Sobriety is fueled by holistic health.
It is not enough to just stop drinking or taking addictive drugs. More than that is needed for successful sobriety.
The question, therefore, becomes: “How much more is needed? How hard do you have to push yourself in recovery in order to be successful?”
There is an old joke in the program of AA about going to meetings. The joke is essentially: “If you want to know how often you should attend meetings, just keep cutting them down a little bit at a time until you relapse!”
While I don’t necessarily believe that AA meeting attendance should be your salvation in recovery, I think that the idea presented in this joke is still very helpful….and is a warning of sorts that should be heeded.
But the measuring stick does not necessarily have to be attending AA meetings. It can instead be personal growth.
Relapse prevention is all about personal growth.
The direction of that personal growth is along the lines of holistic health.
When we make changes in our lives along our recovery journey, the question that we might ask ourselves is:
“Does this particular change make me healthier in my recovery in any way? Or does it detract from my health?”
These are the questions that should help to define your actions in recovery. This should be a defining question that helps to guide your recovery process.
In the case of holistic health, we are not just talking about doing yoga on Tuesday nights and eating organic vegetables.
Holistic health is about much more than that.
Personal growth along holistic health lines
If you stop taking care of yourself in recovery then eventually you will relapse. This is just how it goes. A deterioration of your health in any critical area will eventually cause you to go back to drinking or drugs.
What are these critical areas then?
The basic ones are the various areas of your overall health: Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. There are also many derivatives (such as financial health) but these five are the big ones. If you are seriously neglecting one of these areas of your health then it can definitely compromise your efforts in recovery.
What you want to do then is to grow along lines of holistic health. In traditional recovery they actually use a different approach, and it is important to take note of this. In traditional programs such as AA and NA they suggest that you ignore four of these areas and focus exclusively on your spiritual health.
This is a definite difference in the two approaches. In traditional recovery the focus is entirely on spiritual growth. Perhaps this is why you might see people smoking cigarettes at AA meetings even after several years of sobriety.
On the other hand, a holistic approach does not just stop at the idea of spiritual growth. It goes far beyond that and also considers other areas of your health. The idea here is that these other areas of your health are critical for the recovery process. In other words, traditional recovery believes that the entire solution is spiritual, while holistic recovery believes that the solution is much bigger than that.
I personally noticed this problem when I was living in long term recovery during my first two years of sobriety. Something seemed a bit off about the traditional approach and later on I could look back and realize what it was that I had slowly discovered. What I had discovered was that the traditional approach to recovery ignored holistic health, and that it was narrowly focused on spirituality instead.
This worked for some people that I knew in the 12 step program but it definitely did not work for everyone. In fact I watched many people relapse who were in traditional programs and I later realized it was because they did not have this holistic approach going for them. They were concentrating so hard on the spiritual side of the program that they were neglecting things like their physical health, their emotional stability, and so on. If you neglect your holistic health in recovery then it opens the door for a potential relapse.
In other words, the spiritual malady that traditional recovery attempts to treat so thoroughly is just one of the many back doors that relapse can sneak back into your life through.
But there are other back doors.
One of them is emotional health. I watched this in long term rehab because so many of my peers relapsed over a failed relationship. They relapsed emotionally before they relapsed physically. And their spiritual focus in recovery was (apparently) not enough to save them at the time. I watched this happen with more than a dozen of my peers in the first year alone. It was really an eye opener for me.
Another one of these back doors through which relapse can attack you is via your physical health. I have had several of my peers pass away in recovery due to poor health. What good is sobriety if you are not around to enjoy it? I have had more than one friend in recovery who died young because they got sober but then they failed to quit smoking, get fit, lose weight, and so on. Or they would suffer an illness or injury because they were not taking good care of themselves and this led them back to medications and eventually to their drug of choice. Physical health is much more important to sobriety than most people realize. Fitness, nutrition, sleep habits–these things all make a substantial difference in the long run. Yet traditional recovery programs largely ignore all of this and tell you to focus on spirituality instead.
Mental health is a huge can of worms and we could probably write several books about this topic alone. Needless to say, untreated mental health issues can seriously compromise an alcoholic’s attempts at sobriety in a big way.
Social health is another big issue for people in recovery. If you are isolating or surrounded by toxic relationships then you don’t have much of a chance at lasting sobriety. Your social health is important unto itself and it also feeds into the health of many of these other areas as well.
Your recovery is not one dimensional, as they might have you believe in many traditional recovery programs. It would be nice if you could just focus on one tiny sliver of recovery (such as spiritual growth) but this is not the path to strength.
In long term recovery you have to do more than that. Just getting sober and then chasing spiritual growth is–in my opinion and experience–not enough. You have to do more than that.
Now, some people get sober and they dive into spiritual growth and then they also start to take care of themselves in these other ways as I have outlined above–for example, by getting into shape and eliminating toxic relationships in their lives. And sometimes those people give all of the credit to the idea of spiritual growth, when in fact they are on a much more holistic path.
Are you treating yourself as a “whole person,” (holistic growth), or are you just treating the spiritual malady? If you have been successful in long term sobriety then I would wager that you are actually using a more holistic approach, rather than a strictly spiritual approach.
What is recovery if not greater health?
Think about your decision to get sober.
Why do you seek sobriety?
Why stop drinking at all?
If you think about such questions for long enough, you will realize that the answer has to do with your health. Your life. You don’t want to die from drinking. You want to live. And you want to be happier.
So this is really a choice for better health.
There is a hidden assumption underneath the decision to stop drinking. That assumption is that you want to continue to live, that you want to be healthier, and that you want to be happier.
Any other reasons for quitting are going to be derived from those core ideas. Choose life, choose health, choose happiness. Or you can be miserable and continue to drink.
When you enter into recovery you immediately stop drinking alcohol and putting the poison into your system.
Are you instantly happy? Most people would say “no,” they are not instantly happy. I certainly wasn’t.
It took time for me to achieve real happiness in recovery. How much time?
That is a difficult question to answer. First of all, I checked into rehab and I thought that I would be miserable forever. Within the first week of my sobriety I was laughing a few times each day with my peers in rehab and things were already better than I thought they would be.
Within the first six months of my recovery I witnessed a miracle. Not only was I much happier than I ever thought I would be, but I also went an entire day without ever thinking about drugs or alcohol. Seriously, this was within the first six months of my sobriety! Not one single craving or thought of drinking throughout an entire day.
This was a miracle. And it happened so quickly.
Do you know what the secret of happiness is in early sobriety?
It is not getting what you want. We alcoholics got what we want many times in our lives, and that did not necessarily make us happy.
No, the secret of happiness in early recovery is to eliminate misery.
This is a very counter-intuitive concept.
We are always taught the opposite of this in life, aren’t we?
We are always told to chase our dreams. To find what makes us happy and to go after it.
But that doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work for alcoholics and drug addicts!
Shoot, if I had got everything that I wanted in life it would have killed me for sure! An old joke, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. I am lucky that I was denied most of my desires in my addiction.
No, in early recovery, you need to focus not on chasing happiness, but instead on eliminating misery.
You can do this by adopting a holistic approach to recovery.
When you strive for holistic health you are also striving for balance in your life.
And when you are balanced you will be happier. Much happier.
The way to do this is by listening to what your life is telling you. Maybe you can sit and do quiet meditation in order to get a better grasp on this. Or perhaps you can get feedback from others in your life who are there to help guide you in your recovery. But the key is that you need to find out if you are neglecting any of these critical areas of your health.
Maybe at one time in your recovery you will be isolating a bit. At that time you need to recognize this and somehow correct it, pull yourself out of that isolation. Get around other people who are positive, others who are in recovery, others who would encourage you to take positive action.
At another time in your recovery you may notice that you are letting your physical health slide. Maybe you stopped exercising, or you picked up the nicotine habit again after quitting. Whatever the case may be, you need to be conscious of that deficiency and take action to correct it.
In order to prevent relapse in long term sobriety you need to be vigilant about these different areas of your health. This is what it means to have a holistic approach to recovery. Because relapse is sneaky and it can creep back into your life via any of these five categories of your health (physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual).
The method of personal growth in your life needs a theme. That theme is your overall health
Holistic health is the theme of your recovery.
Personal growth is the direction. If you do a complete turn-around from the direction of personal growth you will be staring relapse in the face. Personal growth and relapse are polar opposites.
But the theme of that growth is your health. Everything that you do should be positive action.
And how do you define “positive action?” What makes it positive rather than negative?
If you isolate in your home for a week straight and never talk to anyone or reach out at all, that is not positive action. You judge this based on the fact that isolating for a week straight seriously impairs your social health. You become a less healthy person because of the isolation.
Every action that you take in your recovery (or lack of action) can be ranked this way in your mind. Is it helping my recovery, or is it hurting my recovery?
Complacency is the end of personal growth
If you ever decide to get lazy in your recovery effort then the end result of that will be complacency.
The outcome of complacency will be a decline in your overall health. This could come in from any direction, which is why you need to stay vigilant.
One of the 12 steps of AA is a “continuous inventory,” sort of like a daily review. This is a very useful concept in that you need to keep looking at your life in order to catch any potential problems that might be sneaking in.
There is a fine line in recovery between acceptance of self and personal growth. If you accept yourself completely and you don’t want to change anything then I would say that you are in danger of relapse. Anyone who is at that point is probably setting themselves up for failure.
You are going to need to push yourself to keep seeking, to keep searching, to keep looking for the next positive change that needs to be made in your life.
When we are complacent we don’t feel good inside. We don’t feel happy. We may feel comfortable, but we are not growing. We are not excited about making positive changes.
The solution to this is that you need to evaluate your life, raise your awareness, and find the trouble spots. Remember how I mentioned that you cannot be happy by chasing after happiness and what you want? That always ends in disappointment.
Instead, look to see where the misery in your life is coming from. Or perhaps you have been sober for a while and you have eliminated the major sources of misery, but there might still be some negative stuff that creeps in from time to time.
It is impossible not to have something negative in your life to work on. Everyone has opportunities like this for things that they could fix. Things that could potentially be better.
Something in your life that, if you were to take action and fix it, would relieve some amount of stress, heartache, or frustration.
Those are the things that you cannot allow yourself to get complacent about.
The solution in recovery is to raise your awareness enough so that you can identify those issues. Then you can take positive action and build a bit more happiness into your life by avoiding that particular “pocket of misery.”
And when you do this over and over, in all of these different areas of your life, you begin to build this protective moat around your recovery castle. Fixing the negative stuff is how we prevent relapse. But you have to keep doing it over and over again. You have to keep reinventing yourself on a regular basis.
Greater health in all areas of your life protects you from relapse
The ultimate form of relapse prevention is personal growth.
The best way to be protected from relapse is to be excited about the positive changes that you are currently making.
It is not enough to simply stop drinking and expect for that to be enough to motivate you.
It has to be more than that. Stop drinking, then start listening to others and taking advice from them. Start making positive changes in your life based on their suggestions.
The holistic approach means that you start to consider yourself as a “whole person” in recovery, not just as a spiritual being.
Therefore you will start to make positive changes in all of these different areas of your health (not just the spiritual area).
This will bring balance to your life and you will realize that there are many important aspects of your sobriety.
For example, before I became sober, I never would have guessed that relationships were an important part of recovery. I never would have dreamed that relationships could have such an impact on a person’s sobriety (both positive and negative impacts!).
Boy, was I in for a shock. Recovery has a lot to do with relationships, and they can affect so many different parts of your overall health. It is not just the social aspect, and it also goes far beyond the emotional plane as well.
And so it is with many things in the recovery journey. You may not think that your physical health, for example, could affect your emotional state. Or you may not realize that your mental health has an impact on the other areas of your health. And so on.
All of these five areas of your health work together to create a greater whole. And that greater whole is really YOU. So if one area of your health is compromised then it can have a seriously negative impact on your overall success in recovery.
It is an unfortunate truth that one little stumbling block in your recovery journey can lead to a full blown relapse.
Therefore you must protect yourself in every possible way. And the only way to do that is with a holistic approach.
What about you, have you used a holistic approach to your health in recovery? Has it made a difference for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!