One more fundamental principle in sobriety is that of personal growth and holistic health.
Actually, personal growth is the solution for long term sobriety and overcoming complacency.
Holistic health is simply the direction of that growth.
Recovery is personal growth at the core of it all
At the very heart of the matter, recovery is a journey of personal growth.
If we look at the overall picture, addiction was a path of destruction. Our lives got worse and worse with each passing day of our addictive behavior. We went further and further into the abyss when we self medicated every day. Addiction was dragging us down further and further and our lives got worse and worse as a result.
In recovery we experience the opposite of this. In recovery we abstain from drugs and alcohol, then we start to rebuild our lives with positive action. Every day we do more and more things that strengthen us, make us healthier, and lead us to greater peace and contentment. We are simply reversing all of the negative consequences of addiction.
After someone gets clean and sober they have a daily challenge. They can push forward in recovery and improve their lives further, or they can stagnate and fall back closer to relapse and their old life in addiction.
There is no in between!
This is a very important point so I am hoping that you will pause for a moment and really get a firm grasp on this concept. Many, many people in recovery do not understand this and it can eventually cost them their sobriety and even their life.
You don’t get to coast in recovery.
You don’t get to put your feet up and rest while in recovery.
You don’t have the luxury of believing that you have “figured it all out.”
You can’t just say: “Oh, I’ve been sober now for a few years, I’ve been going to these AA meetings, and I still go to them, but I don’t really have to push that hard any more in my recovery effort, I sort of have it all figured out now and if I just keep doing what I need to do (go to AA meetings, etc.) then I should be just fine.”
No, you don’t get to do that. If you take that attitude then you are inviting trouble. Relapse will creep back into your life and you are flirting with disaster. The moment that we believe we have recovery all figured out is the moment that relapse will find a chink in our armor.
We cannot afford to think this way. We cannot afford an attitude of complacency in recovery.
If you want evidence of this, go to AA meetings every day for a few years and start paying attention to the people who relapse. If they happen to come back to the meetings and admit to their relapse, listen carefully to what they say about their downfall. What went wrong? Listen to them.
They got complacent. They got lazy. They stopped taking action. They stopped doing the things that they needed to do to stay sober. They stopped learning. They stopped learning about themselves. They stopped pushing themselves to grow in their recovery.
They stopped learning and they stopped growing. This is poison for the recovering alcoholic. This is just as bad at 1 year sober as it is at ten years sober.
As recovering alcoholics, we don’t have the luxury of standing still. We don’t get to take a break from personal growth. Passive living doesn’t work and you need to get active in your personal growth.
Recovery is a choice for better health. What kind of health?
Let’s break this down another way.
Recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction is essentially a choice for better health.
This would be hard to debate. The struggling alcoholic is making a decision to quit drinking……why?
Because they want to live. Because they want to improve their life. Because they don’t want to die. Because they don’t want to keep hurting themselves and others.
The choice for recovery is a choice for better health.
The results of your recovery can be measured in terms of health.
Your health is the currency of recovery. Sobriety is the foundation for this health to blossom. Without sobriety, you can’t possibly make great strides in improving your health (if you are alcoholic, that is).
Now then, we have determined that health is the currency of recovery. What kinds of health?
The most obvious is your physical health. This is the primary reason that most people quit drinking to begin with.
Of course your relationships probably suffered due to your addiction. So your social health can stand to be improved by getting sober.
And there are other forms of health as well. Your spiritual condition is a huge factor as is evidenced by programs such as AA.
The point is, we are not just talking about one form of health. We are considering all of these types of health: Physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and social.
When you get clean and sober, you are making a choice to live a healthier life. Getting clean and sober is the foundation for this decision. It is the platform on which you build a healthier life.
But do you stop there? Do you just quit drinking and then be done with all changes?
Of course not. We know today that this doesn’t work anyway….the problem runs deeper than just mere abstinence. The drinking and drugs are but a symptom of our true disease.
Therefore, when we make the decision to live a sober life in recovery, we have to go beyond abstinence. We must consider all 5 of those areas of our health.
This is the holistic approach.
So when you get sober, you consider your relationships. You attempt to improve them. You eliminate toxic people from your life. You cultivate healthy relationships with others. And you build this area of your social health based on your new sobriety.
But you don’t just do this with your social health. You do it with all 5 areas of your health. This is the holistic approach.
There is an important reason for the holistic approach and having a balanced lifestyle. The reason is because you can get into trouble and potentially relapse if you do not take care of each and every area of your health in recovery.
Let me give you an example. I had a close friend in recovery once who was letting his physical health slide. It turned into a downward spiral and eventually he got sick and relapsed. Shortly after that he passed away. That is an extreme example, but I have also watched many people in recovery who ended up relapsing because they become physically ill or sick in some way. It definitely has an impact on our chances at recovery.
So if you are focusing only on spiritual growth, you might miss out on some of the holistic things that might prevent this sort of relapse: Daily exercise, good sleep habits, quitting smoking, healthy nutrition, and so on. Those things may not be super important by themselves, and they may not actually help the struggling alcoholic to sober up in the first place, but they can all have an impact on your success in long term recovery.
That is an important point as well so let me expand it a bit. In early recovery you need serious help and you need to focus on staying sober one day at a time. So you may go to rehab and dive into the spiritual solution and do everything that you can to hang on to one more day of sobriety. That is focus.
In long term sobriety the game changes a bit. Now you have learned the basics of sobriety and you no longer have to struggle every single day to stay sober. This is when the holistic approach becomes much more important. After ten years in sobriety, your life becomes the sum total of your actions and your decisions. Are you taking care of yourself every day? And in all five areas? If not, then eventually you can open the door to relapse. It is a tricky thing because it happens so slowly. Complacency must be dealt with using a proactive strategy, and that means you need to consider holistic health. You must take care of yourself every day, in all of those key areas. If you neglect your health in some way then it can leave you vulnerable to relapse.
Your decision to improve your life on a continuous basis
Recovery is more than just holistic health. It is really a decision and a commitment to improve your life on a continuous basis.
This is a rewarding way to live. It also is a way to help you stay sober. By fighting complacency with personal growth, you get the added benefit of avoiding relapse.
Progress builds self esteem. If you take positive action, learn something new about yourself, or help others in some way, then this builds up your self esteem. This helps to protect you from relapse.
Every day, you can do something to take positive action in your life. Every day is another opportunity for personal growth.
In my experience there are two main categories of potential growth in recovery. The first category you can think of as being “your life.” This is the internal stuff. This is the anger and the guilt and the resentment and the fear and the shame that you may be dealing with inside. You are probably not dealing with all of those things but every person is dealing with at least some of it. We all have our personal inner demons to deal with. And when you first get clean and sober it is all but certain that you have some unhealthy thought patterns running loose in your head.
So when someone says “I need to fix my life” there really are two meanings to that phrase. The first meaning is that they need to fix all of the internal stuff, the shame and the guilt and the anger and the fear. But the other meaning is to fix your life situation, which to me is all of the external stuff. This would be your job, your relationships, your daily triggers, the people who you spend time with or drink with, and so on. The stuff that you can touch and see and feel in life. That is the external stuff that needs to change. That is your “life situation.”
In recovery, we need to fix both of these things. We need to consider both the internal as well as the external. We need to work on the inner game of recovery, but we also need to pay attention to our life situation as well. Because the two things can interact a great deal. For example, maybe you have stressful job where there are a lot of bad influences on you. If you stay at that job in recovery then it will cause you to have lots of cravings in terms of relapse. Maybe it will cause anger and frustration as well. So the external problems are influencing the inner problems. Not good.
In order to succeed in recovery you have to address both of these battlefields. You have to take care of the internal issues as well as your life situation. Both are important in recovery.
I figured this out when I was in early recovery and I watched a number of people relapse. Most of these people were either focusing on one or the other, but not both. So they might be working the steps and dealing with their inner problems, but they were not changing the “people, places, and things” in their external world in order to match their new lifestyle.
Being in recovery means making a commitment to yourself–that you are going to consciously improve both your internal and external problems on a continuous basis.
What happens when you stop growing as a person and learning
If you stop growing in recovery then this is the same thing as when you stop learning. They are pretty much the same thing.
When this happens you will coast for a while. At first, nothing bad will happen. It will almost seem like you are immune to addiction, even if you are not trying very hard in your recovery.
After a while though things will change. And believe it or not, what actually happens is that your brain will forget that you are an alcoholic.
That probably sounds a bit funny so let me explain.
Let’s say you are walking down the street and suddenly you look up and see your old bar that you used to drink at. Or maybe the old liquor store that you used to buy booze at. Whatever. You see a common trigger.
And so if you are working hard on your recovery on a continuous basis, this might trigger you for a moment, and you may have a quick thought like: “Whoa, what would it be like for me to go get hammered on booze right now? What would that feel like?” And then of course you remember almost instantly that you are in recovery now, and your life is so much better due to being sober, so you push that thought away and go on with your day.
However…..let’s say that you have slacked off lately. You haven’t really been pushing yourself in terms of recovery and personal growth. In AA terms, you have stopped attending daily meetings. You have stopped learning about yourself and growing as a person lately. You have become complacent.
So now when you glance up and see the liquor store or the trigger or whatever, your brain does the same thing….it wonders what it would be like to get drunk again. But this time it is different. Because you haven’t been engaged in active recovery lately, your brain is slower to react. So it takes a full second and a half before your remember that you are in recovery.
You are probably saying: “So what? A second and a half is not that long!”
Ah, but it is.
Because during that time your mind will fly at 500 miles per hour, and it will replay an entire scenario of what it was like to be drunk, and it will of course remember the good times. It will replay one of the times when you drank and everything turned out happy and fun. And it will do this so quickly that you won’t even realize it fully. Your brain will just make a quick connection and say “oh yeah, getting hammered, that was a blast back in the day.” And this will happen really fast, in less than two seconds.
And then you will remember that you are in recovery.
But it’s too late.
Not that you will go relapse, because you won’t. Not yet anyway. One little trigger isn’t going to do anything. It is not a threat by itself. You are still fine.
But not for long. Not if you keep “coasting.” Not if you remain complacent.
Because inevitably you will see more triggers in the future. And each one will wear you down just a little bit more.
And the way that this happens is because the trigger will make you miserable. Your brain will start to protest each time you see a trigger and then deny yourself the drink. Your brain will start to get angry. You are not rewarding it. How dare you!
And so eventually after this keeps happening you will wear down and eventually relapse.
The cure for this is to get active in recovery again. To achieve personal growth again. To pursue holistic health again.
If you are doing the things that you are supposed to be doing then you will have a daily practice. You will be practicing gratitude every day. And this practice will protect you from relapse. It will protect you when you see a random trigger and your brain is either going to remind you “I am grateful that I am in recovery today” or it will flake out for .87 seconds and it will remember one of the good times when you were drunk. So if you are not practicing recovery every day, if you are not pursuing holistic health and practicing gratitude and doing the sort of things that we do in recovery, your brain will always cheat you and end up making you miserable.
Overcoming complacency in the long run
In the long run you need to adopt a strategy to beat complacency.
Overcoming complacency is really just the decision to keep learning, to keep growing, to keep exploring new positive directions in your life.
If you find yourself getting stuck at any time in your recovery then I have a powerful suggestion for you:
Ask for help.
Find someone that you trust in recovery and ask them what your next move should be.
Never be afraid to ask for advice from others in recovery. Their insight and wisdom is usually just the thing that we need in order to push ourselves forward a bit more. If you don’t feel like you know the right direction, then simply ask someone else for advice. Then you can “borrow” their wisdom, take their suggestion, and see how it works out for your own situation. This is a very powerful strategy for overcoming complacency because you will never run out of new sources of information. This is doubly true if you use any sort of supportive community for your recovery (AA, NA, religious based organization, etc.).
What about you, have you found personal growth to be the cornerstone of your recovery too? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!