Start Here: The Creative Theory of Recovery Explained

Start Here: The Creative Theory of Recovery Explained


They have a saying in traditional recovery circles: “Stick with the winners.”

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Who are the winners? The winners are the people in recovery who are actively creating a new life for themselves. They are definitely not whining. Instead, they take action. They create.

The winners come from different programs. Some are in AA and NA. Others do not follow a formal program at all. Some are in churches or religious communities. But all of them are recovering from addiction, and all of them are living the creative theory (whether they know it or not). They have found success in recovery from drugs and alcohol through the creative life.

The real winners in recovery are always creating a positive future for themselves. How could they not be? They are either creating recovery or they are creating addiction.

- Approved Treatment Center -


Attention: The actual program of recovery that got you clean and sober is a *minor* detail. It doesn’t matter if it was 12 step based, Religious-based, Rational Recovery, or whatever. The program you follow is mostly irrelevant. Stop confusing it with your salvation.

You’re either creating a new life for yourself or you are sliding back towards relapse. Any recovery program you happen to be working is just some window dressing….a fancy framework to push you to grow. Use these programs as such. They can help you, they might guide you. But they will not save you. Only creation can save you. And all of the winners in recovery are creating a new life for themselves each and every day….whether they realize it or not. Many of them will ignore the creative process and simply give credit to the program that got them clean and sober.

A program of recovery is not the solution. Working that program is the solution. It’s about action. It’s about creation. There are no magic principles out there. No recovery program has the secret sauce that can keep anyone sober.

In AA they say “it works if you work it.” They’re right. Virtually any program will work if you “work it.” There is no magic in that by itself. Even a program that simply states “don’t drink or use drugs” will work if you work it!

So of course the answer always points to action. And any recovery program is simply there to help guide us in our actions. And that’s where the creative theory of recovery comes in.


Consider your approach to recovery at 30 days clean and sober. Now consider your approach when you have 10 years in sobriety. Are they the same?

Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Just ask anyone who has several years of sobriety if their approach to recovery has changed over time. If they are searching and honest with their answer they will undoubtedly say that it has changed.

What got you clean and sober will not keep you clean and sober. Hence the need for transition.

Early recovery is often a brute force approach. I personally lived in long term treatment before I made the transition to creative recovery. Others might go to 90 meetings in 90 days. The point here is that early recovery is “stage one recovery”; a shock to the system. Most get through it using brute force and then eventually find a way to transition to long term recovery.

The creative theory of recovery is designed to help you make this transition into holistic growth. It is your path to a lifetime of recovery.

The need for creation

Addiction is complicated.

When most of us get to recovery, our lives are a tangled mess. Most of us have been using drugs or alcohol for a very long time. We have our whole lives set up in such a way as to support our addiction. In other words, because of our addiction, we have adopted a certain lifestyle.

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Getting clean and sober requires us to abandon that lifestyle. Huge changes are required. For example, consider someone who normally spends 5 or 6 nights a week drinking in a bar. Or someone who has a close circle of friends that they always get high with.

Now obviously, if someone is going to stay clean and sober for any length of time, those situations need to be changed. Drastically. You can’t just continue to hang out in the bar every night and expect to remain sober.

So when we strip away this “lifestyle” component, there is a real need for replacement. But there is more to it than that. Consider too the sense of belonging that those people in the examples get, or their sense of fulfillment that they receive from their daily ritual of drinking and using drugs. In recovery, these things need to be replaced as well.

So when an addict gets clean and sober their is a real need for replacement. They strip away the drugs and the alcohol. They strip away the lifestyle. They strip away the drug culture, the sense of belonging, and everything else that goes along with getting high. In a twisted way, getting drunk or high is a spiritual quest as well, and that is stripped away too when we get sober.

All of this creates a huge void in the life of the addict. It is not just a spiritual void. It is bigger than that.

And therefore the solution needs to be more than just spiritual. It needs to be holistic.

Thus the need for creation.

Guidelines for creative recovery: 3 simple strategies is all it takes

The solution for recovery is more than just spiritual. Given that, 12 steps that focus exclusively on spiritual development doesn’t make much sense as a long term strategy for recovery.

On the other hand, “just don’t drink” doesn’t really cut it either. So where is the happy medium?

The answer is in these 3 core strategies:

1) Caring for self

2) Push for personal growth

3) Network with others in recovery

These 3 strategies are all you really need to guide you in your recovery. Let’s take a look at them:

1) Caring for self

This is a fundamental principle of healthy recovery. Simply care for yourself. This can be applied in several areas of your life. With each decision, simply ask yourself: “Is this a loving and caring thing to do for myself right now?” Such a question can help guide you away from relapse, towards healthy lifestyle choices, to eating healthier and exercising more, and so on.

Caring for yourself is essential. You’ll get better at it with practice.

And in early recovery, some of us will have to force ourselves to do it. Because of low self esteem, not everyone will have a strong drive to care for themselves. In this case, we’ll have to settle for a little “fake it ’till you make it.” Start caring for yourself in every decision, and eventually your self esteem will rebuild.

2) Push for personal growth

This is a fundamental principle of long term recovery. If you don’t push yourself to grow in different ways, then eventually you will stagnate and possibly relapse.

Complacency is the biggest enemy in long term recovery. The push for personal growth is insurance against complacency. But there is another huge benefit of pushing yourself to grow in different ways: self esteem.

Virtually any recovering addict or alcoholic can benefit from a boost in self esteem. This works hand in hand with the first strategy of “caring for self,” because as you build more and more self esteem, you will naturally want to take better care of yourself.

In this way, the strategies here can create a positive feedback loop, one that reinforces itself as you progress in recovery.

So how do we build self esteem?

My direct experience with this is that it comes through genuine accomplishment (and not through affirmations). I think building self esteem requires real action, not wishful thinking.

For example, I was encouraged in early recovery to go back to college, and also to quit smoking and to start exercising on a regular basis. While none of these things related directly to my recovery, all of them ended up playing a huge part in my holistic growth. These things all required real action on my part and the payoff in self esteem was huge.

3) Network with others in recovery

The younger you are, the more important networking with others in recovery is.

The earlier in recovery you are, the more important this is as well.

The easiest way to build a recovery network, by far, is to simply go to AA or NA. These fellowships are well established and can be found in most any part of the world. They are powerful because of the common bond and shared interest of recovery.

Regardless of whether or not you subscribe to 12 step theory is irrelevant, especially in early recovery. Just get to the meetings if you need the support. Later you will transition into creative, long term recovery. At that point the networking aspect becomes less important and the focus shifts even more towards holistic growth.

This is the power of the creative approach. Your long term solution becomes the push for personal growth. If you are motivated and can overcome complacency then there is no need for dependency on group therapy in the long run.

Exclusive focus on a spiritual solution limits you

Most recovery programs are spiritual in nature. There is a strong emphasis on spiritual growth and spiritual matters.

Now spirituality is definitely important for recovery and there is nothing wrong with pursuing spiritual growth. The problem comes in when we focus on spiritual growth to the exclusion of other parts of our lives.

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Addiction is complicated. The solution is holistic, not spiritual. The solution goes beyond spiritual matters.

I know that sounds blasphemous but it’s true. When I first started out in recovery in the 12 step program, the message I heard loud and clear was that “spirituality was the key.” So I focused heavily on all things spiritual. I studied spiritual texts, such as books about Taoism and Buddhism. I focused heavily on spiritual principles, and of course I was working through the 12 steps with my sponsor. This produced fairly stable growth but it wasn’t anything revolutionary.

Later on I switched sponsors and my new sponsor didn’t seem to think that spiritual matters were “the whole story.” Instead, he was pushing me to go back to college, to start exercising, to quit smoking, and so on. At first I did not think that these things related to recovery at all, but looking back now I can see that they were part of an holistic approach to long term sobriety.

There is more than one way to grow in recovery and if you limit yourself to spiritual growth then you are missing out on a whole bunch of experiences. Push yourself to grow holistically and that’s when your recovery will really take off. Which brings us to our next point:

An holistic approach leads to explosive growth

Growth in recovery is not linear. That means that it does not follow the typical linear growth pattern that you are so used to from other experiences. For example, when you are learning college algebra, the learning process is fairly linear. You learn a few things each day and slowly practice them. You learn bit by bit about Algebra. This is linear growth.

But in recovery, the growth/learning process is not really linear. Instead of going up as a straight line, it is curved, so that your growth starts out very slowly. Then it curves slowly upwards and later it takes off at high speeds. This is because recovery is holistic and involves your entire life. The learning curve is steep because the task at hand is so overwhelming. Instead of learning Algebra, you have to learn how to live again. Not only that, but you have to do so in several different areas of your life.

Because of this, growth is slow at first. That’s why so many will relapse in early recovery….because they have not stuck it out long enough to start seeing the benefits of staying clean. The benefits do come, if we give it a chance, and once they start coming, it is like a recovery explosion. Life starts getting better in so many different ways if we are truly focused on an holistic approach. Because we are trying to grow in different areas (such as emotional balance, physical health and exercise, relationships, and so on) the benefits of this growth are truly huge when they finally kick in.

An holistic approach is synergistic

What is synergy? That’s when the total of something is greater than just the sum of it’s parts. And that’s a perfect description of what happens when you approach recovery in a holistic manner. The end result is much greater due to the connections of growth between different areas of your life. We grow in one area and it enhances our growth in another area.

One area that this becomes apparent to most people is with physical exercise. We don’t normally think of exercise as being important to our recovery, but those who get in the habit of doing it report that it energizes them in a way that they never could have predicted. It has a certain spiritual quality for some people, and seems to enhance other areas of their lives. In other words, because of their efforts towards physical health and well being, their exercise seems to bring about emotional balance, spiritual growth, and possibly even benefits them mentally as well.

We can discover these kinds of connections when we push ourselves to grow holistically. Growth in one area of our lives can unexpectedly boost our efforts in another area. Many times this is part of a high level learning process where we start to intuitively see connections between things that we previously thought were unrelated. In this way, the holistic approach can open up a whole new world to us.

The only long term enemy is complacency

With the creative theory of recovery, the only real enemy is complacency. If you stop growing, then a slow slide towards relapse starts occurring.

Recovery is a pass/fail proposition. You do certain things in order to maintain sobriety, but if you take a drink or a drug, then it’s all over. Back to square one. This is very different from the way things work in most other areas of our lives. With most of our life situations, if we put in a modest effort, we get out modest results. This is not true with recovery. If you put in a modest effort you will relapse.

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This has a lot to do with maintaining long term sobriety because so many of us have a tendency to push hard in early recovery and then slack off a bit as our life stabilizes. We cannot afford to do this and the key is to keep pushing ourselves to grow holistically and challenge ourselves to grow in new areas.

Remember that the holistic approach has an explosive growth curve. It starts slow as we attempt to learn new things and make changes in multiple areas of our life. But if we stick with it long enough, things start coming together and our level of progress and growth eventually takes off. Keeping this momentum going as we transition into long term sobriety is the whole key to overcoming complacency.

Ignore tactics and relapse prevention; instead, use strategies and structural changes in your life

Most people in traditional recovery circles try to overcome their addiction using tactics. For example, they might talk about having “the right tools to deal with their addiction,” and these tools might include specific actions such as “calling my sponsor if I feel like using” or “going to a meeting if I get urges” and so on.

This sort of tactical approach is not ideal, and often breaks down in the face of real-life complexity. Relapse prevention is just a bunch of tactics. What’s worse is that these tactics are almost always reactionary in nature; they do little to actually prevent urges or triggers to begin with.

Traditional recovery almost always uses tactics and tends to focus on this “reaction-style” recovery. Things happen in our lives and we simply react to them as best we can, given the “tools we’ve been given in recovery.” Again, this is not optimal. We can do better.

The alternative to a reactionary approach is to get proactive. This starts with a decision to use the 3 strategies to start guiding our decisions, because they are flexible enough to deal with any situation that life throws at us. The other part of the equation is to use structural changes in our lives instead of mere tactics. This is especially effective in early recovery when the need for structural changes is greatest.

For example, choosing to live in long term treatment during early recovery introduces a very large structural change for pretty much any addict or alcoholic. Another structural change might be to walk away from a bad relationship that promotes your drinking or drug use in early recovery. Another example might be leaving a job that is no good for you, or enrolling back into school to further your education. Notice the difference between a structural change that impacts your whole life versus tactics that take more of a band-aid approach to fixing a problem.

In other words, think big when it comes to creating life change and overcoming your addiction. Don’t just react to situations and struggle to stay clean. Instead, use major structural changes to reshape your life in an empowering way. Follow the 3 simple strategies instead of trying to build up a “recovery toolbox.”

The role of spirituality

Spirituality is still important in the creative theory of recovery, but it is no longer the “whole solution.” The whole solution, of course, is holistic, and includes much more than just spirituality. Nonetheless, one of the most important concepts in your spiritual growth is that of gratitude.

Gratitude is so powerful that it can almost keep you sober all by itself. Most people mistake gratitude for the temporary state of happiness that they sometimes experience, but true gratitude goes far deeper than that. It is a sense of deep appreciation for existence itself; a feeling of connectedness with all things good.

Practicing gratitude gives us the power to turn negative experiences into learning events. Thus, gratitude becomes a mindset that empowers us instead of turning us into complainers.

Gratitude is spiritual because it is essentially a prayer of thanks to your higher power (or the universe). Those who experience gratitude don’t usually think of it as being a prayer, they simply feel grateful. But the feeling of gratitude is definitely spiritual and it seems to be a culmination of the creative theory….that place where love, joy, and deep appreciation all come together and you feel a sense of peace about yourself and about the universe in general. (Like everything is as it should be and even the bad stuff in life has it’s place and it’s purpose). You accept yourself and everything around you, the good and the bad, and you can appreciate all of it.

This is the power of gratitude and it is the mindset that you adopt when you actively create a new life for yourself in recovery. It is the attitude of learning and growth imbued with a sense of appreciation. This is not something that is attained through forced prayer and meditation (although those things are still useful)…..instead, it is a deeper spirituality that has been achieved through holistic growth.

If all you want to do is stay clean and sober then by all means, settle for a spiritual program. But if you want to create an awesome new life in recovery with real passion and purpose, then you would do well to explore the creative theory of recovery and start using it’s strategies to grow holistically.

Your addiction or alcoholism affected your whole self; your whole being. So recover your whole self. This can only happen through a holistic approach.

That is the creative theory of recovery in a nutshell. It is not the only path to recovery but it is the most concise description I have found to achieving long term sobriety. If you want to cut through the information overload of traditional recovery then follow the 3 strategies and start taking positive action in your life.

The program is not your salvation.

Spirituality is not your salvation.

Creation is your salvation. Create a new life for yourself in recovery and live holistically. Wake up to the life you were supposed to be living all along. For the spiritually inclined, this is how to “do God’s will.” This is how to attain real spiritual growth. Through creation.


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