You may have heard of different strategies that might help someone recover from alcoholism or drug addiction.
For example, there is the behavioral approach, where you focus on changing the behaviors that cause you to self medicate. Then there is the therapy and counseling approach, where you simply talk with a therapist frequently and try to change your life through those discussions. Or you might try a religious based approach to recovery where your faith helps you to overcome addiction. And of course there is the traditional 12 step approach that most people are familiar with.
My belief is that we have more to learn when it comes to overall recovery strategy. More is being revealed. Certainly more has been revealed to me on my own journey in terms of what works and what does not. There is a better path (for me at least), and that path is holistic in nature. It has to do with personal growth rather than just spiritual growth.
How traditional recovery can fall short in some ways
Traditional recovery programs are typically 12 step based. If you look at the numbers or the data then you will see that most recovery programs focus on the 12 step approach.
And what exactly is that approach? It is that of spiritual conversion. The goal is to “bring about a personality change sufficient enough” to ward off alcoholism and addiction. This is done via spiritual transformation by working the 12 steps.
Does it work? It certainly works for some people, but the approach does not seem to be a good fit for everyone. Some people would go so far as to suggest that the success rates are downright poor in the 12 step program. Based on my own personal experience in recovery I have mixed feelings about this–I have definitely watched some people thrive in the 12 step program and get a lot of benefit from it. On the other hand, I have watched a lot of relapse as well, and I know a lot of people who reject the program for various reasons and try to find their own path.
In my opinion if you are going to find your own path in recovery then you may as well design an addiction recovery program that actually works for your life. This is what I set out to do when I personally walked away from traditional recovery, and that is what I have tried to replicate and explain here. My approach is a holistic one rather than a spiritual one.
What exactly is the holistic strategy for overcoming addiction?
If you go to AA or even a religious based recovery program then the focus is almost entirely on spirituality.
A holistic approach seeks to broaden this idea. You still have a spiritual component with holistic recovery, but it is not the only focus any more.
With a holistic approach you are going to focus on other things as well such as:
* Physical health and well being. Exercise, nutrition, quitting smoking.
* Mental health. Being sharp, generating new ideas each day, expanding your mind, being open to new ideas, etc.
* Emotional health. Lowering your stress level. Communicating your feelings rather than stuffing them inside.
* Social health. Eliminating toxic relationships from your life. Eliminating interaction with negative people.
* Spiritual health. This is 90 percent focus on practicing gratitude. Making gratitude into a daily practice.
If you do all of these things then my opinion is that your recovery is stronger than if you just focus on a spiritual based approach instead.
Spirituality is still an important part of recovery, but it is not the only part.
Of course, in the end I would urge any struggling alcoholic to experiment and to do what works best for them. If you think a traditional approach will help you then simply start going to AA meetings and find your higher power. Forget about all of this holistic stuff and just do the AA thing as best you can. If you put 100 percent effort into that path then you will likely get really good results. This is not meant to knock AA, this is simply a different path for people who many not “click” with AA. You can do well on either path (spiritual or holistic). It is all about what works for you.
How will you life be better if you focus on holism rather than spirituality alone?
I got this idea of holistic recovery (which is actually not a new idea by any means, it was just new to me) by watching and observing other people in traditional recovery. I noticed that they tended to do more than just what they talked about in AA meetings.
In other words, what were the “winners” in recovery really doing in their day to day lives other than going to AA meetings? I found out: Quite a lot!
For example, in examining different case studies of people who stayed sober around me, I realized that many of these people exercised, and they were encouraging me to do so as well. It took me a long time to come around to the idea that I needed to exercise. In fact I resisted the idea for many years. A few times I made a half hearted effort at doing so, but it never really went anywhere. Exercise just did not “click” for me at the time.
Later on I was finally in a place in my recovery where the exercise idea took hold. I am not sure why this was or what produced this result. But suddenly I was exercising every day and it seemed to be making a real difference for me. And after many months of daily exercise I realized something amazing: That daily exercise was a huge part of what was keeping me sober!
How was that even possible? I would not have believed it unless I had lived it. In fact, I never did believe it in the past when people were suggesting that I try it, but I was too lazy to actually go out there and make it happen. I told myself “no, it is a spiritual thing that keeps me sober, I don’t need that daily exercise stuff.” I did not say that exactly but this was the basic way that my mind justified a lack of exercise.
So the holistic approach is really about taking suggestions from other people. And a wide variety of suggestions at that. Then you get to be the ultimate judge of what it really helping you and what is not. The only criteria is that you have to give these suggestions a fair chance. Sometimes you have to establish a new habit or a pattern before you know if something is going to help you or not. This is definitely the case with exercise, because if you just exercise every day for a week you will probably not realize much benefit at the end of that week. Keep doing it for six months though and at the end of six months you will be amazed and never look back!
I use physical exercise as an example here but the holistic approach is much bigger than that. Someone might suggest that you meditate every afternoon in order to reduce your stress and you might give that a try as well. Or they might suggest that you try a new approach to your diet and nutrition. Or a change in your sleeping patterns. And so on.
And so if you want to use a holistic approach to recovery then you have to stay open to new ideas like this. And you can’t just listen to the ideas and nod politely, you have to test a few of them out and see what helps you and what does not. There will be stuff that you try that you end up rejecting. For example, someone pushed me really hard to try meditation. So for a month or two I did seated meditation every day. Several times per day even. And in the end I shifted over to exercise instead, because distance running seemed to satisfy those same needs for meditation anyway. But I had to take suggestions from people and test these ideas out in order to move forward. It is not even to just sit around idle in recovery and expect to stay sober. You have to take action, you have to test new ideas, you have to experiment in order to find the best path in life.
If you are not pushing yourself to try new things in recovery then I believe you are in danger of becoming complacent, and this can lead to relapse. You must constantly be reinventing yourself. The simple way to do this is to talk to other people about what works for them, and to model their behavior. They meditate each day? Great, try that yourself. Or exercise. Or healthy eating. Or going to meetings. Or going to church. Or whatever the case may be. You don’t have to sacrifice your identity in order to recover, you just have to test ideas out and then keep the ones that really help you. But in order to do this you have to take action. It is not a passive lifestyle.
The advantages of synergy and living in alignment
If you want to learn more about the holistic approach to relapse prevention then at some point you might explore the idea of synergy.
That is a fancy sounding buzzword that just means everything is working together very nicely. Synergy means that things compliment each other so well that they actually enhance and strengthen each other.
One great example of this is when I managed to finally quit smoking cigarettes in my recovery journey. At the time I had struggled for a few years to quit and had no success. Finally I was able to do so by making a huge commitment to the idea and taking quite a bit of action in my life. One of those actions was to start exercising every day. I built up a certain level of fitness before I even attempted to quit. In fact I was running 4 miles every day while I was still a smoker. At that point I was finally able to put the cigarettes down for good.
These two goals had a huge amount of synergy (quitting smoking + exercise). They complimented each other perfectly. Each goal enhanced the other goal in a way that made the final outcome really amazing. You can imagine what a difference this made to the way that I felt on a daily basis: from being a smoker who did not exercise at all, to being a non-smoker who jogs 6 miles every day. The total transformation that happened was really amazing because the two goals worked together so nicely.
This idea can be used to build an entire strategy of addiction recovery.
First of all you get clean and sober. You quit drinking and you quit using drugs. This is your baseline of recovery: abstinence.
Now you can build on this goal. What is your abstinence really about? I can tell you what it is about: It is about greater health and wellness. You quit drinking so that you can be healthier and happier and have a better life.
So your other goals in recovery should compliment this. That is why exercise makes so much sense as a secondary goal, because it also strives for health and wellness. The same can be said of things like:
* Getting better sleep every night.
* Eating healthier foods.
* Losing weight or getting fit.
* Quitting smoking or eliminating other negative habits.
* Finding positive people to associate with and eliminating toxic relationships from your life.
* Practicing gratitude every day in spite of whatever your life situation may be at the time.
And so on. These are just some of the goals that I have found to be especially helpful in my own journey.
But there are other goals as well. You will have goals in your recovery that I do not mention here at all. It is up to you to go find those things and discover them for yourself.
One way that you can do this to model other people in recovery. Find someone who is clean and sober and seems to have a good life. Ask them what they do every day. Ask them what they did to get there. Ask them what they think you should be doing.
Then, experiment. Take their suggestions and try to put them into action. Apply them in your life. Experiment. Test everything. Don’t take anyone’s word for it (including my own), instead go test the ideas out and see if they actually help you or not. This is how you discover your own holistic path in recovery. Through testing and experimentation.
Creative positive momentum in recovery
If you take my suggestions in this article and you seek out feedback from others and then put it into action, something will start to happen in your life.
First of all things will get better almost immediately. There will be a delay though because we are often too close to these changes in order to notice what is happening in our lives, so we only see the benefits in retrospect. We cannot see many benefits as they occur because we are too close to them. We only see them later on when we look back. This is why it is so important to commit to the holistic path and know that you are doing the right thing, because it is going to be hard work and it may not seem like it is working very well at first.
This is also why I tell you to give certain habits 90 days instead of just 30 days. If I had only jogged for 30 days and made a decision I would have quit. But after 90 days I realized how helpful it was and that it was transforming my life.
So using the holistic approach you are experimenting with your life by trying new ideas. In order to do this effectively you can draw from the wisdom of others. This is called modeling and in AA they call it sponsorship. You can do this outside of AA though as well by simply asking people for advice. Of course it helps if the person you are asking is also a recovering alcoholic, which is what makes AA so effective and so concentrated in terms of helping people to recover.
Your goal in this should be to kill your ego for a year. That probably sounds a bit funny, to kill your ego. But if you can do it then you will be amazed at the results, your life will get so much better in such a short period of time that it will make your head spin and your heart want to burst with joy. You will be amazed at how your life transforms if you can just get out of your own way and take suggestions from other people.
In this way you can build serious momentum in your recovery. You start by taking suggestions, you implement these new ideas in your life and you start to see results. The whole thing turns into a positive feedback loop because now you have evidence that it works. So you do it again, you ask for more advice, you take more suggestions, and you implement more new ideas into your life. In this way you can build positive momentum in your recovery.
I can remember the time in my recovery when I was doing this and I had just managed to quit smoking cigarettes for the first time. Of course I was only able to do this because I had also become a distance runner just a few months prior. One goal had enhanced the other and allowed me to be successful.
I was honestly shocked that I was able to quit smoking, because I had failed so many times beforehand. And so it was like I had unlocked this secret in recovery. I knew how to accomplish something! I knew what it took to accomplish a really tough goal, and I knew exactly how hard you had to try. And so I had this new confidence about myself because I knew that I could apply these concepts to other ideas in my life as well, and get positive results. It was like I had unlocked the secret to success.
And really all I had done was to follow directions. Someone told me what to do, and I did it. I had removed the thinking part and just focused on the action.
This is how to find the shortcut to wisdom in recovery. Model other people. Use their ideas instead of your own. This frees you up to focus on execution and taking action, and you will become much more effective as a result.
What about you, has the holistic approach helped you in recovery? Or have you benefited more from a traditional approach? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!