Complicating Factors and the Holistic Approach to Recovery

Complicating Factors and the Holistic Approach to Recovery

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There are a number of potential complicating factors in recovery.


Because addiction is complicated.

Many people disagree with the idea that recovery is complex. They believe that recovery is simple. “Just follow this simple program, and you’ll achieve a meaningful life of sobriety,” they say. Or they declare that addiction is very simple and basic, because they “got drunk and high simply because they wanted to.”

I disagree with these ideas. In my opinion, addiction is not simple. It is complicated. Because of this, achieving successful recovery can be complicated as well.

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For example:

Relationships can be horribly complicated. Take a look at the mess that most people in early recovery have in terms of their relationships with other people. Just glance through the 12 step program and you’ll see that much of the work involves fixing ourselves so that we can then attempt to mend our broken relationships with others. In addition to this, my direct experience in early recovery is that most of my peers who relapsed did so because of a turbulent relationship with a significant other.

Mental illness can complicate recovery. Which came first, the mental illness or the addiction? It doesn’t matter. You have to treat both of them if you want to have any kind of real shot at maintaining long term sobriety. It doesn’t do much good to be clean and sober if you are clinically depressed or overwhelmed with anxiety all the time. In addition, many people used drugs or alcohol to self medicate their condition, so starting on the road to sobriety is going to necessitate some changes as far as treating their condition.

Physical ailments can complicate recovery. I have personally witnessed this many times with others in recovery–they get sick or get hurt in some way, and this eventually leads them to relapse. Now obviously, falling ill or suffering an injury does not necessitate a relapse, nor does it excuse it. But I have definitely seen it happen. It’s like a snowball effect: first, the person gets sick or injured or even just diagnosed with something. Then they become depressed, and in some cases their illness or injury tends to isolate them. This is how physical ailments can snowball into a full blown relapse. Of course, anyone working a diligent and honest program of recovery could potentially prevent themselves from being pushed over the edge in this way, but the basic threat still exists.

Financial problems can complicate recovery. We all know how overwhelming this can be. The added stress of being heavily in debt or suffering any sort of financial trouble can be enough to push some addicts over the edge.

Action items – what you can do:

1) Avoid getting into a relationship in early recovery. Learn to be happy with yourself first.

2) Strive for balance. I really thought this was useless when I first got clean and sober. Why not focus exclusively on recovery, I reasoned, and there isn’t much balance in that. But a balanced lifestyle becomes more important the longer you stay clean. You have to get out there and start living the principles of recovery into your daily life. A healthy balance becomes critical.

3) Use a holistic approach. In other words, take care of your entire body, mind, and spirit. For example, I used to justify my cigarette smoking by saying “at least I’m not drinking and using hard drugs anymore.” This is a rationalization that keeps people sick. A holistic approach forced me to look at how I was damaging my body anyway with cigarettes, and what the long term implications of that might be.

The holistic approach will also keep other things in check, such as your mental health and well being, your approach to food and nutrition, exercise, meditation, and so on. Being healthy all-around can prevent some of these major issues from becoming potential triggers in your life.

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