Here is a quote from “There is a solution” from the Big Book of AA:
“We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed. The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe.”
In AA the solution is to have a spiritual experience, one that is able to bring about a sufficient change in personality.
My solution is different but I would argue that it still leads to the same outcome (being rocketed into the fourth dimension of existence).
Holistic rather than spiritual
My approach to recovery is not just one of spiritual growth. To be honest, I actually tried for a long time to make this work in my own life, to pursue a strictly spiritual path in recovery, and I spoke with many different people to try to find this path and make it work for me. In the end I could not do it. I could not base my entire recovery simply on “spiritual growth.” It was not enough. It was not working for me. It may have continued to work for a while, but something was lacking for me and I could not really put my finger on it. I suppose it was a lack of growth in other areas of my life–focusing completely on spiritual growth rather than looking at the whole picture.
Personal growth includes other areas where you can learn and grow, such as physical well being, relationships, education, financial health, and so on. The path is diverse and growth can be had in many different ways.
Some people would stop me here and try to argue that a strictly spiritual path covers all of those topics, and more. They would argue that if you stick to a path of spiritual growth then all of these other things will magically fall into place.
I disagree. This was not what I experienced during my first 18 months of recovery when I was trying so incredibly hard to make the spiritual path of AA work for me. For example, no one in AA told me that I should go exercise every day as part of my journey in recovery. Yet this turned out to be a huge cornerstone of my recovery and really is part of the foundation of how I remain sober. And yet no one at the 500+ meetings that I attended ever said to me “You know, you should really go exercise and see if that helps you.” Instead they all focused on the topic at hand, which was working the steps and bringing about a spiritual experience.
I am not necessarily knocking the approach of AA, because I know that it works for some people. But it does not work for everyone, and I could see that it was not going to work out for me in the long run. There was something missing, and that was the push for personal growth–in a holistic sense.
The 12 step program was too narrowly focused to make sense to me. Why was spiritual growth held in such high esteem at the expense of things like physical fitness? It did not make sense to me. Spirituality is one part of a greater holistic approach, an approach that includes things such as:
* Physical health and fitness.
* Mental well being.
* Social health and reaching out to others.
* Emotional stability.
And so on. There is more than one area in which you might experience growth in your recovery journey. Why limit this to the spiritual realm?
Personal growth rather than religious conversion
At some point in my own recovery journey I had an epiphany: I realized that AA and NA were just a framework for personal growth to occur. The 12 steps were not magical by any means, but they could point a person in the right direction and result in some amount of growth.
So my epiphany was based on the fact that people could recover without the 12 step program. This was news to me, actually. Being in AA and NA for so long had “taught” me that no one could recover without coming to the program. I really believed for quite a while that AA was the only way that anyone ever recovered from addiction and alcoholism. I slowly began to realize in my research that this was not the case. For one thing, the 12 step program was actually quite young and had only been around for less than 100 years, yet alcoholism has existed for several thousand years. Was it really possible that no one had ever–in all of history–ever recovered from alcoholism or addiction? That seemed awfully unlikely to me.
So I did a bit of research and found that not only had people recovered without the 12 step program, but certain people were still doing so today! For example, there is a program of recovery called “Racing for Recovery” that is based only on exercise as a means of sobriety. Interesting, I thought. Probably not a complete philosophy of recovery but it is certainly working for some people, and is a valid path to rehabilitation. If it works for you then there is no arguing that.
At the time when I was thinking of leaving AA I also met certain individuals in online meetings and recovery forums that were not die hard 12 steppers. I met many people in fact who found ways to grow and thrive in recovery without clinging to a 12 step program as their solution.
This mounting evidence caused me to re-examine my focus on AA, and question if this was really the best path for me (was a one to two hour time investment in a meeting each day the best use of my time? What about for the rest of my life? etc.).
There is an idea in Zen philosophy about “the finger pointing at the moon.” It cautions about things in life that act as symbols, and the mistakes we can make in our perceptions. The story is that a teacher points up at the moon and asks the student “What is that?” And the student answers “that is the moon.” And the teacher says “no, that is a finger pointing at the moon!”
Now apply this lesson to AA and the idea of “recovery from addiction” and you have the basis of revelation. I realized that the 12 step program was not really the moon, it was just a finger pointing to the moon. AA does not have a claim on addiction recovery–it is just one framework that can point you in the direction of recovery. But it is not recovery itself. Just as a person pointing at the moon is not really the moon.
This was the basis of my revelation that I had around 18 months into my recovery. I realized that something was driving success in recovery, and it was not some magical properties within the 12 step program. It was something deeper, recovery was more fundamental than a 12 step path. It could be realized in another way. The 12 steps may work for some, but they are really just a finger pointing at the moon. They are not recovery itself.
At this point my theory was that personal growth was the foundation of all recovery–both in and out of AA. So I set out to try to achieve personal growth in my own life, without the framework of AA as the driver of this growth. I also expanded my “growth horizon” to go beyond just the spirituality category, to include other things like fitness, education, emotional health, etc.
This happened roughly ten years ago and I have not relapsed since. It may only be personal evidence of a holistic path but it is working for me. I have seen it work for others as well.
Increase in overall health rather than just spiritual fitness
When you ask yourself what you should be doing in order to strive for “personal growth,” what is it that you think of? One thing that you might consider is your overall health. This is where the idea of “holistic health” comes into play.
Obviously the decision to get clean and sober is a decision towards better health in your life. Many of your future decisions for growth should be an extension of this idea. This is why someone who has a few years into recovery might one day realize that they want to quit smoking cigarettes. This is a decision based on their health. The same thing might motivate someone in recovery to start exercising on a regular basis.
This is based on self esteem. The day that you first surrender and get clean and sober, you may not feel very good about yourself. This is normal. As you progress in recovery (and start making healthy decisions) you will start to feel better and better about yourself. You will start to value yourself and your life. As this happens you will want to make decisions that lead to greater health, simply because you value your life more and more. This is why self esteem is an important feedback loop that you should be “feeding” in recovery. Make progress, feel good about yourself, become motivated to make more healthy changes in your life. Rinse and repeat.
Before you start in recovery you do not have access to this powerful feedback loop at all. You feel bad about yourself, you may have a great deal of shame due to your addiction, and your self esteem is caught in this negative spiral. The only way to turn it around is to sober up and start making healthy decisions. This works both ways though, and if you can keep taking positive action and making new growth in your life then this is the key to “rocketing yourself into the fourth dimension.”
How to actually rocket yourself into the fourth dimension of existence
There are at least two paths that you can take in order to accomplish this:
1) You can follow the 12 step program of AA or NA as laid out in the basic text. By working the steps you may or may not get these results that are promised to you. The program certainly works for some people but not for all.
2) You can push yourself to pursue personal growth without the framework of AA as your catalyst. Instead your own motivation will be the catalyst and positive change will be your path.
Now if you choose the second path (as I did) then there is an order that you may want to be aware of. This is counter-intuitive so pay special attention to this little tidbit:
* You must eliminate the negative forces in your life before you chase your dreams.
Ever heard the phrase “one step forward and two steps back?” This is exactly what will happen to you if you ignore the advice given above.
I watched this happen all of the time during my early recovery journey. My peers would chase their positive goals when they had not yet established a foundation in recovery to begin with.
Let me use my own story to illustrate this. Before I got clean and sober my life was a mess and was spiraling out of control. Specifically, I was:
…..an alcoholic and a drug addict.
…..addicted to cigarettes and nicotine.
…..out of shape.
…..had dropped out of college.
Now I may have had some positive dreams in my mind but these 4 things were sort of holding me back. They were blocks to my personal growth that had to be dealt with before I could really enjoy the life I was supposed to be living.
I had to build a foundation in recovery and in order to do that I had to address these 4 problems that I had first and foremost. This was an “order of operations” problem. Before I could find true happiness in recovery I had to eliminate these negative problems from my life.
This is counter-intuitive because we are told that there is something out there that will make us happy and if we can just achieve that goal then everything else will fall into place (or that these other negative forces will suddenly not matter as much). This is a fantasy. The truth is that our lives are dominated by forces of misery that are negative. Now what do I mean by that?
Let’s say that you get clean and sober but you still smoke cigarettes. You keep smoking. Other things are going well and you push yourself to keep making positive changes but you still hang on to that cigarette habit. In the back of your mind you know that it is not healthy and not the right path for you but you don’t feel you have the strength to deal with it. So you keep smoking.
If this is the case then you are fighting against yourself. You take one step forward and then two back, and this has affects your overall happiness. Some people may be in a similar situation to this and not even realize it. They may have negative habits or forces in their life that they do not realize are holding them back.
Thus, one of the keys to rocketing yourself into that fourth dimension is that you have to build a foundation. You must eliminate all of the negative forces from your life so that nothing is “creating drag” and holding you back.
When I was in my first year of sobriety I was still smoking cigarettes and I was not yet exercising and I was definitely not rocketed into the fourth dimension yet! But I have come so far since then and I have addressed so many of these negative forces in my life and I have had some really amazing positive experiences happen to me as well. In essence I “cleared a path” in my life for the magic to be able to happen. I had to get out of my own way and clean up the bad habits that had rode in on the coat tails of my addiction.
Accumulating the benefits of continuous sobriety
Once you get to this point in your recovery, the sky is the limit. Suddenly you are no longer fighting against yourself and your life is now “in alignment.”
What do I mean by “alignment?”
What I mean is that your goals in life are not aligned well with each other. You are no longer fighting against yourself by, for example, smoking cigarettes while trying to also be as healthy as you can be in your recovery.
Sometimes our goals in life work together nicely, and sometimes they fight against each other because they are not well aligned. Part of the recovery process is figuring out what works for you and what does not. This is an alignment issue.
For example, not everyone will use exercise to the extent that I have done in my own recovery. Some people base their entire recovery program on the idea of exercise alone! Obviously this is not going to be true for every person. So what does this mean for you?
It means that it is your job and your responsibility to find goals that align well with your purpose in recovery. This is why they say “take what you need and leave the rest.” This is good advice and you should apply it to your entire life, not just to an AA meeting.
Suggestions and feedback become very powerful when you have this attitude of seeking alignment. Now you are testing new ideas in your life and only the most helpful ideas become permanent fixtures in your recovery. This is how exercise became such a core part of my recovery. It was really just one technique among many that I tried. Meditation did not really take off for me but distance running had a much greater effect. Therefore I discarded meditation and went with the running (since they seemed to achieve the same goals for me as far as mental and emotional stability).
Addiction is all about loss. You lose things and eventually you lose yourself completely to your drug of choice. It is a negative spiral of destruction and the only way to reverse it is with abstinence as your starting point.
Recovery is the opposite of this loss. You are gaining things in recovery. You are accumulating positive experiences. Everything you learn you get to keep and add to your total experiences. Thus, recovery is about accumulation. This is rather boring when you have 3 weeks sober (because you have not accumulated much yet) but it is exciting at 3 years sober and even more exciting at 12 years sober. When I compare a year of “progress” during my active addiction it was actually negative progress and my life was getting progressively worse. Then I consider what my first year of recovery was like and the growth that I made during that first year. Now I can compare that first year of sobriety to the year that I just lived through (my eleventh year) and I can see how this power of accumulation really works.
During my eleventh year of sobriety I have been making more positive growth, but now everything is “out of the way” for me. I am no longer fighting against myself in obvious ways and I have cleared out much of the negativity from my old life. The amount of positive changes and growth that I can make now is much greater than during my early recovery, because I still benefit from all of the previous changes. This is the power of accumulation. This is why people in long term recovery say “It just keeps getting better and better!” It really does, because you have locked in all of those previous positive changes that you made.