Lately my thoughts have focused more and more on the actual transition in recovery–that from early recovery to long term sobriety. There is a shift that occurs when the struggling addict in early recovery is no longer fighting to stay clean; they find a certain peace about themselves and things start clicking for them. Either that, or they relapse. But the idea of transition is real.
Recovery is split into short term and long term recovery. We do certain things in the beginning to stay clean. If we don’t change our strategy eventually and make the transition to long term recovery, we relapse. We have to change in order to make it over the long haul.
We have to do certain things in early recovery to stay clean. This are different things for everyone, but the principles are the same: we need a strong support system, lots of structure, some need protection from the outside world (such as a treatment center). But these things will not keep you clean 5 years down the road or even 1 year down the road. Those who do not transition to long term, holistic living will inevitably slide back into their old behaviors.
The transition itself
Nobody consciously knows when they are making this leap from short term to long term sobriety. It just happens. You can look back, of course, and see how you grew through the stage.
So how can we know what to do? How can we facilitate the transition? The answer to this is what the creative theory is all about. The answer lies in the 3 basic strategies:
1) Caring for self
2) Networking with others
3) Push for holistic growth
In particular, the push for holistic growth is a critical part of the transition. Using myself as an example, I did not really believe (at the time) that I was “working on my recovery” when I went back to college, started exercising on a regular basis, and quit smoking cigarettes. At the time, I did not think that these things applied to my recovery at all. But looking back, I can see that these things were all part of my push for holistic growth. They were efforts to grow in different areas of my life.
I’m not so sure that you can plan this type of growth out specifically, however. What was important for me was to get past the mindset of “I’m just going to focus on my program and not get distracted with school or career or other things right now.” Most traditional recovery programs do not encourage holistic growth so if you focus on them then you’re going to be doing so at the exclusion of other growth opportunities.
I was so afraid of relapse in early recovery that I delayed making this “holistic transition” for several months. I thought the secret to long term recovery was to keep doing what I did in my first 6 months of sobriety, over and over again for the rest of my life. But growth involves change. We either move forward in recovery or we slide backwards.
So my suggestion is to look for holistic growth opportunities right from the start. Find ways to branch out and grow or learn outside of the boundaries of “traditional recovery.” This might include things such as fitness, nutrition, meditation, education, the arts, learning new skills, building new relationships, and so on.
The transition occurs when you grow beyond the narrow focus of your early recovery efforts.
Linear growth versus holistic growth
When we are working a traditional program of recovery, we tend to have a limited field of vision in that we perceive all possible growth as being linear. Perhaps the 12 step model has helped perpetuate this idea because the 12 steps are obviously ordered and are in sequence.
But in holistic living, growth can be expansive and non-linear. Regardless of what program you are working, most people don’t grow at a steady pace in recovery. Most of us flounder around for a while in the beginning, trying to find our footing and just get through the cravings and urges of each day. Later on, when we have been making holistic growth efforts, our growth in recovery can be explosive.
In other words, sometimes we have to trudge through a tough time in recovery when we see little results from our efforts. The payoff comes eventually when all of our holistic growth efforts start paying off down the road at some point.
Complacency is the real enemy
The only real enemy in long term recovery is complacency. After being clean and sober for a while, we no longer struggle with daily urges or even with more subtle threats to recovery such as resentments or self-pity. Instead, the real challenge in long term recovery is to keep challenging ourselves to grow.
Focus on the 3 basic strategies and keep pushing yourself to grow, and complacency will take care of itself.
If you or someone you know is looking for help in making the transition to long term sobriety, send out a quick email to Keith Bray, my recommended recovery coach. He is currently offering a free session to anyone who inquires to see if you are interested in his coaching services. I’ve worked directly with Keith and can highly recommend him. Here is his email: