about a month or so, maybe six weeks.
And later on I also tried exercise. I was doing cardio and also some weights. I gave it my best effort.
Now in both of those cases this was during my first year of sobriety. And quite honestly I was not ready for either of those things in my life.
And neither of them “stuck.” I quit meditating and I also quit exercising.
I simply moved on to other things. It’s not like I totally slacked off and relapsed, because that was not it at all. I just did not follow through at the time with either idea.
Instead I went back to college, I did some other things, I explored spirituality through reading, and so on. I wrote in the steps, wrote in my journal. I was still doing recovery things, but I failed to meditate and I failed on the exercise.
For whatever reason, those things just did not click for me at the time.
Years later, they did click.
Years later, I was ready to start exercising for some reason. And I started distance running. And this time it clicked.
Not only did I become a distance runner, but I found it to be a very powerful form of meditation. I ran outdoors, in silence, through the woods. This was moving meditation. It was trance-like. It was very powerful in terms of emotional cleansing.
Not that I always needed the emotional benefit of distance running out in nature. But it was a very nice bonus and at times it was absolutely critical. It was supremely beneficial to me. I think in at least one instance it prevented a relapse directly, because I was at my wit’s end and all I could do was to walk out the door and start running like a maniac. And because I was in great shape I was able to run really hard and really far that day. And when I got done I collapsed and I slept and then later I woke up and my life started to get a little better. I don’t know if I would have stayed sober through that particular trial if I did not have distance running as an outlet.
So this was a huge insight for me. There is this entire program of recovery that is based on exercise alone, and here I was in early recovery and I wasn’t “getting it.”
I am grateful that I finally “got it” and realized the full benefits of exercise. I am grateful that I was able to come back to exercise as a solution and fully explore it.
So the existence of these other alternatives give a similar insight. As in, if people can stay sober through creative expression of the arts, then perhaps anyone in recovery who wants to become stronger in their journey should look for a creative outlet. Or if someone can stay sober through caring for an animal (equine therapy), then perhaps there is value for everyone in learning to love and care for a pet. Again, these fringe solutions are not going to be for everyone, but their mere existence should give us cause to at least investigate the possibilities.
The advantage of a holistic approach over traditional recovery methods
One of the nice things about alternative approaches to recovery is that you can combine them.
If you are strictly into traditional recovery then that can be potentially limiting for you. The solution is spiritual. End of story.
But if you are open to the alternatives then you can start to explore the holistic approach.
Don’t be put off by the word “holistic.” In this sense it just means “the whole person.”
So instead of treating the spiritual malady in people, we are treating them as a “whole person” and looking at all of the areas of their health: Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
Notice that the holistic approach is big enough that it include spirituality. But it expands beyond that and considers other areas of your health as well.
I can’t speak for everyone by my addiction was a very emotional thing. I was medicating my emotions all the time when I was drinking. So in recovery I have to consider my emotional health in addition to my spiritual condition, my physical condition, and so on.
If I become emotionally unstable then it doesn’t really matter if I am healthy in other ways. It doesn’t matter if I have this great spiritual connection or if I am fit with lots of exercise if I become emotionally unstable. Because it is very possible to be healthy in other ways but to relapse emotionally. And then of course it all goes downhill.
Not only is it possible to relapse emotionally, but it is also possible to relapse in other ways. Consider the other aspects of your health. This is why we need a holistic approach to recovery.
You can relapse socially. I could ignore my new peers and friends in recovery and suddenly go back to hanging out with my old drinking buddies. That is a social relapse. Will that lead to drinking for me eventually? You bet it would. You can’t hang out with the old crowd and expect to stay sober.
And of course you can relapse spiritually. You can forget to practice gratitude and instead become very selfish. This is a spiritual relapse. Prayer and meditation and faith are really side notes when it comes to spiritual relapse. It is all about your attitude and how grateful you are today. Or your lack of gratitude and how selfish you are. This is why in AA they often take an entire meeting and dedicate it to gratitude. It’s that important.
You can relapse mentally. The obsession of drugs or alcohol can creep back in, and you have to be strong enough to shut it down immediately and stop romanticizing the buzz. You have to have zero tolerance for this sort of thing. We can’t allow ourselves to remember the good times without also “playing the tape all the way through” and remembering how miserable our drug of choice will make us in the end. This is the mental relapse.
So if you can relapse in all of these different ways, wouldn’t it make sense to protect yourself in all of those different ways in recovery?
Wouldn’t it make sense to take care of yourself emotionally? And mentally? And spiritually? And physically? And socially?
This is why you need to develop a daily practice. And it has to go beyond prayer and meditation. If you just use a spiritual solution then you will only protect yourself from a spiritual relapse. But there are other forms of relapse, other ways that the disease can sneak back into your life. And you need to be protected against those.
Most importantly: You are responsible to find a recovery strategy that works for you
Here is my suggestion to newcomers in recovery:
Go to traditional recovery first.
Go to rehab. They will likely introduce you to AA or NA and the 12 step program.
Give it a chance. Give it a fair chance. I lived in long term rehab and gave it roughly 18 months or so.
But at that point I realized that it was not going to work out in the long run for me, so I moved on. I started to explore alternatives.
And in those alternatives I found a great deal of help, I found a lot of amazing ideas. Ideas that transformed my life.
So I would urge you to explore some of the alternatives, to explore the fringes, and see what you can learn.
It might just save your life……
What about you, have you found any alternative methods of recovery that have helped you to remain clean and sober? What has worked for you other than traditional recovery such as the 12 step program? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!