Creative Recovery from Addiction

Creative Recovery from Addiction

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Sections:

* The Reward for Creative Recovery

* Early Recovery + Massive Action = Massive Success

* Defining the Creative Path in Recovery

* Why Most Traditional Recovery Tactics are Doomed to Failure

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* So How do I Get Started with Creative Recovery?

* Short Term Recovery Versus Long Term Recovery

* Living the Creative Life and Finding Real Purpose

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The Reward for Creative Recovery

Living the creative life in recovery is a reward in itself. It is a way of life that pushes you towards continuous growth, such that you are never stagnate and bored. The idea is to have a balance between enjoying your life and being happy with who you are, but also in analyzing your self and seeking to make continuous improvements. In this way it is not so different from traditional recovery programs, but the creative approach seeks to examine your life from a holistic perspective, instead of just a spiritual one.

For example, I am enjoying a much higher level of physical fitness today, because at some point in my recovery, it made sense to examine the physical aspect of my life and seek to improve it. I started this several years ago and made a commitment to start exercising on a regular basis. This has turned out to be a huge factor in my long term recovery and overall well being.

This regular exercise led me to seek deeper growth from a physical standpoint. It forced me to examine my smoking habit and so I eventually quit smoking cigarettes about a year after I started exercising. And even today, I am seeking to make progress regarding my diet and what I eat every day. So my growth in this area has been progressive. It has been continuous and it builds on previous success.

The reason I seek improvements in the physical realm are the same that I try to improve spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and socially. I am trying to grow from a holistic perspective. That means that I am open to growth in all areas. That means that there is always something to be working on in order to grow as a person.

If you are working a traditional program of recovery, and you get stuck in terms of your growth, then seeking a more holistic approach could be a key to getting back on the right track. I have explored traditional recovery for some years and I did not see an emphasis on holistic growth. The emphasis was always on spiritual growth and it was my thought that many people in traditional programs could have benefited a lot more if they had explored a holistic approach. (For example, note the tendency in 12 step meetings for excessive cigarette smoking).

The reward for creative recovery is continuous, holistic growth. This makes life challenging and fun. It also prevents relapse by preventing complacency from setting in. Stop pushing yourself toward further growth and you start inching closer to relapse.

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Early Recovery + Massive Action = Massive Success

The key to early recovery is massive action. I am in a unique position in that I get to watch thousands of newcomers every year attempt to get clean and sober in early recovery. I have also tried 3 times to get clean myself, only succeeding one time of course. The first 2 failed attempts taught me something, and that lesson is reaffirmed in watching countless other addicts and alcoholics who set out to try and get sober themselves.

The lesson is this: you have to go all out in early recovery. You have to put forth a monumental effort, at least in the beginning. Seriously, this is like the whole secret to success in the early stages.

I see so many people in treatment who simply do not get this. They will say something or do something that clearly communicates to me that they just do not understand the level of dedication and action that it takes to really stay clean. They have one week sober, they are in a treatment center for a few weeks, and maybe they are arguing about what day they are supposed to be leaving. This is a bad sign. It just is. I have seen it over and over again. If you are not desperate for help in early recovery, then you are not very likely to stay clean and sober for very long. If you are not doing everything you can to soak up new knowledge about how to live a clean and sober life, then your odds of making it are not so good.

And so it seems that those people who are most desperate for recovery are the ones who are willing to take massive action. They are the ones who are going to 3 meetings every day in order to stay clean and sober. They are the ones who are living in a long term rehab for several months straight. They are the ones who are working with other addicts and alcoholics on a regular basis, even before they have their first year sober. This is a good thing. Massive action is always good in early recovery. Note that this is very different from simply “talking the talk.” Taking massive action in recovery is about actually doing stuff that gets results.

Now as your life goes on and you find more footing in your recovery, the need for massive action starts to drop off. This is understandable and perfectly normal. The point of recovery is to live a great life, not  just to exist and work on recovery concepts all day, every day. But in the beginning, it helps to ignore the idea of balance for a moment and focus extremely hard on working recovery into your life. The success stories that I have talked with always went to extremes in early recovery. You should too.

Defining the Creative Path in Recovery

What exactly is the creative path in recovery? Does it really differ so much from traditional recovery routes, such as the 12 step program? Do you have to be a “creative person,” as in someone who draws or paints or sculpts or dances? Or does “creative” refer to something else altogether?

In this case, I use the term “creative” to mean creation. You are simply defining your terms a bit better and deciding to create the life you really want in recovery. This is just one way to go beyond the traditional norms that we see in most recovery programs and groups these days. My own path in creative recovery has been defined by the following three principles:

1) Pushing myself toward personal growth – and seeking to grow holistically. I look for opportunities in all areas of my life in which I might grow further.

2) Increasing self esteem and sense of self worth – I am not on the top of my game in recovery unless I feel good about myself and who I am. Thus I think it is important to increase your self esteem through real action.

3) Networking with others and reaching out to help them on a regular basis – I have to involve myself in working with others. Networking has always been an important part of my recovery but as I stay clean and sober for long time periods, it becomes less important if I socialize with other addicts and more important that I am working with newcomers. Just my 2 cents of course…. but for me, working with other struggling addicts and alcoholics offers a tremendous return on my efforts….both for them and for me.

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Why Most Traditional Recovery Tactics are Doomed to Failure

In my opinion, traditional recovery tactics are just that–they are tactics that cannot really change your life over the long run. If you want to be successful in long term recovery then you have to make large, structural changes in your life. In other words, massive action–not just on a daily basis, but in actually restructuring your whole life and who you are as a person. This is the level of change that is really necessary for long term growth in recovery.

People are misled at first when they attempt to get clean and sober. Not many will be successful on their first attempt and that is because we almost always underestimate just how much change is necessary. And of course, here is the thing: most recovery tactics are only set up to elicit minor changes. In order to find success, we need massive change.

For example, take someone who comes out of drug rehab and is assigned to outpatient therapy. This is always a mistake, in my opinion. It sends the wrong message to the addict. Basically we are saying “Just go to rehab, then go to these follow-up outpatient classes a few times each week, and you can stop using drugs.” This is not enough. If outpatient therapy were set up to really work, it would be for 12 hours per day, 7 days a week. I know that might sound like overkill, but that is the kind of effort that is needed in recovery.

Just consider our current success rates in the treatment industry. Without even looking anything up, I can assure you that no one is claiming more than a 10% abstinence rate after one year in treatment. Only 1 out of 10 people is the best we can do? Seriously, there has to be a better way.

If we are using ideas like relapse prevention, outpatient therapy, or (heaven forbid) harm reduction models, then people are just not going to get it. You’re never going to see great results across the board if we are using weak tactics like this that barely scratch the surface at making lasting change.

Addiction and alcoholism affect a person on a number of different levels: mentally, physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and so on. It is not a surface level problem. Trying to design a solution for a problem like addiction is not a trivial thing. We are trying to change an entire life here. It takes massive effort and an holistic approach. Hand picking a few of the traditional recovery tactics is hardly going to scratch the surface for most people (as evidenced by current success rates).

I’m not saying that traditional recovery will not work, or that 12 step programs are flawed.  Instead, we need to go beyond them.  We can grow past them.  We can seek holistic growth outside of the boundaries of traditional recovery (where the focus is kept mostly on the spiritual side of things).

So How do I Get Started with Creative Recovery?

If you are still using drugs and alcohol today then I would suggest that you start with traditional recovery methods. That means go to rehab, go to meetings, do what they tell you to do.

Now I know that contradicts much of what I just said, but we are talking about the difference between short term and long term recovery here. The creative theory of recovery is designed for long term recovery. If it existed as as short term rehab it would probably cost a small fortune, as it would contain an holistic approach to early recovery and a full set of options and resources for the newly recovering addict.

The fact is that there are currently no rehab facilities that are based on the creative theory. This does not mean that you cannot go to a traditional rehab facility and get a lot of help from them though.

My suggestion to anyone in early recovery or just starting out is to ask for help and go to whatever is available. If that is a 12 step based facility, then go there. If it is a religious based facility, then go there. Take what help you can get and use the parts that apply to your life. They are all abstinence based facilities and they will encourage positive thinking and conscious growth. The different approaches that you find out there are not so different from each other and the underlying principles are going to be the same. The creative theory of recovery still applies in your life and there are people who have never heard of the theory who use the principles all the time.

After you establish your footing in early recovery and get some sobriety under your belt, you can start to gauge exactly where you want your life to go and how you want to live in recovery. I would take a look at the core principles of creative recovery and expand from there, seeing what fits into your life. For example, I work with other addicts and alcoholics in a couple of ways right now, both online and in the real world. But I had to make conscious choices in order to set my life up that way. I also made some decisions that moved me on a path of personal growth from an educational standpoint, and I am still experiencing the effects of those decisions today. The same could be said of my growth regarding the physical realm….I am still exercising quite a bit and I’m always pushing myself to make healthier changes.

There is not just one path in creative recovery. The best idea is to use the core principles and examine your own life to find new areas to grow in, while also making use of your unique skills and talents to connect with others in recovery.

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Short Term Recovery Versus Long Term Recovery

As I mentioned, I am in a unique position in that I get see the whole spectrum of recovery. I watch newcomers who do not even have a day clean yet, and I also see people who are struggling to get to 30 days sober, 90 days sober, 6 months sober, and so on. So it is interesting to see what really becomes the dividing line between short term recovery and long term recovery.

I can tell you one thing is for sure: it is not based on how long a person has been clean and sober. I have seen some people who have multiple years in recovery who still consider themselves to be in “early recovery” (and I would tend to agree).

Now I am not necessarily saying that we can somehow graduate and then become cured in recovery and officially declare ourselves to be “living in long term recovery now.” But if you watch different people as they grow through their time in early recovery, there is definitely a progression when one day you realize that they are no longer struggling and thrashing around so much and hanging on to their sobriety with a death grip.  They are living the solution instead of seeking it.

In my case, I was definitely still in early recovery at about 6 months clean. I was absolutely not living the creative theory of recovery in my life yet. I was still struggling to find a path of continuous growth. I was still very much afraid of relapse.

Am I saying that you should have no fear of relapse? That is not exactly the case. I am just pointing out that there is a difference between early recovery and long term sobriety. I had to go through what I went through in order to get where I am today. It took as long as it took and it will be different for everybody. I am not cured and I could still relapse. But I am no longer struggling in early recovery. I found peace within myself and with my path in life a long time ago in recovery. And now I am living it. When I was only 6 months clean I was not yet there. I was not yet living the solution. I was still struggling to find it.

And what I found was the creative life. A life of passion and purpose and continuous improvement.

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Living the Creative Life and Finding Real Purpose

I am excited to wake up each day because of the raw opportunity involved. Even I am going to work at my day job, I have tons of opportunity to interact with other addicts and alcoholics in exciting ways. Life is exciting for me because I have purpose now in reaching out and helping others in recovery. It is exciting because I actually have a purpose for living that goes beyond the constant need to self medicate.

My point in all this is that you can create this stuff. You can create this kind of life and you can create purpose and meaning for yourself. It will not happen overnight and it might not even happen in the first few months of recovery. But if you follow the core principles of creative recovery and continue to put in the footwork in both improving yourself, as well as in helping others, your life will just keep getting better and better. This is how you were meant to live in recovery–with passion and purpose and having meaningful contact with others and using your talent to help them. We all have a way that we can connect and give back, and finding that outlet is part of the transition from early recovery to long term sobriety. Living the creative life is the greatest reward you can experience.

 

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