If you look at all of the different ways that people recover from alcoholism and drug addiction, you can learn quite a bit.
There are various treatment methodologies out there to treat addiction. Some of them work better than others, but this largely depends on the individual.
And it may also be a matter of timing. In other words, say that someone goes to a religious based recovery program in order to quit drinking alcohol. They have not quite surrendered fully yet, however, and therefore they relapse. So after doing this, time passes, and they experience more misery and chaos in their addiction. Finally they hit bottom and they find themselves at a 12 step program. This time it works, and they remain sober.
At this point, what would the typical recovering alcoholic believe? They are biased towards the 12 step program because that is what ultimately worked for them. But in reality it may have had everything to do with timing, and very little to do with the exact methodology. In other words, if they had reversed the order and gone to the 12 step program before they surrendered, then they would be singing the praises of religious based recovery today, rather than the other way around.
In a similar vein, different personality types are going to respond to various treatment programs differently. So there may be a specific treatment program that is a very poor fit for you, while others would work out much better. But again this is debatable because some would argue that any program will work just fine, so long as you totally surrender first. Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective in terms of surrender and willingness.
That said, there are a variety of treatment programs that exist in the world today, and some of them are quite different and unique. If they work for one person then they might be able to help us all, if we are only willing to take the time and investigate their true value. It is said that every person that you meet in this world knows something that you don’t know, and therefore you could learn something from every single person. I would like to believe that the same thing is true of recovery programs. They all have their pros and cons, so why not take a look at them and try to blend the best of all worlds?
In other words: “What can I learn from this particular approach to recovery? How can it help me in my own sobriety journey?”
That is a question that is worth asking, in my opinion.
Is the solution spiritual or is it holistic?
I had an interesting discussion the other day with someone who has over a decade sober. His stance is undoubtedly that the solution to the problem of addiction is spiritual. The answer, in his opinion, is that the struggling alcoholic or drug addict has to find a higher power if they are to have any hope of recovery.
My argument is slightly different. While I still see the value in the spiritual approach, my thought is that the real path to sobriety is actually holistic. Meaning that it is bigger than just spirituality. It is more broad than that.
I believe that everyone in recovery who thinks they are using a strictly spiritual approach is actually kidding themselves. Sure, they are using spirituality to overcome addiction, but they are also using other forms of personal growth as well.
People who attend AA are using a partially social solution. They show up to AA meetings every day and use the strength and support of the fellowship to help them to recover.
Recovering alcoholics also take care of themselves physically. So they are using the idea of physical health and fitness to help them to recover. It is one part of their overall recovery effort.
And so the idea that I am proposing is that you do not look at spiritual growth as your entire solution. Instead, spirituality is just one piece of a much bigger pie. The whole pie is holistic health, it is your overall health in life. It includes spiritual fitness, but it also includes emotional balance, physical health, mental health, social connections, and so on.
I believe that certain people who champion the idea of “spiritual recovery” are not really understanding what it means to use a holistic approach. They are only seeing the benefits of the spiritual growth while taking other forms of personal growth for granted.
On the other hand, I am giving full credit to these other forms of growth, and to their positive effect that they have on my sobriety. A great example of this is my dedication to exercise and fitness. This is a life-long habit that I have slowly built up over the years in recovery and it has had a huge impact on my efforts in sobriety. I can actually see how staying fit is helping me to directly remain sober. It is a function of self esteem and it is something that I can feel, that I can measure. When I am taking better care of myself physically I feel that my life is more valuable and therefore my sobriety is more valuable as well. The positive action helps to produce more positive action in that regard. Feeling good about myself helps to prevent relapse in a very direct way.
Here is someone who stays sober by…..
If you want to convince yourself of the value of the holistic approach to recovery, then start asking people questions and exploring who is staying sober in different ways.
This will take time. If you only hang out at AA meetings then it will probably take a really long time.
But I started to venture out, to explore online recovery, and to find people who were staying sober outside of the traditional recovery programs (such as the 12 step program). And when I did this I started to discover some amazing things.
“Here is someone who stays sober by….running races and doing competitive sporting events.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by….group therapy.”
“Here is a person who stays sober by doing individual counseling and therapy because they are terrified of groups.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by going to AA.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by going to church and being involved in a religious community.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by sponsoring newcomers in recovery.”
“Here is someone who stays sober because they work in a treatment center and help addicts and alcoholics every day.”
“Here is someone who stays sober through painting and creative expression as their primary outlet.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by meditation or Tai Chi.”
“Here is someone who stays sober through equine therapy.”
“Here is someone who stays sober by taking positive action every day and holding themselves accountable.”
“Here is someone who read a book about the easy way to quit drinking and they are applying the concepts in their everyday life and it is working for them.”
And on and on and on.
If you start paying attention and talking to various people in recovery, you will find that not every person is following the same old traditional recovery programs out there. There are many different ways to recover and there are dozens of them that are not even listed here now. And there are probably even some treatment methods that are yet to be seen or discovered yet.
Not all of these methods will work for everyone. But the point is that you can still learn something from a lot of these concepts and ideas.
AA was essentially founded when someone noticed that a religious group was having some success at helping alcoholics to sober up. So the ideas were borrowed and modified a bit.
They saw something that was working for someone (but clearly not working for everyone), and they tried to advance the concept and modify it to suit more people.
In the same way, I once looked at the concept of “racing for recovery” and realized that some of these alcoholics were remaining sober just based on physical exercise alone.
Really? All they are doing is pushing themselves to exercise and become more competitive, and this was enough to keep them sober?
Of course I realize that it does not work for everyone. I get that. But remember: Neither does AA! Neither does religious based recovery.
None of our solutions for addiction are a 100 percent cure for everyone who tries to apply it.
So stop for a moment and think about that. There is no sure-fire method of recovery out there. No one can definitively say: “OK just skip all of these crazy ideas and go right to AA, because they are the one true method for getting sober that works every time without fail.”
That doesn’t fly. It is simply not true. No one has a monopoly on sobriety. No one program or recovery technique has a 100 percent success rate. We have not yet “solved” the problem of addiction. And we may never totally solve it. And until we do, I suggest that you remain open minded and take a holistic approach rather than a narrow approach.
There is a saying in AA to the effect of: “If you think you have everything all figured out in recovery, you are in for a rude awakening.” Another way that they say this is: “If you believe that you are cured, that is when you are most likely to relapse.”
So there are people who get so wrapped up in the idea that the solution is spiritual, and if I just do this and believe that and pray in this certain way, then I will be safe.
Well, there is no such thing as “safe.” It is a daily practice. You don’t get to stop working at this thing. You can’t wrap up your recovery in a box and decide that you are finished one day and you can relax now.
So what I am suggesting is that you can keep learning in your recovery journey, and that you really have to in some ways. And that in order to keep growing and learning in recovery you need to look around and see what is working for others in sobriety. This is a powerful way to learn and it can open your world up to a great deal of growth.
The key to holistic recovery and the daily practice
What is the key to holistic recovery?
The key is in the daily practice. What are you doing every day as a matter of routine?
Because that is where your power is at.
If you want to make powerful changes in your life then you need to ingrain those changes as new habits.
This is how you generate power.
And intuitively I think we all know that this is true. If you try to start exercising and getting into shape but your heart is not really in it, what happens?
The effort dies out. It falls by the wayside. And you find yourself suddenly being lazy, suddenly missing more and more workouts, and then nothing is working for you. Not only did you stop working out but then you feel bad about yourself on top of that.
So how do you generate power?
By commitment. By following through. It is tough, but this is how you really make significant changes in your life. By establishing new habits.
I did this myself in many different ways over the years. By quitting smoking. By finishing a degree at school. By training for and running three marathons. By building a business that turned out to be successful.
In each case, I did not just decide on one weekend to take some quick action and do something really quick and be done with it.
None of those goals worked that way. Not even close! They were not quick little things that I just quickly cobbled together.
Instead, they were lifestyle changes. I had to create new habits. This is where the power comes from in your life. Your power is derived from your habits.
Every day we have an opportunity. Each day is a multiplier. But it is only a multiplier if you are taking consistent action in your life. Hence, the power of habits.
So when I wanted to build a business, it wasn’t really going anywhere at first, until I cracked this idea about the habits. Then I deconstructed the business and figured out what was really making money for it and what was working. And then I turned those actions into daily habits, and then I made a commitment to myself to execute on those habits every single day.
With a business, it is pretty darn easy to distract yourself. If you want to sit and answer emails all day, or do “market research,” or waste your time in other ways that make you feel like you are busy, you can easily do that. You can look busy and feel busy and not really be accomplishing anything of value. And so I had to figure out how to move past that. And the answer was in my daily habits.
Recovery from addiction is exactly the same way. There are certain things that you can do every single day in order to take care of yourself. These things will differ a bit from person to person, and discovering these things may be a bit of a journey for you. It certainly was for me. For example, I did not realize how important daily exercise was until I had about 2 years sober. Before then, I was experimenting with things such as seated meditation. That turned out to be the wrong daily habit for me. Exercise was the right one. I had to experiment, to test ideas, to seek feedback from other people and advice.
And consistency is important. In fact, that is the whole point. Start with the idea of being consistent. Do this by checking into rehab for 28 days. Follow through and do what they tell you to do. Now you are getting into the idea of consistency. Now you are realizing how to build power.
When you are generating this type of power in recovery, what you are actually doing is building discipline. You are teaching yourself the power of habit.
Now I want to caution you in that I did not get sober, go to rehab for 28 days, and have all of these powerful new habits figured out in less than a month.
That is not a realistic timeline.
Instead, build from your foundation. Go slowly and deliberately. Focus.
So for me, that meant going to rehab. I stayed for a long time, living in transitional housing. Your situation may be different. The length that you stay in rehab is not the most important thing in the world, believe it or not. It is just one factor. You may not go to treatment at all, in fact.
But you start with the idea of abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances. (Alcohol is just another drug). So you stop putting drugs into your body, and you start to heal from that perspective. And you do this consistently, one day at a time. Obviously if you relapse physically then it ruins everything and you have to start all over, unless of course the relapse kills you outright. That probably sounds a bit harsh, because it is. Addiction is like that, don’t play around with it…..
So you build discipline at first by simply abstaining, possibly being in treatment, and maybe even attending AA meetings. For me specifically, attending AA meetings is not really my thing, but I still believe strongly in the consistency of the idea. Even if you dislike the meetings, showing up them every day for 90 days in a row can have serious benefits. At the very least you are building power through discipline.
I did not get a job until I had a few months sober. I did not go back to college until I had over a year sober. I did not start exercising until I had two years sober. I did not build a business until I had about three years sober.
So don’t feel like you have to rush. Don’t feel like you have conquer all of these goals in your first month or even your first year of sobriety.
Build slowly. Build your power slowly through the mastery of new habits.
Master one habit, then move on to the next. This is how you build your power slowly and carefully, without feeling overwhelmed.
When you proceed in this way you feel strength, you build momentum. You feel yourself becoming stronger.
Positive action leads to positive outcomes
In the end, the feedback loop is fairly simple.
Positive actions on your part will lead to positive outcomes in your life.
The trouble can be in getting this loop started. How do you pick yourself up off the floor when you are stuck, when you are at ground zero?
There are two ways. One way is to force yourself to adopt the daily practice, to start taking care of yourself through the power of habit, even if you don’t feel like it. This can be very difficult though if you are starting from rock bottom. It takes guts.
The other way is to surrender and to ask for help. To go to treatment. To check in somewhere, and let them help you to rebuild from scratch. This is what I did in the beginning when I was starting from a point of total surrender.