Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a holistic experience.
That is to say that the disease of addiction attacks your entire person. It is not a one dimensional disease. Alcoholism does not attack your spiritual side and leave the rest of your health unscathed. Instead, it destroys a person from the inside out, and affects their health in every way possible. Their relationships suffer (social health). Their physical health deteriorates (obviously). They begin to worship their drug of choice and therefore their spirituality is compromised. They learn to rely on their drug of choice in order to medicate their emotions and their feelings, so they become emotionally stunted. And mentally their health is compromised as well, as they make poor decisions and come up dry for new ideas about how to improve their situation.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are destroyers of health, but not just physical or spiritual health. They ruin the entire person in all possible ways.
And this is why the solution needs to be holistic. But the problem is that most current solutions only focus on one or maybe two aspects of our health, instead of all five as listed above.
One of the main drawbacks of traditional recovery, and why holistic recovery is the solution
Traditional recovery is based on spirituality. The entire premise of modern recovery is that an addiction is due to a spiritual malady, and if this spiritual imbalance can be corrected then the alcoholism or drug addiction can then be overcome.
And it works for some people, there is no doubt about that. Because anyone who is addicted to something definitely has a spiritual imbalance in their life. They are essentially worshiping their drug of choice and basing all of their decisions on this.
But the spiritual solution certainly does not work for everyone, and the problem of addiction is clearly bigger than this one-dimensional view. Everyone who is trying to recover from addiction is actually fighting several battles in terms of their overall health. We don’t just recover spiritually. We must also recover our physical, mental, social, and emotional health. If we fail to improve our lives in these other areas then it can lead us back to relapse. Why, then, does traditional recovery ignore these other four aspects of our health at the expense of spiritual growth? Why is physical health pushed to the side in favor of spirituality? Why are the other aspects largely ignored?
Obviously it is because this is what the founders of AA believed to be important. They believed that the solution was entirely spiritual, so that is what they focused on. And they were close enough to the truth that it basically works.
My own path in recovery has taught me that a holistic approach works even better. I have learned this mostly through observation and watching my peers in recovery who have relapsed. Each time I would dig as deeply as I could into the situation and ask “why did they relapse?” Sometimes people would even come back to recovery later and I could ask them directly what went wrong. So I started to piece together a solution. I started to figure out that if you are neglecting one of these five areas of your health then it can lead you to relapse.
The theme of your recovery should be holistic health
Your recovery should have a number of different goals and over time you will meet some of those goals and probably fail at reaching a few as well. But overall the theme of your recovery and of all of those goals should have to do with improving your overall health.
Your health is the currency of recovery. I have known several people in my recovery journey who neglected some aspect of their health and they are now gone. If you don’t have your health then you have nothing. In fact, sobriety is just one aspect of your overall health (though it is a very important one).
In recovery we seek to improve ourselves and our lives. If you are not improving yourself then it is very likely that you will relapse eventually. Why? Because relapse is your default state of being. It is normal for you to drink or use drugs. This is the default. This is normal for an addict or alcoholic. So if you do nothing in recovery, if you do not make positive changes and build momentum, then you will eventually revert back to your default state. You will go back to self medicating.
Therefore you must make changes. And in order to keep making changes you need to have goals. The theme of these goals should be that you want to improve your health in recovery. And not just your physical health, but also your mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health as well.
These are themes that you need to live out every day of your life. If you fail to pursue these sort of goals then you leave the door open for relapse in the future.
It is a bit like building a moat of protection around your recovery castle. If you don’t do any work on improving yourself and your health then you have not built a moat of defense against relapse. The only way to build this protection is to take positive action on a consistent basis.
People who are taking positive action and improving their health every day do not pick up a drink and suddenly relapse. We all know that the relapse starts long before you actually pick up the drink or the drug. So what kind of living puts you in a state of mind where you would even consider relapse? What has to happen before someone falls into this trap?
The person must stop growing. They have to lose self esteem. They have to stop caring about their health. They have stagnated in their growth. They are no longer pursuing better health every day. They have stopped caring about themselves and about others.
So this is what you have to avoid. This is what you must prevent. And you can do so by taking positive action in your life on a consistent basis. Success in recovery has a momentum all its own. You build on previous success and the rewards of recovery start to multiply and build on themselves. This is how you live in order to prevent relapse. You create a life that you are excited to be living, and make sure that you do not want to throw it all away on a relapse. But of course this takes a lot of work and effort in order to build this sort of life. It doesn’t just fall into your lap because you stopped drinking. You actually have to put in the effort to create this sort of change.
Relapse prevention should be proactive, not reactive
The old method of relapse prevention was a reactive strategy.
They told you to watch for triggers and cravings in your recovery. You were supposed to notice if you were suddenly craving a drink or a drug. Then you were supposed to react to this situation and take action in order to prevent a relapse. For example, they would suggest that you go to an AA meeting or call your sponsor. It was a reactive strategy. First you have the trigger, then you react to it and try to prevent relapse.
Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with noticing a trigger or reacting to it to try to prevent relapse. But if this is your only strategy for relapse prevention then I would say you could benefit greatly from the ideas presented here.
The better path is to blend this reactive approach with a proactive strategy of prevention. And this proactive strategy is what the holistic approach is all about.
If you are using the holistic approach then it will greatly reduce the threat of relapse and it will probably eliminate most cravings and triggers to begin with. So instead of reacting to triggers all the time we can prevent them from ever happening in the first place. But in order to do this we have to put in a whole lot of extra effort into our recovery.
Some people do not want to do this extra work. They would prefer to take the easiest path in their recovery and do the least amount of work possible. But keep in mind that this “extra work” is not just wasted energy. You actually get rewarded greatly for your efforts in trying to improve your life. Everything that you try to do is going to benefit you in a big way. We are simply striving to improve our life, our life situation, and our overall health. How can that not be a good thing?
Because the strategy is holistic it is not always apparent to the newcomer exactly how the strategy will prevent cravings and triggers. I don’t think you can really explain it fully because all of the different parts of the strategy are working together to create something new and unique. In other words, it is not just the fact that you are striving to improve your physical health by exercising every day. It is not just the fact that you have worked hard at improving your sleep habits and making them more consistent. It is not just the idea that you are striving for emotional balance in your life. It is not just the fact that you replaced a stressful job with a much more peaceful environment. It is not just the fact that you eliminated a toxic relationship from your life and found new supportive people to be around in recovery.
It is not just any of these things or the countless other examples that make up a more holistic approach to sobriety. It is all of them put together and the overall effect that they have on your life.
You can get a good idea of how your holistic approach is working by the negative feedback that you are noticing on a regular basis. If you notice fear, anger, frustration, or unhappiness through your day then you should take note of that in terms of future changes. We want to eliminate all of that stuff. Everything that is negative in our lives that is also under our control is something that threatens to take us back to relapse. If we can prevent the negativity and we fail to do so then we are just giving ourselves excuses to relapse in the future. In order to rise above this problem we need to take an honest look at our lives and find the problem areas that are under our control and can be corrected.
For example, you may have a problem with self pity in your early recovery. You suddenly realize that if you don’t overcome this problem that it will eventually lead you back to relapse. Feeling sorry for yourself is just an excuse to go get drunk or high.
Or maybe you realize that resentment and anger is destroying you from the inside.
Or maybe you realize that your job is stressing you out and was one of the main triggers for you to self medicate.
Or maybe you realize that a relationship in your life is toxic and pushes you to want to drink.
Everyone who is struggling to quit drinking or using drugs has negative problems in their life such as these. Not only that but we all have multiple challenges like this. Notice that some of the problems are internal and some of them are external. Some of them exist only in our minds (such as resentment or self pity) and some of them exist outside in the real world (such as a stressful job or a toxic relationship).
So we have to do so much more than just stop putting drugs and alcohol into our bodies. That is just the starting point. We have to embrace this holistic approach and look at our whole life and all of the different ways that our health is compromised. We have to evaluate our lives and find these problem areas. We have to find the negative stuff and identify it.
And then we have to take action. We have to start doing the work. We have to fix all of this negative stuff, because if we don’t, then it just creates future excuses for us to relapse.
Not only that, but when we force ourselves to do the hard work and fix all of these problems, guess what the end result is?
Peace. Contentment. A platform for real happiness to occur.
We often think that we have to chase after our happiness and grab it by the tail. This is almost never the case though. If we chase happiness it will remain elusive. The only way to really be happy in recovery is counter-intuitive. We have to eliminate the unhappiness.
Think about it. If you chase after happiness and you actually get it, will you still be happy even though you may have all of these other negative things in your life that are dragging you down and holding you back? Of course not. You won’t be happy because you haven’t fixed your life yet. You haven’t worked out all of the bugs. There are still these negative things that are holding you back from experiencing true peace and contentment.
This is what “doing the work” is all about in recovery. Anyone can stop drinking or using drugs in the short term. Anyone can stop temporarily. The question is, can you stop for a lifetime? Can you be happy with your life in sobriety? In order to achieve that goal you will need to put in some serious effort. And the work you need to do is all about this holistic approach. You must look at your whole life, every area of it, and find the weak points. Find the negativity. Find the problem areas. And then you have to make a goal and fix the problem. Rinse and repeat.
The need to reinvent yourself in recovery
What happens when you get clean and sober and then you get bored with your new found sobriety? If you are not careful it may lead to relapse.
The new experience of sobriety will not sustain itself without reinvention. You must continuously reinvent yourself in order to sustain your recovery.
Why is this necessary?
Mostly because the disease of addiction will keep looking for new ways to break back into your life. The disease wants you to relapse. It will keep looking for new ways to get you to do that.
There is no way that you can react to every problem. Part of your strategy must be proactive. Therefore you must pursue personal growth as part of your recovery strategy.
You have to keep reinventing yourself.
One way to do that is to seek advice and feedback from other people. Simply find people who are already successful in recovery from addiction and ask them for advice. Ask them what actions you should be taking in your life right now.
Then, when such people tell you what to do, go do it! Take action. Put their suggestions into action.
The results of this will be nothing short of amazing. Because what you are really doing is taking a shortcut to wisdom. You have found someone who is already successful in sobriety and you have stolen their best ideas and applied them to your own life.
No one wants to do this. No one wants to be told what to do or how to live. But this is the biggest secret of success in recovery. If you can push your ego aside for a year and simply take advice from others then your life will improve very rapidly.
And of course you are the final judge of your life and its actions. If a suggestion isn’t working for you then you can simply abandon the idea. But it is in taking the suggestions and at least trying them out that you will make tremendous growth. This is true even if you end up rejecting several ideas.
Health and growth are the foundation of success in long term sobriety
The foundation of long term sobriety is personal growth. The theme of that personal growth is to improve your overall health. This is the holistic approach to recovery from addiction.
One of the biggest threats in long term recovery is that of complacency.
What is complacency? It is when you stop growing. When you stop learning. When you stop taking positive action every day and taking new suggestions.
Complacency is stagnation. It is when the recovering alcoholic stalls in their growth.
What is the solution for this?
The solution is to have a daily practice. The solution is work towards a healthier life every single day, in all of these areas. This is why recovery is holistic. If you limit your growth to only one area of your life then you leave the door open to relapse.
What about you, have you found the holistic approach helpful in your own journey? Or have you focused entirely on spiritual growth? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!