When I was in very early recovery I was lucky enough to check into an inpatient treatment center.
While I was there, I attended several meetings, groups, and lectures. At the time, I definitely had my own opinions about which lectures were more relevant and helpful to me.
One of the lectures was called “balanced lifestyle,” and it struck me at the time as being a bit of miss. My understanding of early recovery and treatment was that, in general, we want to focus and pretty much obsess over working our recovery program, and completely immerse ourselves into the world of treatment and recovery. Go to lots of meetings, go to rehab, follow up with IOP groups, hang out with new peers that you meet at AA and NA, and so on. Allow your entire life to be completely consumed and immersed in the world of addiction treatment.
So this philosophy sort of goes against the idea of achieving balance in recovery.
Later on in my journey, after I had a few solid months of recovery under my belt, I realized that the whole idea of striving for balance was starting to make more sense.
So I want to convey this very clearly to you, because I think it is a key point: Balance is critical for long term sobriety. But in early recovery, you really want to focus and go “all in” on your recovery and treatment.
As you remain clean and sober and you continue to work a program of recovery, you will slowly start to transition from being “all in” on early recovery to being someone who is living a full and balanced life in long term recovery.
But the distinction is important: Balance is for the long term, but early recovery demands focus and complete immersion.
At one point I was living in a halfway house and I was basically averaging about 2 “recovery type” meetings every single day. And I had not yet gone back to work and I certainly had not taken on anything like college.
I felt comfortable, which is a warning sign that I could have been complacent. And in fact, even though I had a few months of sober time under my belt at that point and I was hitting roughly 2 meetings or groups every day, I was complacent.
My sponsor and my therapist could see this problem, but I could not. I lacked the perspective to be able to see the danger in what I was doing. I was arguing with them and saying “hey, I am doing what I am supposed to do, I am going to lots of meetings and I am working on my program.”
And my sponsor and my therapist came back at me with: “Yes, but you have a foundation now, and you have much more potential, and you need to build a real life for yourself. You need to go back to work, and you also need to go back to college.”
I was stuck in fear and I was complacent so I pushed back against these suggestions. I was very much afraid that if I took on the added stress of a job, and then pile schooling on top of that, that it would push me to relapse. I would not have as much time to go to AA meetings and such. I was afraid that I would push too hard, too quickly, and that I would fail because of it.
My sponsor and my therapist both insisted that this was the right path for me, and that I needed to step up to the plate and take some action.
So I did. I went back to work and I started working about 30 hours per week at first, and later I moved up to a full 40 hour week. After a few months of this they also convinced me to go back to community college, which started with just a single course. Later I expanded this to the point that I was doing 12 credits every semester and I eventually finished a 4 year degree.
A couple of things: One, I eased in during these examples. I did not just dive in and start doing full time with either work or school. I gave myself time to adjust, to figure out my work flow, and to figure out how much more I could safely take on. This was also good because I could quickly see that doing these things was not going to overwhelm me.
Two, it was fear that held me back from seeking more balance in my life. I was so afraid of relapse that I believed separating myself from the intense obsession with recovery programs would be my undoing.
One of the things that can be helpful in this is in simply watching and observing your mentors. You don’t even have to ask them for advice necessarily; simply watch what the “winners” in recovery programs are doing with their life and with their time.
For example, my sponsor had a full life: He worked a real full time job, he had a wife and a family, and he golfed on the weekends with people in recovery. He did not just go to meetings every single day and do nothing else. He had achieved some real balance.
My sponsor’s sponsor had a lot of balance too–perhaps even more so. He would attend 1, maybe 2 AA meetings per week, but almost never 3 meetings. That doesn’t seem like a lot of meetings, but this person had 27 years clean and sober, and they had built a lot of relationships with peers in recovery, and the work that they did revolved around recovery. So again, this guy might tell the newcomer to try to do 90 meetings in the first 90 days (which isn’t very balanced actually), but if you watched what he was doing with this time, he only spent about 2 hours of his week in meetings. He had a lot of experience and a lot of clean time and he had a good balance going on in his life. And it was working well for him.
Recovery is a holistic approach to overcoming addiction. Relapse can come at us from any direction. People relapse because they get sick and end up on medications, or they become immobile and they get frustrated and bored, so they relapse. Or they go through an emotionally traumatic breakup and this causes them to relapse. Or they suffer mental illness that complicates their recovery to the point that they relapse. Or they suffer a spiritual crisis of some sort and they become selfish and they relapse.
We can relapse for a thousand different reasons, and those reasons can occur in all of these different areas of our life, and of our health. This is why the solution must be holistic.
And this is also why balance is important. If you focus on spirituality so much that you are neglecting your physical health, your emotional health, or your relationships, then guess what? You are still vulnerable to relapse because of that lack of balance.
Strive for balance as you transition out of short term recovery and into long term sobriety. This will serve to strengthen your recovery program and reduce the chances of relapse. Good luck!