The Primary Purpose of the Recovering Alcoholic
I think it would be interesting to define what the primary purpose of the recovering alcoholic is under the idea of holistic recovery.
Under the 12 step program it is clearly stated that the primary purpose is to “carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” I realize that this is the primary purpose of the group and not necessarily just applying to an individual, but it is still an interesting idea.
If you follow holistic (or creative) recovery, what is your primary purpose? I think it is a question worth exploring. I can only speak from personal experience, so I wonder if other people who follow an “alternative path” in recovery also share any of these ideas with me. Let me know if you do!
To stay clean and sober
First and foremost my primary purpose in recovery is to stay clean and sober. This may sound painfully obvious to anyone who is not in recovery, but you would be amazed at how much of a breakthrough this was for me when I was in my first year of sobriety and was trying to figure out what was truly important.
Unfortunately if you look closely at the 12 steps the idea of abstinence is only implied (in step one, based on the admission of powerlessness). But in my experience this was not clear cut enough. Really, I thought we were supposed to be clueless alcoholics and addicts who tend to have trouble following directions, right? So why is this not spelled out explicitly in step one, that I am making a commitment to not use alcohol or addictive drugs? Seriously, AA and NA–that would have been very helpful to me!
Instead, I sort of had to work this into my own mentality and attitude toward recovery. I had to set aside all of the 12 steps and say: Yeah, all of those suggestions sound nice and some of them even sound like they may be important, but step one is totally wrong for my purposes. If I really want to stay clean and sober then my first step in recovery, my highest truth and my most important mantra needs to be something more like this:
“Step One – Made a commitment to myself not to use alcohol or addictive drugs today, no matter what.”
Now that is a step that makes sense to me. Perhaps it is just how I am wired. I don’t like the assumption of implied abstinence that seems to go along with the 12 steps. They don’t even tell you not to drink! In my opinion that is a big mistake. The step I just wrote out above is much clearer to me, and it is a step that I can take action on every day. I can follow it every day. I can act on it every single day. And it leads a clear path to sobriety with no confusion at all. Don’t drink. Don’t use drugs. Period.
That is what I needed when I first got clean and sober. Clear instructions. Unfortunately, I had to make those out for myself, and realize that this instruction was really my highest value, my highest truth.
To this day, even after 12+ years of recovery, my primary purpose is to stay clean and sober at nearly any cost. It is the foundation of my recovery.
To accumulate positive changes (thus reinventing oneself)
My success in recovery is based on accumulation.
That is probably a funny sounding concept to most people. What the heck is “accumulation” when it comes to recovery?
I’m talking about all of the benefits that you receive in recovery. All of the good stuff that you achieve. All of the positive changes that you make.
That stuff adds up over time. If you stick it out, stay clean and sober, and continue to take positive action, then life simply gets better and better. There is seemingly no limit to “how good it can get.” It just keeps getting better.
When people talk about the gift of recovery, I believe that this is essentially what they are referring to. Not just the fact that they got another chance at life and at happiness, but that they are now on this amazing path where things just keep improving over and over again, to the point where they are happier than they ever imagined they could be. They aren’t just blessed, they are blessed beyond all measurement. And this is because they are putting in the work, they are pursuing personal growth and holistic health, and they are taking consistent action. Do this for five years straight and your life will be completely amazing. Do it for even longer and things just keep getting better and better. There is no limit to this sort of thing.
Therefore part of my primary purpose in “creative recovery” is to continuously be re-creating myself in recovery. I want to keep pushing the boundaries and limits of what make me who I am. I want to find the edges and improve on them. I want to be a better person. I want to help myself so that I can help others more than I do so now. I want more growth.
Pushing this envelope is a lot harder than it sounds, because fear is constantly slowing us down and getting in the way. It is so much easier to stay comfortable than it is to push the edges and find ways to grow. It is much easier to deny that you have problems then it is to face your problems and work through them. And it is even tougher to keep poking at this idea of “personal growth” when you have already established some stability in recovery and you feel like you have sort of “arrived.”
Ah, and there is part of the secret….we never fully “arrive” in recovery. But many of us will feel like that at various times during the journey. We have to remind ourselves that we are never fully “finished.”
My primary purpose is to stay on a path of personal growth. I don’t ever want to believe that I am “cured.” There is always another level to discover.
To pursue holistic health
The path of personal growth that I describe above has to do with personal growth. But there are so many different avenues of growth available to anyone, that is difficult to even know where to get started.
Given that, I looked back at my overall growth in recovery and realized that most of the important changes that I made were always related to my health in some way. But they were not always related to my spiritual health (though some changes were), instead they were more about holistic health. For example, starting to exercise and quitting cigarettes were both major changes that I made that were under the “holistic health” umbrella.
After making those changes I decided that I should look deeper at the idea of holistic health, and perhaps to even use it as a guide for making future changes. You can always ask yourself about a possible decision you are making “would this change affect my overall health positively or negatively?” Of course this can be tricky because some decisions may increase health in one area (such as social health) while reducing it in another (such as financial health). Because of that, I think it is important to place weight on the different types of health that you enjoy. For me, my sobriety and my physical health is a very, very strong priority. In comparison, my spiritual health is not as important, which to many traditional people in recovery probably sounds blasphemous. But this is something that I had to discover and a conclusion that I drew on my own, after a full decade of sobriety. I have also watched many peers in recovery (many of which were not successful) and watched how they have prioritized their own recovery. For example, I have seen several peers who had “more spiritual health” than I did who ended up relapsing anyway because of poor decisions in other areas of their lives (especially in the physical health realm).
To help and to serve others
It is easy to pay lip service to this idea. “You should help others in recovery.” It is easy to talk about it and say “oh yeah, of course that is helpful to recovery. Everyone should reach out and help others.”
But to actually get involved and make connections with real people in recovery DOES in fact make a huge difference. You can even do this on the web, in recovery chat rooms, on the forum here at Spiritual River, and so on. It does not always have to be in a face-to-face encounter.
And I have found that my recovery is hollow and meaningless unless I am making some sort of connections out there. Invariably the help goes both ways at times: I am both helped by others and I am definitely trying to do things to help them. So it really about just making connections and bringing some sort of social element to recovery.
This is one thing that AA and NA does right, but I can’t necessarily use those formats as my own outlet in which to be social. Or perhaps I just choose not to. It’s not the right venue for me. Maybe it will work for you, and if it does then I think that is great. Just never lose sight of your other primary purpose, which has to do with your own individual personal growth. I still believe that you should base the strength of your recovery on your own personal growth and actions, not hinge it on the dependence of a group. But that is just my opinion, and certainly some people find success in traditional group programs. Your mileage may vary.
Luckily you can help and serve others both inside and outside of formal recovery programs. You can “do your own thing” and still help people in this world, without the structure of a program or a meeting. I have certainly tried to do that in my life, and I have made a large number of connections. Some of those have been pretty important connections as well, and many of them were particularly special to me.
When I find myself drifting away from these connections (and I am suddenly not reaching out and helping people) I find myself getting restless and bored with life. Something is missing. I am not fulfilled. So part of my primary purpose is to keep finding ways to reach out and help others.
To create something in their life, or with their life
I believe that successful recovery is about creation. It’s about creating something. You make. You build. You accumulate good things in life and start filtering out the bad stuff. But even more than that you find some sort of purpose and you gravitate towards it, you find a purpose to live and to drive you forward.
The outsider might believe that beating addiction or alcoholism is merely an act of elimination. This is a mistake because that is never enough. You can’t just subtract the bad stuff and expect it to work. I believe this is why AA tries to supplement your life with spirituality. Creative recovery is a the same concept, only it is more broadly adapted. You can certainly use spirituality as your “replacement” if you like for your addiction, but you are not limited to that. You can use anything, and you can use personal growth, and you can start creating positive things in your life with a purpose. This can take on new meaning and grow even bigger than just “your recovery from addiction” and then your life is really on the fast track to success.
I think everyone should try to create something in their recovery. I don’t mean a painting or a to build a new house necessarily, but to create something positive by taking deliberate action. Decide to do something and then do it. This is what I did with Spiritual River, though you certainly don’t have to go build a website. Creation is not nearly so limited. You might create a special support group that serves a very small and tight knit group. Or you might just create something special out of your local AA meeting, and give it greater purpose and pour your life into it. I guess it is about what you put into it from your own soul, rather than how creative you are. I’m not talking about being creative, I’m talking about using your energy and your positive actions to fuel something positive.
Whatever you do, don’t just sit there. That’s how people relapse. You see the people in AA who are doing well, they are movers and shakers. They are talking to everyone, helping newcomers, being involved, doing whatever they can to help. Boundless energy. The right attitude. They are creating their own success. They are not waiting for success to be delivered to them or anything.
I think we have an obligation in recovery to rise to this level of enthusiasm. This is what I mean when I talk about “Creative Recovery.” Don’t just sit there, go do something. Go get active. Stop fretting every little thing, you are not going to screw up by taking action. “But what if I do the wrong things, waste my time, etc?” Stop worrying. There is no point to it, just get into action. See who you might help. See what you might create in the world that is positive. If you fail, it is no big deal, because you are in recovery now.
Do you realize how much free time you have now at your disposal? Now that you are no longer drinking or abusing drugs? Your time is nearly unlimited! You have plenty of time. When I look back at the last 12 years of my recovery, I realize 2 things:
1) I got a ton of stuff done and accomplished a lot.
2) I actually wasted tons and tons of free time.
Seriously, you have lots of time at your disposal now that you are in recovery. Start using it to build the life that you really want. Start using it to create something positive in this world.
To pursue new degrees of freedom
There is another important trend that I have noticed in my 12 year journey through sobriety. It is that with each new growth experience that I go through, I uncover another layer of freedom that I did not previously have access to.
This is an incredibly exciting path to be on. Who wants to be locked in chains and felt bound by invisible forces? No one that I know. We all crave more freedom.
Looking back at my past growth, each step has been a new layer of freedom:
1) When I first got clean and sober, this was a huge step into freedom. Probably the biggest leap of all, but it was just the beginning.
2) When I quit smoking cigarettes, this was another huge eye opener for me. I did not even realize the prison I had made for myself with smoking.
3) When I started exercising on a regular basis, I finally “got it.” After being whipped into shape, I felt so much better, so much more confident. Even just walking around, it feels good to know that I can take off and run for hours. This affected my feeling of freedom on a level that I was never previously aware of.
4) All of the benefits of recovery that add up to create a stress free life have created emotional freedom that I never knew existed.
Every major growth experience uncovers a new layer of freedom. Therefore this is just another “framework” in which to view recovery and personal growth. Ask yourself “where is my freedom limiting me? Where have a built a prison for myself?” It is almost always a self induced prison from which we have to break free. Therefore another part of my primary purpose is to constantly assess where my freedom is limited, and see if there is a growth opportunity there.
Now if I had to choose just one of these primary purposes to describe my life, I would have to say it is best summarized as “personal growth.” Obviously maintaining sobriety is an important part of that for me, and it is a part that I like to state explicitly so that there is no confusion in my life. My most important value is sobriety itself. But the vehicle for maintaining that sobriety is personal growth.
Spirituality plays a role in all of this but to some extent we are just arguing the meaning of the words themselves. Many would see an approach like mine based on personal growth as being “spiritual” while others would say that it misses out on real spiritual concepts completely. I suppose it does not matter too much so long as what you are doing is working for you. And ultimately this is the yardstick by which every person should measure: “Is your recovery strategy working well for you?” If not, then it might be time to try something different.
I was in AA for about a year or so but I had lost enthusiasm and never had made a strong connection with the meetings at all. This was when I started to deeply examine my course in recovery and wonder if I could not achieve sobriety by some other fashion. Interestingly enough my primary purpose today still includes helping other alcoholics. But my real focus is on personal growth as a means to accomplish this.