When I was in short term treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, there was a lecture at the rehab center I attended about balanced lifestyle. At the time, I thought that this was sort of irrelevant, and I did not really see how it would help me to stay clean and sober in recovery.
Almost 10 years later, and balance is now one of the most important concepts in my life today.
Because as I stayed clean and sober, my life slowly become more complicated, and full. Relationships formed. I started working, went back to school, started a part time business, and so on. Life fills up with stuff in recovery. You experience new things, learn new things, and thus start accumulating stuff. Physical stuff, new relationships, and new responsibilities.
As you grow, and as your life gets better and better in recovery, the need for balance becomes more and more important. Let’s take a closer look at the concept of balance and how it relates to our recovery:
* Key point: balance is not critical in very early recovery.
* Balanced lifestyle meshes perfectly with the holistic approach to good health in recovery.
* Maintaining balance helps to alleviate obsession, which can lead to unhappiness.
* Striving for balance gives your life the variety you need to keep things interesting.
* Achieving balance in recovery helps to protect you from the threat of relapse.
* Having a balanced life gives you the ability to respond from a place of strength.
* Attaining balance in recovery keeps exposing you to new concepts, so you are always learning.
* Balance can help you to reduce stress by building in some down time to a hectic schedule.
* Focusing on balance insures that you create discipline in your life.
* The pursuit of a balanced lifestyle will help you to grow in many new directions.
Key point: balance is NOT critical in very early recovery.
I mentioned above that I had a lecture about balanced lifestyle in short term drug rehab, and I thought that it was irrelevant and out of place.
I still think that, actually.
So what is the deal? The deal is that balance is not really critical in early recovery, because that is when you need focus. You need to practically obsess on recovery concepts and support. You need strong willingness and dedication to staying clean and sober, at the exclusion of almost everything else. This has very little to do with balance.
Early recovery is not about balance. Early recovery is about doing whatever it takes to maintain sobriety. It is so tough to get through early recovery that a laser focus and raw, single-minded determination is more valuable than having balance in your life.
Early recovery requires the opposite of balance. You do not want to spread yourself thin in early recovery; instead, you want to go overboard in dedicating your life to sobriety.
I have already written a bit about transition in recovery. Transition is an important concept because what got you clean and sober will not keep you clean and sober.
Transition is important because the things that keep you clean and sober at 90 days are not going to work for you at all when you have 2 years in. And none of that stuff will likely help you when you are at 8 years sober.
Why is this the case?
Because we grow and learn and evolve in recovery. Especially during the first year, our path in recovery is ever changing. For example, I lived in a treatment center for the first 20 months of my recovery. I did certain things in order to work on my recovery. Now, almost ten years later, my focus has shifted completely and my strategy for remaining sober is completely different. We change and grow in recovery, so our strategy for remaining sober must evolve as well.
Living in long term rehab gave me incredible focus in early recovery. Today, my life can better be described in terms of balance, rather than being laser focused. Focus was important in my early recovery, but today, it pays me greater benefit to consider the idea of balance, and make sure that I am keeping things in healthy perspective. If one area of my life gets too much focus, then I can easily become obsessed, less happy, and potentially less healthy as well.
The idea of balance is not critical in early recovery. It becomes progressively more important the longer you stay clean and sober. It is hugely important in long term recovery.
Balanced lifestyle meshes perfectly with the holistic approach to good health in recovery.
One of the strongest strategies in recovery from addiction or alcoholism is one that is holistic.
That simply means that a person needs to focus on personal growth in all areas of their life, treating the “whole” person rather than just one part (like the spiritual aspect, for example).
So an holistic approach in recovery might include:
* The search for spiritual growth.
* Exercise on a regular basis.
* Healthy nutrition.
* Quitting smoking or other bad habits.
* Seeking emotional balance.
* Nurturing healthy relationships and eliminating toxic ones.
* The search for more knowledge and more education on an ongoing basis.
And so on. Anyone who is actively pursuing growth in their life in several of these areas is really pursuing an holistic recovery strategy. Doing so becomes extremely powerful, because each one of these areas of growth can have a positive impact on your ability to stay clean and sober.
Many recovery programs limit themselves to spiritual growth alone. But realize how much more powerful and successful those in recovery will be when they refuse to limit themselves to growth in just one area. For example, some people stay clean and sober through a program of rigorous exercise. So imagine how helpful it would be to those using other strategies to incorporate vigorous exercise into their lives. If it works well for some then it should be at least helpful for others, as a general rule.
The other key here is that you may discover which recovery strategies are most helpful to you through your search for balance and holistic growth. For example, some people might never discover how important a role nutrition plays for how they feel on a regular basis, until they experiment with it. On the other hand, others might not even notice a difference when they switch up their diet. So the key is that an holistic approach will help you to explore what really works for you (and what does not) in terms of staying clean and sober.
A balanced lifestyle is really a push for holistic health. If you are seeking balance, then you would not neglect important areas of your life, such as your physical health, your emotional state, or your spiritual growth. Instead, in the search for real balance, the holistic approach should develop naturally as you strive to learn and to grow in all areas of your life.
Maintaining balance helps to alleviate obsession, which can lead to unhappiness.
What is the opposite of balance?
In a positive sense, extreme focus. If you are focused on just staying clean and sober, for example, then that might be a good thing.
In a negative sense, obsession might be a better term for a negative lack of balance. If you are obsessing over something, and this detracts from your overall quality of life, then obviously you want to recognize that and seek to restore balance.
What are some examples?
* Work – some people become obsessed with their work, to an unhealthy degree. They may lose themselves in their work, put in long hours, or use it as a way to avoid looking at themselves and their issues. Some people temporarily “conquer” their addiction by throwing themselves into their work, such that they do not have time to indulge their drug of choice. This is almost never the healthy answer though and too much work can certainly end up being a bad thing.
* Relationships – Emotional dependency is not a healthy thing, and can mask other problems that might be being covered up by an obsessive relationship. For example, some people get into recovery and find that meeting a significant other gives them an emotional boost that makes it seem easy to stay clean and sober in the short term. The problem is that the “high” from the new relationship does not last, and real recovery skills still need to built. Obsessing over another person is still an obsession, and is usually an unhealthy one. That said, real relationships can still form in recovery, but a healthy balance will always be a priority.
* Support systems – yes, even recovery strategies can become a dependency of sorts if you over do it, and I believe that this happens to some people in various recovery groups. You can become obsessed with your recovery solution (such as religion, 12 step programs, or others) and basically lose the forest for the trees. Remember that the real goal of recovery is a healthy life. Some people lose sight of that because they become obsessed with their solution.
A recovery program is not the ultimate point of your life. Healthy, purposeful living is the point of your life. Don’t confuse the two. If you are obsessed with a recovery program, it is time to take a step back and seek some balance.
Regardless of what you become obsessed with in recovery, it is not going to be healthy in the long run when you compare it to the idea of balance and holistic health. As such, one thing you might do is to try and have a sharp awareness about any obsessions that might be developing in your life. When you see one, it is a red flag to take a step back and consider how balanced your life is right now.
Obsession almost always leads to stress and general unhappiness. Balance restores harmony and keeps you content in life.
Striving for balance gives your life the variety you need to keep things interesting.
Is there such a thing as burn out in recovery? You bet.
Some people get involved with a recovery program such as the twelve step program, but they end up getting burned out with it, and some may even relapse because of it.
Again, your recovery solution really should be a balanced life of holistic health, not some program that simply points you towards a potential solution. This could include a 12 step program of course, but the key is to push yourself toward holistic growth beyond what is offered in traditional programs (just spiritual growth).
Your life needs balance and variety in order to be sustainable. If you rely too heavily on a 12 step program (or any other recovery program), then you run the risk of living far too narrow a recovery solution, one that does not have the flexibility to respond to all of life’s challenges.
This is not to say that a 12 step program is not effective for recovery. It most certainly is, and can work well for certain people. The problem comes in when the program becomes the only thing in your life, to the detriment of other endeavors and growth experiences outside of traditional recovery.
For example, take the person who is actively involved in AA, but also has an active life in their church, exercises on a regular basis, works at a job that has some meaning for them, and works hard at maintaining emotional stability through therapy and counseling. Such a person has a bit of balance in their life, and they also have some balance in their approach to recovery. This is strong because it is sustainable over time, the therapy and counseling and church can help give perspective and new information that might not come to the person through AA alone.
This is not to say that everyone in AA should run out and join a church and seek counseling. There are many potential paths and various strategies in recovery. The key is not that you choose the right strategies, but only that you find the ones that work well for you, and achieve enough balance in your life that you are not missing the bigger picture.
If you choose a recovery program and become so focused on it that you are not living a balanced life of growth, then it is time to take a step back and reevaluate. Holistic health should be the long term goal, and balance should be the guiding principle that leads you there. Specific recovery programs are just tools, they only point to the solution; they are not the solution itself.
Achieving balance in recovery helps to protect you from the threat of relapse.
When you achieve balance in long term recovery you become more protected from the threat of relapse.
There are a couple of ways that balance helps to protect you from relapse:
* You can react quicker to various life emergencies when you live a balanced lifestyle. No emergency will prove too difficult if you have a stable recovery that is rooted in holistic health. For example, say you depend heavily on therapy for your recovery, but then suddenly have no means of income. Or, say you rely heavily on 12 step meetings and then suddenly you have to move to a remote location, and can’t find them quickly. Having balance in recovery means you are not depending on this stuff that could potentially change at the drop of a hat.
* Balance brings a certain amount of protection with it. Relapse can creep in from many directions. Living a life of balance helps to keep you protected from potential hazards, such as getting hooked on pain medication, or being completely devastated due to a failed relationship. When you have a balanced life in place, none of these typical triggers will have as much impact on you, because you have other important areas in your life to help offset the disruption. In other words, when you have balance in your life, no single aspect of your life can completely derail you, because the other aspects are all strong as well.
* Balance protects against obsessions, which can easily lead to relapse.
* Balance reduces your overall stress level, reducing the risk of relapse.
* Achieving balance helps teach you the level of discipline that is necessary to pursue a successful recovery.
* Pursuing balance keeps you in learning mode, as you push yourself to grow in new areas, thus helping you to avoid complacency.
* Pursuing balance forces you to raise your level of self awareness, a huge key in ongoing success in recovery.
Having a balanced life gives you the ability to respond from a place of strength.
Recently I examined the idea that living a passive life was always leading a person to react to situations, instead of responding from a place of real strength.
What is the difference?
One difference has to do with how balanced the person is….emotionally, and otherwise.
If your life is in a state of chaos, if your relationships are a mess, if you are deep in debt and not earning much income, if you are out of shape and often sick and feeling lousy all the time….these are the kinds of conditions that lead to more poor decisions. The chaos and negativity can become a cycle.
On the other hand, if you have worked hard in your life to take positive action and achieve some real balance, then there are very few situations which could really throw you for a loop. If you are really working hard to grow on a holistic path, then really there is nothing so great that it would knock you down so far as to even consider relapsing.
Here are some examples of how balance allows you to respond with strength to new situations in your life:
* If you suffer an illness or injury, having balance allows you to better cope with it. For example, strong spirituality, healthy relationships, or a vigorous exercise routine might all play a vital role in helping you to deal with an unexpected illness.
* If your spiritual development takes a back seat role for a while, having other strong holistic themes in your life can help to compensate for that and help you to correct course. For example, if you are in the habit of good nutrition, helping others in recovery, or regular exercise, then all of these things can and do push you back to a more spiritual path. So you can protect yourself from spiritual relapse by expanding your spirituality in a way.
* If you rely heavily on 12 step meetings for your sobriety, seeking balance and finding new ways to grow and learn can help you to achieve balance and strength. Some people become dependent on meetings in order to stay clean. This misses the point of recovery a bit, and could use some healthy balance to even things out. Again, the pursuit of holistic health should give you enough power, strength, and positive vibes that you would not entirely dependent on meetings in order to maintain sobriety. There is nothing wrong with going to meetings….but depending on them too much shows you that there is a need for balance.
* When you seek balance over the long term in recovery, you become better able to respond to new crisis situations. This is simply due to learning over time with an emphasis on seeking new knowledge and attempting to be well rounded. You become more versatile as a human being when you push yourself to keep learning and to stay balanced. Which brings us to our next point….
Attaining balance in recovery keeps exposing you to new concepts, so you are always learning.
When I first got clean and sober in recovery, I kept hearing it over and over again: “The solution is spiritual.”
So for the first few years of my recovery, I focused on deepening my spiritual connection. Only the thing is, I did this in ways that I thought were “spiritual.”
In other words, I prayed, I meditated, and I read books about spirituality, and I studied the religion that I was raised on, and so on.
Now there was nothing necessarily wrong with all this, only that it was a limited way to look at spirituality.
At some point, my sponsor in recovery urged me to go back to work. And to go back to school. And to start exercising.
I thought the guy was nuts, to be honest. What did this stuff have to do with spirituality, and with staying clean and sober? I needed to focus on having a spiritual experience, or so I thought.
Well it turns out that all of that stuff that my sponsor was pushing me to do was all part of achieving balance, and it was all part of a huge learning experience.
So I started exercising regularly. This involved a huge amount of learning (and it is still going on today).
I also went back to school. Obviously, more learning.
And I got a job, then later I took on a more challenging job. More learning and growth experiences.
If you take an honest look at your life, you will always be able to find something you should work on. Some new direction for growth. Something you may have neglected or pushed to the side for a while.
The search for balance leads you to more learning. If you strive for balance in your life then you will always be learning new things, and discovering new truths about yourself.
This is a very powerful way to live because it involves constant self analysis. You don’t have to beat yourself up or be overly critical, but you should still push yourself a bit to keep achieving personal growth.
Balance becomes the key concept for deciding your next direction. When you ask “How should I grow in my life? What should I be working on next?” the answer to this is going to be determined by taking stock in your life, and seeing what areas are lacking or need work.
For example, at one point fairly early in my own journey I was doing well in many aspects, but physically I was doing nothing. No exercise at all. This was a huge opportunity for me, and many others saw it first and suggested it. Eventually, I gave in and started exercising. I stuck with it long enough and now it is a real gift, a natural high all unto itself that I would never dream of going without.
Another example of mine was with education. I was working, being productive, and staying clean in recovery. Others saw potential and said “why don’t you go back to school and finish up your degree?” My life was out of balance, because I was not being challenged enough, and was wasting potential. Again, others saw this before I did. (hint: take suggestions from those you trust!)
In each case, the search for balance helps point toward the next learning experience.
Another way to find an opportunity for more learning is to look at your fears, and then face them. There is no learning experience that is more valuable than to do this. There is no growth that you could make that is more significant than to face your fears and conquer them. It is hard, it is uncomfortable, and I personally don’t like doing it. But when I get gutsy and face one of my fears head-on, the results are always worth it. Always. It is the quickest way to restore balance in your life and learn something new about yourself.
Balance can help you to reduce stress by building in some down time to a hectic schedule.
Sometimes the holistic growth thing can seem to get out of hand. If you are constantly trying to improve nearly every aspect of your life, how do you find time to relax and just enjoy your new life?
Balance is the key. Sometimes I have become far too wrapped up in my work and my business, and at some point it starts to affect me negatively. What typically happens then is that my family will encourage me to go on a vacation with them, and doing this taught me the importance of work/life balance.
Some people strive to have this sort of balance on a day to day basis. Others may do just fine with the occasional vacation or scheduled family time. The point is that you have to find a path that works for you. I am still finding my own path in this regard, I am far from having perfected it.
If you are just stuck on pushing yourself as hard as possible for personal growth then you run the risk of becoming obsessed. Exploring the idea of balance will help to reduce this risk by forcing you to examine the aspects of your life that could introduce some healthy stress reduction. This might be things such as:
* Exploring your spirituality.
* Helping others.
And so on. These are the sorts of things that can help to “slow you down” and help keep your life in perspective. It is not all about personal growth and achievement, all the time. If you do not do the things that allow you to reflect, then you will never really enjoy the progress you are making.
Balance helps to introduce these sorts of activities that allow you to reflect and actually enjoy your recovery.
Focusing on balance insures that you create discipline in your life.
How does the search for balance create discipline in your life?
First of all, it takes discipline just to maintain the awareness needed to be able to think about a balanced lifestyle.
You have to take a step back and view your life objectively (as much as you can anyway), and really try to take stock of what you need to work on.
Not only that, but you have to keep doing this on a continuous basis, so that you continue to learn and grow in your recovery.
Just maintaining this awareness about yourself takes a certain level of discipline. The only way to build it up is to commit yourself to become a better person, and then take positive action.
Second, not everything that you try to achieve in your path of personal growth is going to be fun. Some of it will probably be grueling hard work. And that is fine, there will be plenty of fun stuff too to balance it all out.
But understand that there will be some hard stuff, and some scary stuff, that you will be reluctant to do in your recovery. You must do it. You must push past the fear and create your own momentum through taking positive action. This creates discipline. When you do the things that are hard for you to do, and get positive long term results from it, then you are definitely on a path of real growth.
If you say that you are going to commit to a life of holistic growth and balance, but then you fail to do it, then you lack discipline. However, if you push yourself to follow through with this goal and start achieving small victories in different areas of your life, then you are building the discipline that is necessary to enjoy long term growth in recovery.
With discipline comes momentum, and confidence. Continue to take positive action and your success in life will build on itself. If you keep balance and holistic health as your guiding principles for personal growth, your stability in recovery will only increase as your life gets better and better.
The pursuit of a balanced lifestyle will help you to grow in many new directions.
The bottom line is that if you seek balance in your life and keep striving for holistic growth, then you will maintain success in recovery as you grow in new directions.
If you keep the concept of “balance” in the back of your mind as a guiding principle, you will be sure that you always looking to improve the weak areas in your life, which will help you tremendously. Most people prefer to minimize their weaknesses and this holds them back from making massive personal growth. When you seek balance you end up targeting your weakest areas (or areas in which you have been idle) and this can create a large amount of personal growth very quickly. If you make large gains in your weakest area then this makes a huge difference in your overall life.
Attack a weakness in your life and restore balance. Experience growth. Rinse and repeat. Stop using “acceptance of self” as an excuse for inaction.
Push yourself to achieve balance and you will be pushing yourself to grow in the areas that you most need it.
Life doesn’t get much better than that!
Do you have balance in your life today? What do you need to work on most to restore balance? Let me know in the comments!