There are many different approaches to alcoholism recovery.
For example, one popular approach is to immerse yourself in the 12 step program of AA. This works well for some people but not for everyone. The AA program is something of a mixed approach because it combines spirituality with fellowship. There is a very strong social element to getting sober in AA. It’s about people, support, relationships. You gain strength through the contacts that you meet in AA.
Another strategy might be to follow a religious based program of recovery. This would be similar to the AA approach only you are getting involved with a church rather than with 12 step meetings. But the overall strategy is someone similar in that there is a strong spiritual element as well as some fellowship and social element involved.
Both of these strategies rely on reaching out and asking for help. Both of them rely on doing something different in your life. Both of them suggest that you can learn how to live a new life in recovery if you are willing to follow directions and adopt a new way of life.
There are other ways to achieve sobriety as well. Programs may be helpful, but in some cases they may not be a good fit for people. In that case you would need to devise your own recovery strategy.
Sobriety tactics are not enough to keep you sober in the long run
What is the difference between recovery tactics and a recovery strategy?
Tactics are the actions that you take in order to try to recover: Go to meetings, get a sponsor, read recovery literature, engage in positive action.
Strategy is the overall guiding ideas behind your recovery. What are you trying to accomplish, and how? That is your strategy.
What I have found in my journey thus far is that many people get wrapped up in the tactics and mistake them for being “the ultimate solution.” They believe that certain tactics have magical powers. For example, many people in recovery have elevated daily meeting attendance at AA to this level. They believe so strongly in this single tactic that they have elevated it to the level of religion. “If you don’t go to meetings you will surely relapse.” Then they come to rely on this tactic as their only tool in recovery. Or they come to depend on it so heavily that they do not develop other areas of growth or strength in their recovery.
Another tactic might be sponsorship. Again, I have watched many people in recovery who rely heavily on sponsorship, to the point where they cannot really think or make decisions without referencing their sponsor first. Heavy dependence on any one tactic always seems to be a mistake. A stronger recovery is built from an overall strategy rather than by focusing too heavily on any one tactic.
What is the optimal strategy for overcoming alcoholism?
There are various strategies that you might adopt in your search for sobriety.
One such strategy is that of “holistic growth.”
Now what exactly does it mean to have a holistic growth strategy? What is the holistic approach? How do we define “holistic?”
Think of your recovery in the following categories:
* Spirituality – How you connect to a higher power, how you develop and use intuition, how you connect and relate with the universe, with others.
* Physically – Your physical health, your fitness level, what you eat (nutrition), lack of disease, quitting smoking.
* Emotionally – How stable your mood is, your overall happiness, how you feel about yourself on a daily basis.
* Mentally – Soundness of mind, seeking more education, sharpening your thought processes.
* Socially – Connecting with others, reaching out for help when you need it, offering to help others.
These are just the basic categories, and in reality there are dozens more that are much more narrowly defined. For example, your finances could be a major source of stress if they are not properly managed.
So the holistic approach in recovery is to take all of these categories into consideration, and to use them as a platform from which to take action.
Recovery is all about change. That’s it. We are attempting to make changes in our life. That is the entire point. Our old life was no good, and it was killing us. So we attempt to change all of that, and we can only do this by making deliberate changes through taking positive action.
So the question becomes: “What do we change?”
Well obviously we need to stop drinking or using our drug of choice. We have to take this obvious first step, and stop putting damaging chemicals into our bodies.
But that is just the tip of iceberg. We all know that it is not enough to simply stop using and drinking; if it were then we would not need rehabs, recovery programs, and so on.
We all know that it takes more than that, that we have do something MORE in order to remain clean and sober in the long run.
So what is that “more?” What are these additional changes that we need to make in our recovery?
You can label such changes according to the categories that I outlined above, but is that how you should approach your recovery and organize future growth?
I would propose a system by which you use the following two techniques in order to determine what you should be focusing on:
1) Eliminate points of misery – This is just what it sounds like. Take a step back, look at your life, and figure out what your points of misery are. What is causing you to be unhappy? Then figure out which thing is causing you the most misery or discomfort, and then focus in on that thing and work really hard to eliminate it.
Your recovery begins with this very concept. At some point you determine that alcohol or drugs is causing you to be totally miserable. You are sick and tired of being so miserable all the time. So you dive into recovery and embrace abstinence, even though you are afraid of the unknown. So you face your fear because you are so sick of being miserable. You have chosen what your biggest problem in life is (addiction) and you have decided to tackle it head on. So you go to detox, you clean up, and you start learn how to live without self medicating. This is eliminating your biggest point of misery.
But after you are clean and sober for a while, you may notice that your life is not automatically perfect. There may still be more points of misery. For example, when I was in early recovery I was somewhat miserable based on the fact that I continued to smoke cigarettes. So here was another point of misery that I could seek to eliminate. And so I had to focus in on that problem and put all of my energy into overcoming it (which I eventually did after much struggle!).
So you do not necessarily have to think about your life in terms of those specific categories. Instead, just look at your overall life and try to determine what the cause of your unhappiness is. Then eliminate it. If you keep doing this over and over in early recovery you will eventually get to a point where you are no longer unhappy, and your life becomes a blank canvas on which you can start pursue the goals you really want in life.
Hint: If you get sober and then just start chasing your dreams, your points of misery are likely to hold you back in ways that are difficult to define. Therefore you should focus in early recovery on eliminating negative stuff from your life rather than chasing your more “positive” goals.
2) Seek feedback and guidance from others – So the first suggestion to adopt a holistic strategy is in looking at your points of misery, and then working hard to eliminate them. The second part of this strategy is to seek guidance from others in recovery–from people that you trust–and trying to take positive action based on their suggestions.
Now you may be asking yourself: “Why seek feedback and guidance from others? What is the point of that?”
There are several good reasons that you should not disregard this powerful technique:
* Many times we are too close to our own points of misery and we cannot see them or define them. This is denial. We all experienced this initially with our drug or alcohol addiction, and we could not see that our addiction was creating misery for us. Likewise, in recovery, we will often times have something that is too close to us and too much a part of us so that we can not really see the forest for the trees. We may need additional perspective in order to see what is the root of our problem. That is where feedback from other people comes in. It is often easy to see what other people’s problems are and what they should be doing, much more so than ourselves. Take advantage of this principle and realize that other people can easily offer you valuable advice because they have a perspective on your life that you do not have. It takes courage and guts to listen to other people and follow their advice. It is hard to ignore our own ego and really listen to other people, but the rewards are incredible if you force yourself to listen.
* If you seek advice from others you will often hear suggestions that you never would have predicted. People will steer you in unique and interesting directions. Someone suggested that I go back to college. Someone else suggested that I start exercising. Both of these suggestions had a significant impact on my life. And in fact, I had to hear those suggestions multiple times before I was willing to take action on them.
* You may have heard the phrase in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” When you seek advice from other people, you don’t have to necessarily act on all of it. You simply take suggestions, try them out in your life, and see what works for you.
So those are two strong suggestions for how to adopt a new strategy in your recovery: Eliminate points of misery, and seek advice from others on what you should be doing. If you only did those two things (and did them consistently) then your life would get better by leaps and bounds. But you can actually go further than this in defining a new strategy for your recovery.
A good strategy helps you make decisions on a daily basis
A good strategy for recovery will help you to make decisions on a regular basis.
If you follow the ideas above then you will notice a few things about how you are starting to live your life.
One thing you will notice is that most of your decisions to take positive action are based on your overall health. This is why the holistic approach is often labeled as “holistic health.” Because the positive actions you are taking in life are only “positive” based on how they benefit you and your health. If something makes you less healthy then we tend to label that as “bad.” If something increases your overall health then we tend to label that as “good” (such as quitting smoking).
In other words, you may notice that the measuring stick we are using to define the holistic approach is based on your health. That is the measure of our success: how has it influenced or affected your overall health?
You may substitute the word “happiness” for “health” and see how that feels as well. You will start to notice that the two go hand in hand. When you are at your most healthy you are also generally happy. And vice versa: when you are in poor health and making bad decisions you will tend to be miserable.
Therefore a good strategy leads not only to better health but also to better happiness.
So each decision that you make in a day should be run through a filter:
If I do this thing, will it make me healthier in the long run? Less healthy?
If I do this thing, will it make me happier in the long run? Will it lead to misery eventually?
It is important to but those qualifiers on the questions in terms of time. We are only concerned with the long term effects. Because in the short run, anyone can justify relapse. But if you “play the tape all the way through” and consider the long term effects, then relapse never makes sense. It always ends in misery.
How a strategy for recovery leads to a daily practice
One thing I noticed recently is that certain people in recovery have it all figured out. Or at least, they have a routine figured out and it seems to be working well for them. We might call this routine a “daily practice.”
In looking at my own life in recovery, I seem to have found this same thing to be true. I have my own routine and my own daily practice.
Perhaps I should make an effort to define it even further. Right now my daily practice consists of:
1) Alarm clock set for same time every single day. Never changes. Sleep 8 hours per night, almost down to the minute.
2) Wake up and immediately write for an hour. No email before this. Cell phone is still turned off (writing is my livelihood).
3) Exercise every single day. Switch back and forth between running six miles and weight training. But every single day I do one or the other.
Those are the things that I do every day, without fail. Those things make up my own daily practice. And my strategy in recovery has led to this routine. It has shaped and defined the routine.
I think each of us needs to find this sort of consistency in their lives, so that they can learn and improve. Just being super consistent comes with its own set of benefits. But then you have the ability to make a small change, to change one little thing, and to see how that change affects your happiness. Keep what you need and leave the rest. Test new ideas and see if they benefit you. But you can only do this testing process if you are already established with some sort of daily practice, with some sort of routine. Because otherwise you won’t know what you are truly measuring. The consistency is important.
When people relapse after years of sobriety
Sometimes you hear about someone who has been sober for years and they end up relapsing. What was going on? What happened? How did they screw up to the point that they relapsed after obviously knowing how to stay sober?
First of all I think such people have drifted away from their daily practice, from their daily routine. Such people say things when then finally go back to AA meetings such as “I stopped doing what I needed to do.” They abandon their routine.
Second of all they stopped using the 2 strategies for growth: They stopped eliminating points of misery (which are in infinity supply, they just get smaller and smaller), and they also stop seeking feedback and advice from others. They have it all figured out (so they believe) and so they don’t see a need to seek help from others or take new suggestions in their life.
Living in recovery from alcoholism is like weight training. You have to keep building up the muscles every single day or they will atrophy over time. Some people think that once they get to a certain point they will suddenly be cured and then they no longer have to push themselves to make changes. Or that after they conquer a few major changes that there will be nothing left to work on in their recovery journey. Obviously this is false and we have to keep pushing ourselves to make positive changes for the rest of our lives. The trick is in how to manage those changes so that we are making progress.
Complacency is the number one killer in long term sobriety. If you are not exploring possible lines of growth then what exactly are you doing? There is a balance between growth and acceptance but most people who relapse have drifted too far over into “acceptance” and away from “growth.”
If you are actively pursuing positive change in your life then it is almost impossible to relapse. Therefore this should become the central part of your recovery strategy. You have to spend energy and effort trying to remain sober anyway, so you may as well put that energy to good use. Focus on improving your health and improving your happiness.
Think about it:
If you are miserable in sobriety then what is going to happen eventually? You are going to relapse. And I would not blame you one bit for that, if you are truly miserable. Relapse brings you temporary relief.
So your challenge is to work every single day on improving your life for the long run. If you do this for an extended period of time (think months and years rather than days and weeks) then you will eventually be living a much better and happier life.
Positive changes accumulate into big benefits down the road. But you have to put in the sustained effort and give recovery a chance to work in your life. It takes time for the benefits of this lifestyle to kick in fully.
Thus, the holistic approach is a long term strategy, not a quick fix. But once you achieve results with this approach, they are much most stable and sustainable than a quick fix.