You may be wondering: “How exactly does the holistic approach to alcoholism recovery depend on daily action?”
The answer is both simple and complicated.
Simple because it all comes down to consistency and simply taking positive action each and every day in your recovery journey.
Complicated because there are so many different areas of your life in which you may need to focus on at various times.
One of the biggest mistakes that I have watched happen over and over again in early recovery has to do with being “spiritually narrow-minded.” These are folks who get so convinced that the solution is spiritual that they ignore all other potential forms of growth in their recovery. Then when they relapse they have their head hanging low because they do not know what went wrong.
Alcoholism recovery demands a holistic approach rather than a spiritual one
I had a friend and peer in early recovery who was recovering from alcoholism just like I was. We both lived in long term rehab. At the time I looked up to him a great deal because he seemed to have so much spiritual knowledge. He was really into spirituality and we talked about the stuff all the time. I looked up to him and I believed that if I were to be working a proper recovery from addiction that I would need to “become more spiritual” and be more like he was.
Long story short: He relapsed a few years later, while I was still doing well in my recovery.
What had gone wrong?
At the time I had no idea, and I could really do nothing but listen to his story. He was befuddled. He had no idea what went wrong either. He had tried to do everything right, to put his spiritual growth first, and yet somehow his life had become jumbled up in recovery. He got tripped up somehow and went back to his drug of choice when he would have least expected it. And in the end he really had no explanation for what went wrong.
Many years later I believe that I have an answer for this. I believe that I had least have a better understanding of what went wrong for my friend in recovery, and what I was doing right at the time that was different.
The difference comes down to this simple fact:
Alcoholism recovery is holistic, not spiritual.
Now before you get all upset about this little fact, realize for a moment that the holistic approach INCLUDES spirituality. So we are not throwing out the idea of being spiritual, or of seeking a higher power. But what you need to realize is that this is not the only important thing in recovery.
Spirituality is one form of personal growth that a person could make in recovery. But there are other forms of growth as well. For example, there is your physical health. There is your emotional balance. Not to mention your social well being and connections with others. And so on. These concepts are really just the tip of the iceberg. What you would need to do is to actually go through your life on a regular basis and make sure that you are not neglecting entire categories of your health.
The holistic approach to recovery means “whole person.” You may be wondering, all of what? What does holistic really mean?
It means holistic health. All aspects of your health.
You can be spiritually healthy but physically ill. In fact, you can be spiritually fit but still die because of illness or disease.
So there are obviously more things to consider in recovery than just your spiritual condition.
Go back to my peer in recovery who relapsed.
At the time, he was doing very well from a spiritual standpoint, but he was not focusing on his physical health as much as he should have been. As a result he fell ill at some point and had to take pain medications. This tripped him up and sent him back to alcohol which was his real drug of choice. He did not think that the pain medication would cause this problem. And for some alcoholics, perhaps it will not. This is not the point (whether you take pain medication in recovery or not). The point is that your disease can find many different ways to sneak back into your life and trip you up. If you are not ready for it then you may find yourself relapsing without even knowing what went wrong, just like what happened to my friend.
So the question is, how do you prepare yourself for this problem? How do you prevent yourself from relapsing when your addiction has so many different avenues of attack and can be so cunning and tricky?
The answer lies in the holistic approach.
Think about it:
If you did not use a holistic approach to recovery then you would be leaving one of the many doors open for your addiction to sneak back in.
Physical health is just one example, but it is a very common one. In my 12+ years of recovery I have watched many recovering alcoholics end up relapsing because their health drove them to the relapse. It does not really seem like a threat when you are healthy in recovery but it is always a possibility. I have watched it happen over and over again.
So how could a person ever prevent this sort of relapse if they don’t know how it will manifest? The only way to do so is with a proactive approach.
So you take a look at your life in recovery and you decide what areas of your life need work. Maybe you have not been exercising lately. Or maybe you are still smoking cigarettes and you want to quit. Or perhaps you have a toxic relationship in your life which is really bringing you down. Or maybe you have not been connecting spiritually for a long time and you want to find a way to get that kick started again.
There are a million different ways that relapse can creep back into your life. There is no way that you could possibly predict and prevent each one individually. Instead, your goal should be to pursue personal growth in many different areas of your life so that you can defend yourself against the overall threat of relapse.
If you are very strong spiritually then this is a very good foundation. But in the end it is not enough. Seriously, consider this concept for a moment. I have been around the program long enough and I have lived (and worked) in treatment centers long enough that I can clearly see that spirituality alone is not enough.
Now we can also split hairs here and argue about the words themselves. For example, you might point out that my peer in recovery who relapsed could not have been very spiritual because if they were then they would have been taking better care of their body, and thus they would not have become sick (which led them to relapse).
But like I said, this is splitting hairs. If you want to say that the person needs a more holistic approach in order to be more spiritual, then fine. You can say it that way. But ultimately it is critical that the recovering alcoholic has a holistic approach or they are leaving the door open for relapse to creep back into their life.
Just being spiritual is not enough. You have to take care of your whole self, all of your aspects of health. If you neglect one area for too long then that is how relapse will creep back into your life.
Why the holistic approach must be an ongoing process in your life
You would think that if you just used this holistic approach for a while then you would be cured and you could then go on about your life without having to think about alcoholism and recovery any more.
Unfortunately it does not work like that. Or perhaps it is fortunate that it does because within this need to keep engaging with holistic growth is a tremendous gift.
Not only do you have to keep pursuing personal growth, but you also get to keep growing and learning as a result. This makes recovery an amazing adventure rather than a boring and tedious journey.
Every day in recovery you wake up and you get to make decisions. You get to take action. In fact, you have to take action, even if that action is to basically just do nothing remarkable and keep jumping through the hoops that are laid out for you.
Over time the decisions that you make in your life will take you somewhere. Where they take you is based on the decisions that you make and how consistently you make them.
If you take positive action every day and you keep pushing yourself to improve your health (holistically, meaning in all areas of your life) then you will remain sober and your happiness and joy will only increase over time.
On the other hand if you wake up and make the decision to just sort of coast along and not really push yourself to learn or to grow at all, then something will happen.
It will not happen quickly.
It will happen slowly, over time.
And it will happen so slowly that you will not be able to see it as it is happening.
What is happening has a very important label. That label is “complacency.”
If you become complacent in recovery then it means that you have stopped learning and stopped growing.
At that point you will be in danger of relapse. It may not happen next week or next month or even next year, but eventually it will happen if you do not “get your mojo back.”
And how do you do that?
You start taking action again.
You start pushing yourself again.
You start learning new things about yourself again. Exploring new layers of self-honesty. Really figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. And making a plan to reinvent yourself and become the person that you were meant to be.
What habits could you form today that would produce the sort of life that you want to life in 5 years? In 10 years?
We become what we do every day.
How could any alcoholic look back at their life and not see the truth in this?
It is not as if we do not realize how we are slowly self destructing. Every alcoholic and drug addict realizes in the back of their mind what they are doing to themselves. Sure, we deny it all on the surface. But eventually we admit to our innermost self that we are slowly self destructing and that we are on a crash course with reality. At some point in the future we will end up in jail, in the hospital, or worse. Deep down we know this even though we try to turn away from it out of fear. Instead we just continue to self medicate.
If continued addiction has the power to wreck our lives, then continuous recovery has the power to rebuild it.
I never used to believe that when I was stuck in addiction. My problem was that I did not think that recovery applied to me. I thought that I was unique and that I was not able to go to treatment and get sober. I loved alcohol too much. These are the lies that I told myself, anyway. It was easier to stay in denial than it was to face reality and try to work hard in order to change it. So I stayed stuck for a long time.
Once I finally got into recovery I realized that if I was going to get what I wanted out of sobriety, I was going to have to create it for myself.
If you do not create the reality that you want in your recovery, then what do you think is going to happen?
Someone else will create that reality for you.
People are all too happy to tell you what to do in your life. They will tell you exactly what you should do and your life will not really be your own.
The only way to overcome this limitation is to create your own path in recovery. To decide what it is that you want out of life and then set out on a plan to get it. If you design your own outcome then at least you can own it and be happy with your choices. Maybe you will change course after you realize that things are not quite what you expected, but at least you will be at least somewhat in control.
If you just do as you are told in recovery then eventually you will be depending on other people for your happiness. You will not be able to create your own joy because no one ever told you to figure out how to do that.
I am telling you now:
Go figure out how to do that.
If you are drinking or using drugs every day and you are unhappy, you obviously need to make a change.
But sitting in meetings every day for the rest of your life may or may not make you happy either. I am not judging here, I am just saying that the default path in recovery did not make me happy. So I had to find another path. I had to create my own path in recovery in order to get the life that I really wanted in recovery.
What I wanted was a path of personal growth.
And the foundation of this path is positive action. Every day.
And when you take action every day, we have a label for that as well. We call those actions habits.
So you need to get some positive habits in recovery. After all, what is recovery if not change? You need to make changes in order to build a new life, and if you make those changes consistently then you will be practicing new habits in your life.
In order to do this successfully you need to consider the holistic approach.
Start with abstinence from alcohol and other drugs. From there it is likely that you will be guided towards spiritual growth. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it does not stop there. You need to go beyond spiritual growth and experience other forms of learning and growth in your life.
For example, if you go to rehab and get detoxed and they teach you all about spirituality, you have a foundation now. In order to expand that foundation I would urge you to start looking at growth in these other areas as well:
1) Physical health, including nutrition, fitness, quitting smoking, etc.
2) Emotional health and stability. You don’t want to be a basket case in recovery. You want to be stable and trending towards happiness. If you need help with this then seek out a therapist or counselor who can help guide you. Your emotional stability is extremely important to your recovery.
3) Social health. Number one on this list is the elimination of toxic relationships. You may want to hang around with some people in recovery who are already getting the kind of results that you want. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” etc. Reach out and connect with others.
4) Spirituality. This is a huge can of worms but I would argue that if all you did for spiritual health was to master the art of gratitude then you would be way ahead of the game. Most people who are “spiritual” are not always masters at being grateful. Obviously this is not a contest but if you are truly grateful in your life and you know how to keep this as your prevailing attitude then that goes a long way in helping you to prevent relapse. There are other aspects of spirituality but if you miss out on gratitude then you have missed the whole boat in my opinion (and my experience).
5) Other aspects of health – this is undefined. Some people may need to work on their mental health. Some people may want to focus on education. Others may need to lower their stress. Or maybe your financial health is driving you back towards relapse. Any aspect of your health that you can neglect or ignore has the potential to trip you up in the future.
If you don’t know what aspects of your health that you need to work on then I suggest that you talk to your peers in recovery and ask them.
They will tell you.
No, really. They will!
Finding the daily practice by taking suggestions from other people
You can create your daily practice in life by talking to other people and learning from them.
Not everything that you learn or hear from others will help you. This is why you must take in lots of advice, practice what you are taught, and then evaluate your results.
If enough people are telling you to do the same thing then you should give that more weight than if one person gives you a random suggestion. If you keep hearing the same suggestion over and over again then you might want to take a look at it.
This is how you go about building a new life in recovery. You cannot rely only on your own ideas (or even any of them, at least at first!) because you do not have all of the answers. Instead you must look outside of yourself in order to get new information and new ideas.
One powerful example of this in my own recovery had to do with exercise. I kept hearing this suggestion over the years and yet I sort of ignored it for a while. Eventually I could not keep ignoring it because too many people had pushed me towards the idea. In the end I took the suggestion and it made a hugely positive impact on my recovery.
There are also examples of suggestions and feedback from others that did not work out. For example, meditation. I tried it for a while and eventually gave up on it (ultimately I found exercise to be more powerful in terms of meditating). But, no big deal. I tried the suggestion, gave it my best, then I moved on. There is always something more out there to learn if you are willing to listen to others.