The Holistic Approach to Recovery – What is the Appropriate Timing?

The Holistic Approach to Recovery – What is the Appropriate Timing?

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Is it feasible to use a holistic approach in early recovery? Or is it more of a “stage 2” idea?

The creative theory of recovery endorses a holistic approach. And there is no doubt in my mind that a holistic approach is extremely effective for recovery from drug and alcohol addiction in the long term. But the question I’m wondering about is this: is it effective to focus on a holistic approach in early recovery?

My experience in recovery

When I first got clean and sober I went to a short term treatment center, then I immediately transitioned into a long term facility where I lived for 20 months. During the first year or so, I focused heavily on working “my recovery program.” To me, that consisted of attending daily meetings, writing out stepwork, and generally reading a lot of material on spiritual growth and development. I was learning about recovery more than I was actually “living” it, but that was OK.

So during that first, say, 6 months to a year of recovery, I didn’t really have much balance in my life. I was all about recovery and seeking spiritual knowledge. I was not approaching recovery from a holistic standpoint, and I did not think it was appropriate to do so. It made more sense to me at the time to focus on spiritual growth, basic abstinence from chemicals, and network support from other recovering addicts. I was not exploring fitness, nutrition, quitting smoking, emotional balance, or any other holistic concepts.

Transition to the Creative Life

Somewhere in that first year of recovery my sponsor pushed me to go back to college. I was scared to do so at the time but obviously it was the right choice for me. The same can be said of when I finally quit smoking years later, and also when I started exercising regularly. In each case I was reluctant to branch out and take on these new challenges, partially because they were not “recovery related” (or so I thought). I reasoned: “Why spend energy in college when I should be working on my recovery program?” Obviously this was an error on my part, and I was glad when I finally started to approach recovery from a holistic perspective.

So how should we approach early recovery?

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My only worry is that if you spread yourself too thin in early recovery, you will miss the absolute basics and end up struggling. What I mean by that is if you are working on personal growth in 20 different areas, but fail to grasp the importance of abstinence, then your recovery is going to quickly go down the drain. However, it is this same fear that held me back, when I should have been more aggressive in “actually getting back to living life.”

Based on that reasoning, I think it’s important to approach recovery holistically right from the start. There is a synergistic effect from a holistic approach (meaning that the total outcome is more than the individual parts added up). In other words, if you avoid personal growth in one area of your life by reasoning that you instead want to “focus on your recovery,” then you are probably short-changing yourself and stunting your potential growth. A holistic approach is still ideal.

What do you think? Is it possible to “spread ourselves too thin” in early recovery?


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