Most readers who are familiar with the Spiritual River realize that I am not exactly a fan of traditional recovery programs. For example, I never speak highly of 12 step programs and I usually just recommend that newcomers check them out and see if meetings are a good fit for them. I strongly advocate doing what works for the individual, and I push people to explore non-traditional recovery strategies.
If you were just glancing quickly you might think there is a mixed message here, because I do strongly advocate rehab as a starting path in recovery.
And most rehabs push traditional recovery programs.
So what is the deal? Why am I against traditional recovery programs?
Take what works and leave the rest
If you stick around recovery programs long enough, you will inevitably hear this cliche eventually: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
Excellent advice that almost never gets followed. Doing so requires massive action, mindful observation, and dedication to personal growth.
What usually happens in traditional recovery is that people quote this while trying to encourage people to adhere to traditional recovery, rather than to find their own path and be a free thinker.
My experience in early recovery was that I watched dozens of addicts and alcoholics try to mold the 12 step program to their life, and they failed miserably at it. They blamed themselves for their relapse, and vowed to try and “work the program better” the next time around.
At the time, I was living in rehab, and I was fully immersed in 12 step recovery. I knew hundreds of people who were trying to recover. So, I observed a lot, and got to see what did not work.
What did work was not necessarily dedicating your life to traditional recovery. It was not a continuation of 12 step meetings in your everyday life. Success in recovery was somehow outside of that narrow box. It was beyond the scope of 12 step recovery cliches. And the winners in recovery were somehow creating this powerful new life in recovery, rather than simply showing up to 12 step meetings and whining about their day.
I wanted that powerful, creative potential in my life. I wanted to leave the whiners and the cliche slingers and actually accomplish some stuff and enjoy a powerful new existence.
So I did. I took what worked for me and I ran with it. At the time, here was what was working tremendously well in my life of recovery:
1) I had a zero tolerance policy with myself that I would not use drugs or alcohol, or allow myself to engage in self pity (a common tactic of mine in the past). “No matter what.”
2) I exercised on a regular basis. (this is huge. Do not dismiss it).
3) I reached out to help other addicts and alcoholics in several different ways (Online, in my personal life, and in my professional life).
4) I pushed myself to grow and develop as a person.
That is what I did for my recovery. There are some details involved but that is a decent overview. Over 9 years later and I am still clean and sober and I am blessed with an awesome life. I have watched so many others fail who pursued a more “traditional” path.
My experience is my best (and only) measure of the truth…..the truth of what actually works in recovery from addiction. If an addict is desperate for change in their life and they want my advice, should I really tell them to go to 12 step recovery and stick with the program and fake it till you make it and all of that stuff? Because that is not my experience and that is not what works for me, and I am definitely a real alcoholic and drug addict.
That is why I am against traditional recovery programs. I watched them fail for so many people around me, so I abandoned them. I found a path that worked for me outside of traditional recovery.
Why I am for treatment
Even though something like 93 percent of drug rehabs and alcohol treatment centers are 12 step based, I still encourage people to attend them if they want to change their life.
Because they help. Rehab may not be perfect, and the format may not cater perfectly to every individual, but rehab is still a very helpful diversion for anyone who is struggling with addiction or alcoholism.
Why is this the case? For starters, because a huge part of addiction and alcoholism is environmental. We addicts and alcoholics are creatures of habit (we are addicts after all!) and so just getting out of our routine and into a safe environment for a while is enough to make a large impact.
In my opinion, you might not even have a fighting chance if you cannot get a clean break and get into some sort of safe environment in early recovery. Sure, some people have done it, and managed to get clean and sober while still being surrounded by temptation, but why make it hard on yourself?
There are a lot of things that treatment centers do right, even though they are not perfect. Some rehab is better than nothing.
And my experience is that rehab works. Now that deserves some qualification, so let me explain:
Obviously, treatment does not always work. And, it certainly does not work in every situation. In fact, rehab fails more often than it works. I went to rehab 3 times before I “got it.” Many people have been to rehab even more than that and they might still not “get it.” And of course, there are some who avoid rehab altogether, but still manage to get clean and sober.
But in the end, treatment saved my life. I lived in long term treatment, and this gave me the foundation I needed to start living a real life again and exploring recovery. Without rehab, I am doubtful that I would be clean and sober today.
Rehab works. It does not work very often, but it sure can help. In some cases, it is the necessary “break” that people need to get started on a new life. This is my experience.
Traditional recovery programs are lacking, in my opinion. They do help some but I found them to be inadequate. So I recommend a path of personal growth instead. Whatever works for the individual is great, and I would encourage people to find their own path (whatever that may be).
Spiritual recovery programs are too narrowly focused, in my opinion. There is life outside of meetings and group therapy!
Plus, many people become “dependent” on a social based recovery solution. Not ideal, in my opinion.