After you leave addiction treatment, you have a monumental task in front of you:
You have to build a new life for yourself.
Obviously, this new life is going to be quite different from your old life. You can no longer depend on drugs and alcohol to solve your problems or medicate your feelings. Old patterns of behavior will need to be radically changed. How you spend your time and money will change. Who you associate with may change drastically. And so on.
The challenge lies in the fact that we need to make big changes in nearly every area of our lives.
Thus, we are actually using a holistic approach to our recovery, in that we are attempting to treat our “whole” self, in every area of our lives.
There is no need to get overwhelmed by this idea, however. The holistic approach, while comprehensive, is also fairly simple to implement.
There is a strategy for which changes you should tackle first in your life, and what parts of your life should take priority.
Let’s dive in and find how exactly how to go about implementing this holistic approach.
Prioritizing your major life changes in recovery
For the sake of simplicity let’s break the idea of “major life changes” down into two categories:
1) Elimination of bad habits or negative elements from our lives.
2) The pursuit of a positive goal.
Those are the two “lenses” through which we want to view our potential growth in recovery.
Of those two categories, the first one is more powerful in bringing about greater impact, and should be our main priority.
This is because the negative things in our lives that are the source of displeasure and pain are far more detrimental than we think.
If we are unhappy, it is not for lack of positive goals….instead, it is because we have negative aspects or habits in our lives that drag us down.
Therefore, the priority is to fix the bad stuff BEFORE we tackle the “good stuff.”
For example, say that you are an alcoholic and you drink heavily and this has a negative effect on your life. You also have a lifelong dream of something like, say, teaching music or something.
So which of these two things is the priority? Well, you could easily keep drinking while pursuing your goal of teaching, and you may even achieve that goal and find some satisfaction in doing so.
But realize that your happiness will always be clouded and held back because of the negative thing in your life, the alcoholism. You can chase positive goals and you can even achieve things, but those will be hollow victories if you have this other big negative thing in your life that is holding you back.
The solution is to fix the negative things FIRST.
So this is basic self assessment stuff:
“What in my life is holding me back?”
“What in my life is keeping me from experiencing true happiness and joy?”
“What in my life is causing me to get down on myself or even to hate myself?”
“What in my life is slowly hurting me or killing me?”
“What in my life is putting distance between myself and others?”
“What in my life causes me to isolate?”
And so on.
The answer to any of those questions are the things that you need to fix.
Not only that, but the answers to those questions are urgent emergencies, and fixing them should become your number one priority in life.
So this is how to prioritize holistic growth in recovery. You start with the negative things in your life, and concentrate all of your efforts on fixing the worst of those things. Start with that. Once you master a change and fix a negative, move on and tackle your next major problem area in your life.
Keep fixing problem areas and negative habits in your life until you have conquered them all.
It then that you should move on and allow yourself to pursue your dreams and chase after the positive things in life that you want to achieve.
Many addicts and alcoholics have lived their entire lives the opposite of this, chasing after “the good stuff” without ever bothering to fix the problem areas in their lives. Living that way results in constant disappointment, over and over again, because you will always have something holding you back.
Find your biggest problem area of your life, and focus all of your energy on it until it is fixed. Rinse and repeat.
If this was your only strategy in addiction recovery, you would build an amazing life for yourself just using this simple approach.
Tackling one major goal at a time with extreme focus and discipline
The holistic approach to addiction recovery can be a little tricky.
On the one hand, we want to make several changes in our lives, and in fact our goal in recovery is to “change everything.”
On the other hand, we want to focus our efforts enough so that we can actually succeed in bringing about real change.
So how can we balance this approach? How can we truly use a holistic approach to recovery that seeks to make lots of changes in various areas of our lives, while at the same time being focused enough to actually make an impact?
The answer is simple, elegant, and powerful:
Make one change at a time.
That’s right–instead of trying to overwhelm yourself by making dozens of major life changes all at once, simply use a focused approach that seeks to master one change at a time.
Remember how most people are going to be starting their journey in recovery–by focusing on the negative aspects of their lives, and seeking to improve or eliminate the negatives.
Simply prioritize these and take them one at a time.
For example, my first major life change was to simply maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol. This was my number one priority and it represented a single change to my life, the elimination of a single negative:
I had to stop drinking and drugging. Period.
So I locked in this change. It took me over a decade of struggle but I finally surrendered enough to my disease and asked for enough help to be able to make this change. I eliminated drugs and alcohol from my life.
At the time, this was the single most important change that I could make in terms of personal growth. No other single change could have had nearly as much impact on my life in terms of holistic health. Quitting drugs and alcohol was the big win for me at the time.
After I had locked in this change and was living clean and sober in recovery, what next?
My recovery had become stable. I had fixed my biggest “negative” in my life. This change had a tremendous impact on me, and the resulting change in my health, happiness, and well being was absolutely enormous.
So the next step was to do the process over again, with my next biggest negative.
For me, at the time, this happened to be cigarette addiction. I was still smoking on a daily basis, and I was not happy with this part of my life, and it affected me negatively in many different ways. I wanted to become a better runner, I wanted to lose the stigma of smoking, I wanted to stop smelling like smoke, I wanted the long term health benefits of being a non-smoker, and so on.
So this was a reassessment of my life. I looked at everything, and realized that there were still some negatives in my life, and the biggest of these negative things was my smoking.
If I was going to choose something in my life that needed fixing, the greatest impact would come from fixing the nicotine addiction.
So that was my next big step in recovery, the next big change that would have the greatest impact for me.
And so I attempted to eliminate this problem from my life, and in doing so, I learned a great deal.
I am glad that it was so difficult to quit smoking cigarettes. Because it was extremely challenging to do so, I actually learned a lot more than I would have if the goal had been a really easy one.
So I tried and failed several times to quit smoking. I am glad that I failed so much. It was through these failures that I learned about how to actually achieve a goal in life, not just how to quit smoking cigarettes, but how to actually chase a really tough goal and master it.
It was not just that I conquered cigarette addiction. It was that I learned how to learn. I learned about the process of mastering a new goal itself.
The biggest lesson from this was the idea of focus. You hear about this with addiction recovery as well. If you want to achieve a goal and it is really challenging, then you need extreme focus. Don’t just say “I really want to quit smoking.” That is not enough….nowhere near enough.
Instead, say “I am going to dedicate my life to becoming an ex-smoker. That is my number one priority for right now, above all else.”
In the past, I had thought that I understood what it meant to really focus on a goal.
In the past, I had thought that I understood what it meant to dedicate yourself and your life to the pursuit of something.
I was wrong.
I had grossly underestimated what “true dedication” to a goal really was.
When I finally quit smoking cigarettes, I was able to look back and realize “exactly what it took.”
And it was this revelation that taught me that I could achieve ANY goal in my life, so long as I was willing to use this extreme focus, this extreme dedication. I had finally learned what it meant to get really focused on something and do whatever it takes to achieve it.
For some reason, I had not learned that lesson in getting clean and sober. Perhaps I had been too close to the recovery process, too involved to realize that I was setting and achieving goals. For me, surrender was something that just happened, not something that I chose.
But with quitting cigarettes, this was a type of surrender and achievement that I had organized myself. I set out to reach this goal, and then I followed through with it. It took me over a decade to actually get clean and sober, and it was the greatest struggle of my lifetime, but I think it was actually harder for me to quit cigarettes. The reason that it was “harder” was because with the cigarettes, it was my goal, it was by my design, and it was something that I deliberately set out to do. Surrender to drugs and alcohol was not that intentional (though it was a long time coming).
So our two part approach to holistic growth in recovery thus far is this:
1) List out the negative things or bad habits in your life that drag you down, hold you back, isolate you from others, etc.
2) Choose the highest-impact negative habit to eliminate first, and then dedicate your entire life to meeting this challenge.
Allowing yourself to dream a little: What do you want to accomplish?
After you have been in addiction recovery for a while, hopefully you will have had some time to assess your life and eliminate some of the negative stuff.
The biggest gains in recovery come from fixing bad habits and eliminating negative behaviors. But there is also something to be said for chasing your dreams in recovery. If you never get to this point, then what is the point, right?
We don’t want to just avoid negatives in recovery, we want to pursue something real and positive in our lives.
So how do we go about doing that, and what is the appropriate timing?
In my opinion, you start allowing yourself to dream and chase positive goals AFTER you have eliminated the negative forces in your life. If you try to create your dreams with the negative stuff going on, you are setting yourself up for a roller coaster of disappointment in your life. Better to smooth out the bad parts first and get to a baseline of sanity and contentment.
So the timing is simple: chase your dreams after you have fixed the negative elements of your life.
As for prioritizing your “dreams,” I would suggest that you do so based on the health benefits (which can be tricky to weigh).
For example, you may have an exercise goal, and a travel goal, and maybe something else that you want to learn about in your life. My tendency is to give priority to the goals in my life which benefit my overall health. But there is also something to be said for balance, and the idea that you can seek health in various areas of your life, including spiritual, mental, social, and so on.
Use the confidence that you gain from fixing your addiction to spur you on to reach your goals. You should realize by now that extreme focus and discipline in chasing a single goal should result in success for you. In short, you should realize that you can achieve whatever you want to in life, and it is all a matter of simple priorities. Some goals are going to be harder to achieve than others, but if you have achieved stable recovery then you know what kind of focus and discipline is required. Simply apply the same level of focus to any new goal in your life that you used to achieve sobriety and you should have no problem achieving success.
Thus you can “learn how to learn” by using your success in recovery as a platform to reach new goals in your life. Whatever you want to achieve is within reach, because you already know how to master a very difficult challenge.
Creating self esteem with the holistic approach to recovery
This holistic approach to life in recovery is very goal oriented. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, it is simply a way to phrase our intentions, and to think consciously about what we want in our life.
“These aspects of my life are negative, and I wish to eliminate them.” That is goal setting in action.
“This is what I hope to achieve in the future, and here is how I intend to make it happen.” More goal setting.
There is nothing wrong with having and setting goals like this, even if you experience some setbacks or failures along the way. I struggled for many years with my goal of quitting smoking in recovery, but the failures did not affect me negatively or anything. I simply had to keep trying until I finally succeeded. There is no point in arguing against the idea of that goal, or saying that I should have given up with the struggle, or anything like that. It was a very worthy and important goal and I am glad that I kept on struggling until I finally made it work.
In the same way, your own goals and struggles should be important to you, too. If they are not, then you need to get a new goal. Whatever you are pushing yourself to achieve in life should be a major goal, something that will have a real impact if you achieve it.
This is basically goal oriented living. You set a goal, work hard to achieve it, then set another goal. Is there a better way to live your life? Perhaps, but this type of living is certainly not bad, and for the most part it is a much better way to live than what most people are used to.
One huge benefit of this sort of approach is that your self esteem is constantly rising. When you fail to meet a goal, you shrug it off and redouble your efforts–no big deal. But when you meet and achieve a new goal, your self esteem gets a permanent boost–an increase that no one or nothing can ever take away from you.
Progress is incremental, but it is consistent, and it accumulates over time. Each new success that you achieve in recovery is “locked in.” Each positive change that you make helps to build more healthy self esteem for you. And each new goal that you achieve should give you more confidence to tackle even greater projects in your life.
Building a life in recovery
The idea of “building” your life in recovery is more than just trying to do the next right thing or making positive changes.
Instead, you are making deliberate positive changes based on continuous self assessment.
Each new goal is set deliberately and decided on with careful thought and planning. You do not commit easily to any new change, because you fully understand what that change will entail. You do not take such things lightly, because you know full well how much focus and dedication may be involved in reaching each new goal.
So recovery becomes a series of positive changes, each one a new goal that is decided on, pursued, and then achieved and locked in for life. Self esteem builds slowly over time along with the confidence to set new and more challenging goals.
Thus, your new life is pieced together, one positive challenge at a time, all based on the strength that you gained in achieving sobriety.
If you can get clean and sober, surely you can achieve other goals, right?
Use this idea as a springboard to set your next great challenge for yourself in recovery.
What change would have the greatest impact on your life today?
What is your next most important goal that you need to set and achieve?
This is how to build a new life in recovery using a holistic approach.
One goal at a time, with extreme focus. Lock in each change and move on to your next challenge.
Live, learn, grow.
Rinse and repeat.