Everyone who is in long term recovery should be using a holistic approach to addiction recovery.
That is a bold statement but I think it is also one that is pretty easy to back up.
The main counterpoint to this argument is that addiction is a one dimensional disease–that is, it is a spiritual disease only.
But this is not realistic. Addiction is not ONLY a spiritual malady.
Addiction is so much more than that. And therefore the solution needs to be more than “just spiritual” as well.
Addiction attacked your entire self, your entire person, every aspect of your health
Look at what alcoholism does to a person.
It attacks you physically of course. The alcohol that you put into your system every day is slowly destroying your body. You get sick. You smoke cigarettes. The alcohol is slowly poisoning your system. The average lifespan of alcoholics who never seek treatment is something like 20 to 30 years shorter than that of a “normie.” Alcoholism kills your body physically, no doubt about it.
But it is so much worse than just physical abuse of your body. Alcoholism attacks you in so many other ways as well. Obviously there is the spiritual malady that popular programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous tend to focus on. This part of the disease is certainly real enough and it definitely has consequences. The “spiritual sickness” of addiction is all about self centeredness and self seeking behavior and a total lack of gratitude.
Emotionally you are destroyed from addiction as well. Alcoholics are often burning with fear, resentment, self pity, or other negative emotions. And they carry these negative emotions and cling to them. They are a soul sickness that eats away at you a little more each day.
Mentally our minds are wrecked from the disease. We lose the ability to think on our feet, to deduce clever solutions for our life.
Socially we are isolated, first away from our friends and family, and then eventually even away from our drinking buddies. Alcoholism and drug addiction eventually isolate us completely from the outside world. We become socially bankrupt in the end.
These are the big five (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social). But there are other ways that alcoholism can destroy our lives as well (though they are all derivatives of these big five I believe). For example, we can gain tremendous stress from our drinking. Or we can become financially ruined from our addiction. And so on.
So it is not just a spiritual malady that needs a spiritual solution. That would be nice and tidy, but that is not reality.
The problem of addiction is much more complicated that just a spiritual malady.
They like to argue that the solution is simple, but this is actually just a gimmick to try to convince people to trust in a certain program of recovery. Not that there is anything wrong with doing so, necessarily, but that does not prove that the solution is simple.
If the solution was simple would the Big Book of AA really need to be more than a few pages in length?
Of course the solution is complicated.
Addiction is complicated. I just outlined at least half a dozen ways that addiction destroys our lives, and a spiritual solution only addresses one of those aspects.
We need more than a one dimensional solution. We need a holistic solution.
Take away the alcohol, and what changes?
When an alcoholic suddenly stops drinking, are they cured?
Why or why not?
That is an important question and it points us towards the real truth.
The truth being that alcohol is but a symptom of something deeper going on. Our addiction is not the alcohol itself. Our addiction is not the drug of choice that we take every day.
The addiction is inside of us, it is part of us. And if you simply start to abstain (cold turkey) then your problem is not exactly solved for life at that point.
It takes more than that. I think most of us realize this. If we could just quit and go back to a normal life then we would all do exactly that.
Again, this is more evidence of the need for a holistic solution. We need to approach a new life in recovery from multiple angles. It is not enough to just go cold turkey and expect our lives to magically fix themselves.
Physical abstinence from the drugs and the alcohol is part of the physical solution. It is one part of the solution, but it is not the entire solution.
The same can be said of spirituality. Take someone and put them in AA and have them work the steps. Maybe they have a spiritual awakening. Are they cured forever? Maybe, maybe not. People have experienced exactly that and then relapsed later on. Why did they relapse?
Because the real solution to addiction is not one dimensional. You can’t cure it with just spirituality. That is a short sighted solution.
Many people will hear me say that and they will get upset. They will spout in anger “God can heal all things! All you need is God! How dare this person say that spirituality is not enough to cure an addiction!”
And to that I would say “That’s right, I don’t believe spirituality is enough on its own. The disease is multifaceted and therefore the solution must be comprehensive. It must be holistic. If you are missing too many pieces from your recovery efforts then it all falls apart.
I knew a man in my recovery who had an amazing amount of faith. I looked up to him for a long time. He had the solution down perfectly (so I thought) and that solution was all about spiritual growth.
A few years later I was shocked to find that this man had relapsed. I was working in a treatment center at the time and he was coming in for detox. I was blown away.
How could someone who was seemingly so much more advanced than I was spiritually end up relapsing? It made no sense to me.
So I continued to learn about what worked in recovery and what did not. I continued to make observations and learn from other people’s example. And I continued to find my own path in recovery, and that path was leaning towards being more and more holistic.
It felt like I was breaking all of the rules to even explore this path. For example, I started attending less meetings at one point in order to start exercising more. People warned me that this was a huge mistake and that it would probably lead to relapse. But many of those people who warned me of that have since relapsed themselves, and I have been lucky enough to remain sober. So I continue to learn in this way, by watching my own recovery but also by watching others.
The power of synergy with the holistic approach
In order to be successful in long term recovery you have to design a program that works for you.
And it has to work in all ways. Everything has to work together to some extent.
What do I mean by this? How things work together?
What I am talking about is synergy. The definition of synergy is when “the sum of something is greater then parts.” In other words, when you add one plus one and you get four, because the parts work so well together.
That is an important concept when it comes to addiction recovery.
What you want to do is to design a recovery program for your life that has these various parts that work well together.
What you don’t want is to be fighting against yourself. For example, let’s say that you go to AA meetings and your goal is to not drink alcohol any more. But then each weekend you go sit in a bar and you start at people who are drinking beer and laughing loudly all night.
Do you see how you are fighting against yourself in this example? You are doing one thing to move in one direction (sobriety) but then you are jeopardizing that goal by working against it each weekend at the bar.
This is an obvious and simple example but it is a very important concept. Later in my recovery I started to notice that some of my goals worked really well together while others did not. I eventually discarded the goals that did not mesh with my overall strategy and then moved on to find new goals.
So part of my strategy in recovery is to move towards better health. Quitting drinking and drugs was a huge step towards that goal.
Daily exercise is also something that meshed well with that goal. And then later on I quit smoking cigarettes too, and so all three of these goals were working incredibly well together.
Add in the goal of getting really consistent and healthy sleep each night. That worked very well with the other goals, especially the exercise. I noticed, for example, that I had no trouble falling asleep on the nights that I had done a heavy workout.
You can see how a goal like “better nutrition” would fit well into this group of goals.
Now if you have one or two goals like this that relate well together you get a small bonus effect from the synergy. But when you have a half dozen goals that are all working together like this and enhancing each other then you really get a massive “bonus” from the efforts. This is what synergy is all about. It is when your goals actually enhance and compliment each other. When your goals help to build each other up instead of making you work against yourself.
When they talk about synergy they often talk about “alignment.” Whether or not your goals are in alignment with each other, if they are helping each other and enhancing each other.
It might pay, therefore, to take a step back in your life and see if you might not be fighting against yourself in some ways. And you might even talk to your sponsor or your therapist (or whoever it is that you talk to in order to get guidance and direction) and find out if your goals seem to align with each other. And maybe if you feel like you lack direction you could ask what your next goal might naturally be in life. Get some opinions. Get some advice. Ask various people what they think the next goal in your life should be. Because they might have some insight into this that you are lacking. This has happened to me several times in recovery, where I thought I was “on top of things” and aware of what my next move should be, but then someone gives me advice and I go in a totally different direction instead.
The currency of recovery is your health (not just physical health)
When we talk about the holistic approach to recovery we are often talking about holistic health.
This is because your life is measured in terms of health. When you run out of health completely your life is over. Then it is something else.
Zero health, zero life. Pretty simple.
So when you are looking the various goals that you might have in life, you might think about putting those goals in terms of “health.”
So you might classify each potential goal or action in your life and say:
“Now would this action benefit my….”
And keep in mind there are derivatives of these too such as financial health.
And if you ask yourself that question: “What would this benefit?” you can probably get a pretty good idea of whether or not that goal has any real value for you.
Because obviously all of these areas of your health are important.
And what is really important to remember is that you don’t need to hammer on any one area of your health, instead you want to make sure that you are not neglecting any one area.
This is an important point and I think in traditional recovery they teach you the exact opposite, so allow me to clarify.
In traditional recovery programs they are basically saying “Spirituality is the solution. Make sure you put more energy into spiritual health than you do all of these other areas.”
But in the real world, addiction and alcoholism are holistic diseases. They destroy every area of your life, not just the spiritual aspect. And therefore a spiritual solution is far too limited in my experience. The better alternative is to make sure that you seek better health in all five of those areas listed above, and to make sure that you are not neglecting one of them.
If you talk to people who relapsed in recovery they will often tell you their story, especially at AA meetings. Listen to such people and see if you can identify which aspect of their health was the trigger for the relapse. It is not always the spiritual malady that leads to relapse.
For example, I have known many people in recovery who actually relapsed after becoming physically sick or injured. They were not “spiritually deficient” as the program would have you believe. Instead, they got sick or they got hurt, and this led to relapse or medication (and then relapse to their drug of choice).
It took me several years in recovery to notice this trend, this tendency. People would get sick or they would get hurt and it could often lead them to relapse.
So this is the physical aspect of their health that was the trigger, not the spiritual malady.
Now another popular example of relapse came from relationships. Now this one is debatable but let me put it out there anyway. I lived in long term rehab with 11 other alcoholics. Many times one of my peers would relapse on alcohol and get kicked out of the recovery house. I noticed that in almost every case it was due to a relationship that had gone bad. It was quite startling because this was the case almost every time.
So you could say that this was triggered due to emotional or social issues. But many would also argue that if the person were stronger in a spiritual sense in these cases that they would not have relapsed. As I said this one is definitely up for debate but I still argue that a holistic approach would be superior. That way you are working on your social health, your emotional health, and your spiritual connection all at the same time. This would be opposed to just trying to strengthen your spirituality and hope that is enough to prevent relapse in the case of emotional upset or broken relationships. My argument is: “Why not fix the relationship as well as find a higher power?” The holistic approach makes more sense to me.
Everyone who is successful is effectively using a holistic approach
Finally I want to give you this powerful idea to ponder:
Everyone who is successful in recovery is already using a holistic approach, whether they admit it or not.
That is probably debatable as well, but I see evidence of this idea over and over again.
One of the things that I did in AA meetings was to talk to “the winners” after the meetings. Whoever really impressed me and had many years of sobriety, I talked to them further. I went out for coffee after the meeting and listened closely to such people. I really zeroed in on who I thought were “the winners” at AA meetings and then I tried to pry further with them.
And you know what I found when I did this?
These people were spread out. And what I mean by that is, they talked about AA when they were in the meetings, but their lives were filled with so much more things that built up their recovery! They were not one dimensional at all, but they presented themselves that way in the AA meetings.
I felt cheated when I discovered this. I felt like I had uncovered a secret. And I still believe that I have. When you find the “winners” in AA, those people are actually walking the walk, and they have a whole bunch of stuff going on in their lives that help to keep them sober that goes far beyond the AA meetings.
And so this is what really got me to start exploring the idea of “holistic recovery.” Because honestly I would have thought that the concept was just a bunch of fluff or BS at first. But the truth is that everyone who is successful in sobriety is using this multifaceted approach. You can’t just be one dimensional in your recovery effort and be successful. You have to heal your life in all dimensions, not just the spiritual angle.
And I believe this is a natural trend. Just look at all of the smokers in AA who have less than a year sober. Then compare that to the percentage who still smoke after reaching ten years sober in AA. Many (if not most) have quit by that time.
Because of the holistic approach. We are all on a holistic path. We aren’t just sober to be sober. We are sober in order to move towards better health. Better all around health. Better health in every area of our lives.
And so I think everyone who “sticks and stays” in recovery starts to eventually gravitate towards better health in a holistic sense. They don’t just heal spiritually, or heal their addiction, but they heal all over. Their whole life heals.
What about you, have you found a holistic path in recovery, or do you feel like the solution is more simple than that? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!