This is a bit of an advanced topic and it is really more for someone who is living in long term recovery already. If you have just recently become clean and sober then the ideas in this article may not apply to your life immediately. There is a good reason for that and the main reason is because you want to have a laser focus in early recovery.
When you first get clean and sober, your goal should not be to create this perfect holistic life right off the bat. This is jumping the gun in several regards because in early recovery you are not yet stable enough to try to achieve this holistic living right away. It is too soon; to early to strive for holistic balance in your life.
Instead, early recovery demands laser focus. You should put all of your energy into learning the basics of addiction recovery and how to remain clean and sober.
For example, when I first got clean and sober I lived in a long term treatment center for 20 months, and I pretty much ate, lived, and breathed recovery for the first six months or so. I was going to meetings every day, I was in group therapy twice a week and I was also seeing a counselor one-on-one. In addition to this I had a sponsor and I also spent countless hours discussing recovery concepts with the other recovering addicts and alcoholics that I lived with in long term rehab. It was non-stop focus on recovery, and I thought of little else.
Later on I got nervous as my sponsor started to push me towards a more holistic approach, as he suggested that I go back to college and start exercising, among other things. I was nervous and confused by these suggestions because at the time I believed that I need to focus 100% on addiction recovery concepts if I was going to remain clean and sober. Little did I realize that my sponsor was leading me in the proper direction to start embracing long term recovery–branching out and finding a more holistic approach to life and to recovery, rather than just focusing on the basics forever.
That is why this idea of “holistic living” and “goal alignment” is a bit of an advanced topic. Not because it is difficult to do, but simply because you want to focus more narrowly in early recovery so that you give yourself the best chance of remaining clean and sober. Try to find this balance too soon in your recovery journey and you are likely to just invite a relapse by taking your attention away from what is really important (learning how to avoid relapse in the short term!).
Once you have mastered the basics of recovery and got a few months of solid recovery under your belt, you may be ready to start thinking about your overall life strategy in recovery without becoming distracted or misled.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with doing “90 meetings in 90 days” and ignoring all other personal development goals IF that is what keeps you clean and sober. At some point though you are going to want to branch out and start pushing yourself to grow and meet some goals that are not directly related to your addiction.
The holistic approach is important for long term recovery
The secret to getting clean and sober is all about your level of commitment, which flows from your level of surrender. You surrender to the disease of addiction and then you mentally commit to take the actions that you need to take in order to change your life. This commitment is all about willingness and taking the proper actions, consistently, until you are stable again in your sobriety.
Once people are stable again in their recovery they face another unique challenge: Remaining clean and sober for the rest of their lives. Of course many of them will try to do this “a day at a time” and that is a fine approach, but regardless of how they approach long term recovery the fact remains: they have the challenge of living the rest of their life sober while avoiding relapse.
How do they do this? Is it still all about their commitment to recovery?
Sure it is. And this commitment to recovery, just like in early sobriety, also demands that they take action.
People who take action based on their commitment to recovery are going to do better than those who are being lazy or doing nothing.
Early recovery requires certain actions to embrace and learn recovery. Most people go to rehab, go to 12 step meetings, some get a sponsor, some go to church, and so on. These are the types of actions that can teach people how to live sober.
Long term recovery requires actions as well. In order to maintain sobriety in the long run, people have to actually DO stuff. They have to take action. But what actions can they take in order to remain sober after living in recovery for 3 years, for 5 years, for 10 years, for 20 years? What actions are important for long term recovery?
This is where the idea of the “holistic approach” comes in.
In early recovery, the holistic approach is not that important. In early recovery, it is all about taking massive action and focusing on whatever it takes to stay clean for one more day.
But later on, when staying clean and sober becomes routine and automatic, new actions are needed in order to maintain a positive experience in recovery. And these new actions are based on the holistic approach to recovery.
What is “holistic living” in recovery anyway?
When I use the term “holistic living,” you may be picturing a hot stone massage and a zen garden in your living room. This would certainly be nice, but it is not what I am really getting at by the term “holistic!”
In this case, “holistic” just means “whole.” We are treating the “whole” body, or your entire body, when it comes to your recovery from addiction.
So instead of just focusing on, say, the spiritual aspect of recovery (as they do in many recovery programs), we would be talking about treating the “whole” body in addiction recovery, and treating a person in recovery:
* Physically – so that they are exercising, eating healthier foods, quitting smoking, losing weight, etc.
* Mentally – so that they might be seeking higher education, engaging their minds, learning how to learn more effectively, etc.
* Socially – so that they are connecting with others in recovery on a regular basis.
* Spiritually – so that they find a higher power and draw strength and inspiration from an inner source.
* Emotionally – so that they focus on finding balance in their life and avoiding the chaos that could lead them to relapse.
* Financially – so that they can live within their means, avoid debt, and overcome this potentially huge source of stress that can lead to relapse.
And so on. There are certainly more categories than what I have listed here, as these are just some broad aspects of life that happened to pop into my head at the time.
You can see why this may be distracting and even detrimental in very early recovery, when someone is first trying to learn how to live clean and sober. If such a person is focusing on nutrition and their finances, for example, they are going to be too distracted from their real goal in early recovery to have enough focus to learn what they need to learn.
It does not make sense to start examining these categories and thinking about how you can make growth in these different areas until you are already clean and sober and well established in your sobriety.
Therefore the process of using this holistic approach may play out over several weeks or even months before you really get to start examining your overall life strategy and thinking about goal alignment. Remember that early recovery demands intense focus on learning the basics of staying clean and sober. Once you are stable you should start to consider this process that follows below.
First, get grounded in recovery
As I have already mentioned, the foundation of holistic living has to start with a stable life in recovery. If you are not already maintaining sobriety with some stability then you need to refocus your efforts on the basics and learn how to maintain your sobriety first. For me, this meant living in long term treatment, attending lots of meetings, therapy, and so on. Your actions may be slightly different than these but ultimately it will likely require a strong commitment and lots of massive action on your part.
One thing that I noticed in very early recovery was that most people who attempted to get clean and sober did not achieve this goal. Most people who tried to find this stability while becoming abstinent were not able to do so. This is simply what I observed at the time. Nearly everyone that I saw trying to get clean and sober in the surrounding recovery community eventually relapsed.
This was a clear indicator to me at the time that I had to push really hard if I was going to succeed. Obviously, I was seeing that the odds of achieving long term sobriety were stacked against the newcomer. If you wanted to be one of the lucky few who broke through and achieved long term success then you really had to make an amazing effort.
So the key for me was to try hard. Really hard. In fact, I told myself that I had better commit to this journey of recovery with more conviction than I had ever mustered before in my life. This was to be my most serious effort that I had ever made, because I saw so many people who failed at it.
I had already been to rehab a few times before in my life and I was never able to stay clean and sober. I needed to find stability in my early recovery and therefore I had to take the right actions that would get me there. For me, I realized that this meant living in long term rehab so that is exactly what I did. I lived in a long term treatment center and this is how I finally found that stability that I needed in order to get a healthy start on my recovery.
You may not have to live in rehab in order to find this stability. Perhaps you can become stable in your recovery by attending meetings every day, or maybe by joining a church community, or whatever. But before you can continue with this process you have to find stability in recovery.
Use the concept of “massive action” to help you to find this stability. Find a solution (treatment, religion, group therapy, meetings, etc.) and then push yourself really hard to make that solution work for you. To be honest it does not even matter too much what that solution is. You could choose just about any positive solution. The key is all in your commitment and that will manifest itself as massive action on your part. If you do not see yourself taking massive action and really pushing hard to embrace a solution then it simply means that you have to made the full commitment that is necessary in order to be successful in recovery.
Make this commitment, take massive action, and learn the basics of recovery. Learn how to live clean and sober. Learn how to avoid relapse. Find stability in this new life. This is your first and most important priority in early recovery.
Second, get some goals in your recovery
As you take massive action and find stability in your sobriety, you will naturally start to set some goals for yourself.
Some of these goals may be directly related to your staying clean and sober, while others may be much more “indirect.”
For example, a lot of addicts and alcoholics end up as cigarette smokers. As such, they may have the goal in recovery some day of quitting smoking.
Perhaps one of your goals in recovery is going to be to get into shape and get fit. Most people would not consider this as being directly related to staying clean and sober, but it is certainly a big part of your overall health and well being in recovery (and actually, I have found that fitness is more directly related to sobriety than I once believed).
You may have the goal of seeking higher education in your recovery. Maybe you want to go back to school so that you can get a degree, learn a new career, or maybe you just want to increase your income. Is this directly related to staying clean and sober? Probably not. But it is still a positive goal that can enhance your overall life in recovery.
So the first part of this process is to commit fully to recovery, take massive action, and learn the basics of staying clean and sober.
The second part of this process is to start setting and striving for goals once you have established yourself in recovery. Take deliberate action and set out to achieve some things in your life. Seek to improve your life by setting some concrete goals that actually challenge you to make positive changes.
The third part of this process is this:
Once you are setting and achieving goals in your recovery, take a step back and examine your overall strategy in life.
Third, start thinking about your overall life strategy and goal alignment
Most people who float through life never think about their personal growth at this level of detail.
Even people who set and achieve goals in the real world rarely consider how their goals can interact with each other to form an overall strategy for living.
I first experienced this idea of “goal alignment” in my life when I was in my second or third year of recovery. I was simultaneously trying to do many things in my recovery:
* Complete a college degree.
* Quit smoking cigarettes.
* Get into shape and become a regular runner.
* Start eating healthier.
What I found was that at least two of these goals matched up perfectly and fell into perfect alignment with each other. These 2 goals were:
* Quitting smoking.
* Regular exercise.
I had no idea that those two goals would work so well together.
There was definitely a barrier to entry here, because I had tried and failed at both goals numerous times in the past. I had tried to quit smoking many times, and failed. I had also tried to get into shape and work out on a regular basis and I had failed at that too. I was never able to get into a solid routine and really get into shape, and exercise had always fallen by the wayside.
I am not sure exactly how this all came together but at some point I decided that I really, really wanted to be free from cigarettes. So I made a huge plan that would result in a few months of preparation before I even tried to stop smoking. Part of this preparation was exercise. I knew that I had to be working out on a regular basis if I was going to feel good about myself when I finally put down the cigarettes.
So I started running on a regular basis, and even though I was still smoking at the time, I pressed on with it and kept increasing distance.
My quit day came and somehow I made it through the grueling withdrawal. I kept running and the exercise seemed to replace the “buzz” that I was now lacking from cigarettes.
Looking back, I can see how these two goals were in perfect alignment.
The goal of “quitting smoking” and the goal of “exercise” complimented each other perfectly.
Neither goal took anything away from the other goal, and in fact, they both gave the other goal a huge boost. This was proper goal alignment.
Another example of goal alignment
Several years later in my recovery, long after I had quit smoking and made exercise into a regular habit, I got a few more goals.
Throughout my life I have had major stress at times due to my finances. Being a drug addict and an alcoholic, you can imagine that I was not very good with my money. Being broke is not fun, and is a huge source of stress. I wanted to avoid this in my recovery, and establish some sort of sense of security.
Now at the time I was also working a day job for my income, but I did not necessarily enjoy the day job environment, and particularly did not like the office politics that came along with the job. I also did not like the fact that I spent such a huge portion of my life at work. It was too restrictive for my tastes to dedicate 40 plus hours per week to a job that I did not really enjoy.
Of course I could see that there was a relationship between my spending habits and my financial security. The more stuff I bought and the more I splurged the greater the threat to my finances. If I saved money instead of spending it I could buy peace of mind and security.
So out of these situations formed a number of goals:
* To become financially independent and secure in my finances.
* To embrace frugality and learn how to enjoy life while controlling my spending.
* To avoid the lock-in of a 40 hour per week day job for life and generate a new form of income that I enjoyed.
Looking back now, it is easy to see how these three goals were in perfect alignment, and led to the formation of a new business for myself. By embracing frugality and getting my spending under control, I was able to create a successful business and eventually leave my day job. This would not have been possible unless I had my spending habits under control. So all three goals came together to give me the freedom to be able to create a successful business.
Thinking about your life strategy
“Goal alignment” is easy to see in retrospect but it can be difficult to identify moving forward. Sometimes it is not so obvious how your goals interact until you can look back on the past and see the after effects.
Sometimes two of your goals may be in conflict with each other, and you may be blocking yourself from making progress.
Therefore it pays to think about your goals and whether or not they are in alignment. If they are not, you might think about which goals are not really serving you, so that you can focus your efforts on something that will be more effective for you.