What does it really mean to be open minded in recovery?
How can the holistic approach to addiction recovery help you to stay open minded?
Is there value in focusing in on one specific recovery tactic? Or is it safer to seek out a more varied approach?
False confidence in recovery
At the risk of sounding overly cynical, it is actually pretty easy to spot someone in early recovery who is destined to relapse. Just look for someone who is overly confident, and is telling everyone else exactly what they need to do in order to avoid drugs and alcohol and have a successful recovery.
This false confidence is almost always a sign of impending failure. If you stick around recovery circles or 12 step meetings for long enough, you will learn to spot this false confidence, and realize that people who are like this always relapse.
What does this false confidence have to do with the holistic approach to recovery?
Basically, if you have this false confidence and cocky attitude towards recovery, you are flying with blinders on, and you are therefore not open to a more holistic approach.
If someone were to suggest the holistic approach to such a person, they would quickly dismiss the idea, and focus instead on what they believe to be the ultimate recovery solution.
The fact is that there really is no ultimate recovery solution, and that the best approach is the holistic approach because it keeps you humble, keeps you learning, keeps you actively growing in your recovery.
Extreme 12 step or religious approaches
Take, for example, someone who has decided that the 12 step program is the only possible solution for recovery. They believe that it is the one true life saver, that all other approaches to addiction are nonsense, and that anyone and everyone could recover from addiction if they would just put all of their effort into the 12 step program.
Or, someone might feel the same way about a religious based program of recovery, and completely disregard the 12 step program and other approaches.
This is the equivalent of having blinders on in your addiction recovery. When you focus in on a narrow solution like this, you shut yourself off from other possibilities for recovery.
How having blinders on in recovery can cause you to relapse
Let me give you an example of how ignoring the holistic approach can lead to problems.
In early recovery I had a friend who was also a very religious person. He was attending a 12 step program with me at the time, but his religious community was also getting involved in his recovery process. In fact, they convinced him that the 12 step program was not necessary in his life, because they argued that “God is all you need to recover.”
While their argument may be technically sound to some people, the results speak for themselves. Many people would do well to accept support wherever they can get it, not just from religious communities. Many people who have left a 12 step program to pursue religion have later come back after having relapsed.
Staying open minded in recovery can mean that you do not shut yourself off to obvious solutions or support systems. If the 12 step program seems to work well for you and helps you, then don’t let yourself be pulled away from it.
My friend in early recovery ended up relapsing after being “led astray.”
How to ease into the holistic approach to recovery
The best way to get into the holistic approach to recovery is to incorporate one change at a time.
Recovery is all about change, remember. However, you can’t do it all at once. If you try to do too many things in your life at the same time, even if they are all positive changes, you will probably become overwhelmed at some point.
You can avoid getting overwhelmed like this by taking on one major change in your life at a time. The key is to do one thing at a time, and always have another goal in mind for the future.
What you do not want to do is to just sit idle in your recovery, and not have “anything on your plate.” You should always have an idea of what your next positive change in your life is going to be.
Master one change, then move on
Recovery is an exercise in personal growth. You make this personal growth by creating positive change in your life. If nothing changes in your life, then you have not grown at all.
So success in recovery can be measured by the amount of positive changes that you are making.
Of course, it is not just that you making lots of changes. In fact, you could only make two or three major changes in one year, and it could be a huge success for you.
For example, in one year of my early recovery, I made the following three changes, and these were more than enough to keep me busy and moving forward in a positive direction:
1) Started exercising regularly.
2) Quit smoking cigarettes.
3) Went back to college.
The reason that I was able to make three major changes in one year is that I locked in each one before I moved on and attempted the next one.
I did not just say “I am going to start running six miles each day and quit smoking cigarettes, all at once.”
Instead, I started running short distances, even while I continued to be a smoker. In fact, I built up to six mile runs and over 30 miles per week of jogging before I finally decided that it was time to quit smoking.
This is a strong approach, in my opinion, because it prevents you from becoming overwhelmed with change. Just change one thing, and get those changes well established and locked in. This is what I did with the running and the exercise. I kept at it for several months, establishing the habit, without worrying about the smoking. I just focused on one goal, on one positive change, on mastering one new habit.
Once that change was well established, I then moved on and focused on my next personal goal.
This is how to build on your success in recovery as well. Make one positive change at a time, then move on and make another one. Goal by goal, you build a new and better life for yourself in recovery.
Deciding how to make positive changes
This is a little counter-intuitive, but the best way to map out your next big personal goal is to look carefully at your life and find your biggest problem area. Instead of seeking the most positive opportunity, you should instead look to see what it is holding you back instead.
What are your bad habits? What do you do that is unhealthy? What is holding you back the most?
Fix those things first. It seems like a negative approach to try to fix the bad things in your life rather than to pursue the positive stuff, but in reality, you will get more relief and better results by clearing away the negative things FIRST.
For example, say that you have two major goals in your early recovery:
You want to quit smoking, and you also want to learn yoga. Which is the more important goal? Can you really measure one against the other at all?
In my opinion, eliminating the negative should always take priority. This is because doing so will have a greater impact on your life, believe it or not.
In the end, you should do both. Concentrate all of your effort on quitting smoking, and master that one big change. Then, move on, and learn yoga next.
Stay open to new ideas for personal growth
In early recovery, you will probably have a few things in your life that are obvious, that need fixing. You know that you want to quit smoking. You know that you want to start exercising. Maybe you want to eat more healthy foods.
But later on in recovery, you may have to watch more carefully for growth opportunities. Maybe your relationships need some work. Maybe you want to learn a new skill. Maybe you want to do more meaningful work in your life, and thus change jobs or start a new career.
Stay open minded and see the various possibilities for holistic growth. You may be geared into fitness and nutrition and physical health for a while, but after making those changes, stay open to the idea that your next growth experience may be an emotional one. Or it may be social in nature. Or it may be educational. Or it may even be financial.
Learn to treat your recovery as a broad experience in personal growth, not just as some narrow exercise in learning how to live clean and sober. The people who think that they have recovery all figured out are the ones who are closing themselves off to these new growth experiences.