When you first get into addiction recovery or sobriety, the message is pretty clear: You need to dedicate your entire life to the program of recovery.
For most people, that means going to inpatient treatment followed by AA or NA meetings. Maybe they follow up with counseling or therapy, or maybe they go to IOP groups. Most people get a sponsor in AA or NA and they go to meetings often, sometimes every single day.
Those are kind of the basics when it comes to early recovery from addiction. Go to rehab, follow up with outpatient, go to meetings every day, get a sponsor and work the 12 steps. That is early sobriety 101. Simple but not necessarily easy.
So what I want to challenge you with today is the idea that you, at some point, need to do more than this. This is not necessarily a case of needing to work harder on your recovery, but it is a case of having to focus on different things. So you need to shift your focus at some point because long term sobriety is not the same as your first 90 days in recovery. As your recovery evolves and as you learn and grow in sobriety your approach to the program should evolve and grow as well. Stagnation kills. Complacency kills. We must be more responsive, more adaptive than that if we want to succeed.
So how exactly does a recovering alcoholic accomplish this transition? How do you go from doing daily AA meetings and outpatient therapy to living a healthy and positive lifestyle that is rich across many different dimensions?
You probably are thinking that the phrase “rich across many different dimensions” is slightly over the top, but I can assure you that this is exactly what is needed in order to rethink your holistic approach to addiction recovery.
In the beginning, most people choose a recovery program–such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous–that pushes spiritual growth as the main lever of success. If you follow their program and you do the work that they require then you are led to have a spiritual awakening, which then allows you to transform your life in such a way as to avoid relapse.
In other words, if you have this spiritual breakthrough, then you can use that breakthrough to remain clean and sober.
This works great in early recovery, and you can use this laser focus on spirituality in order to grow by leaps and bounds.
But every person who is working a program of recovery that is one dimensional like this is going to hit a wall at some point.
That “wall” that they hit is that of complacency. They have grown by leaps and bounds and they have transformed their life spiritually….but what is the next step? What is the evolution of this personal growth experience?
Does personal growth in recovery end with spirituality? Or is that just a beginning?
It is, in fact, only a beginning. Spiritual growth is nice and all, but I think of it as a mere set of training wheels when compared to the real path of growth in recovery, which is that of holistic growth.
When we refer to holistic growth, we are referring to the “whole person” in recovery, and not just the one dimensional view of them that consists only of spirituality.
And this is what I want for you to rethink in terms of your own recovery.
I want to you think about all of the different ways in which your addiction compromised your life, and your health.
My addiction ravaged me physically. I was out of shape, sleeping poorly, eating garbage, and putting chemicals into my body every day.
My addiction ravaged me emotionally. I was an emotional mess and I had to have chemicals in me to even try to deal with uncomfortable emotions.
My addiction ravaged me mentally. I was distraught with obsessive thoughts of using and drinking all the time.
My addiction ravaged me spiritually. It was all about me, and I had no gratitude for anything in the world other than getting really drunk or high at times.
My addiction ravaged me socially. I pushed everyone away except for toxic people who wanted to self medicate along with me.
So if my addiction tore me up along all of those different dimensions, why would I expect that spiritual growth be the only tool that I needed for success?
This is why the holistic approach is so important.
You need to rebuild your life along all of these different dimensions.
My recovery grew by leaps and bounds when I started a dedicated exercise routine. Physical exercise and getting whipped into shape did wonders for my sobriety.
Interestingly, I never heard people talk about that in AA meetings. That was not the message that I heard. I heard that I needed to find my higher power and work the steps. But they did not tell me to exercise.
And yet that had a tremendous impact on the quality of my recovery.
Now to be fair, some of those other check boxes do get addressed by attending a traditional recovery program such as AA. For example, if you go to meetings every day and you work through the 12 steps then you are probably making some progress in terms of your social health in recovery. In other words, you will start to eliminate toxic people from your life and you will associate more and more with healthy and positive individuals in AA and in recovery.
Likewise, if you are working a traditional recovery program you will probably be improving your emotional health quite a bit. Part of what you learn in AA or in therapy will be how to process your emotions, how to deal with them in a healthy way, and how to communicate those feelings to other people so that they do not drive you to relapse.
And you will probably learn about your mental health as well, and learn to identify obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviors, and therefore you can use a traditional recovery program to also improve yourself mentally as well.
But the point that I want to drive home here is this: Recovery demands a holistic solution, not just a spiritual solution. The spiritual solution is vital and necessary, but it is also incomplete. Recovery demands more from you, and this is especially true as you transition out of early sobriety and into long term recovery.
The longer you remain clean and sober, the more you need a holistic approach to recovery rather than a one dimensional approach.
My suggestion to you would be this:
Ask yourself how you can take better care of yourself today physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. Those are 5 separate questions that we need to keep asking ourselves over and over again as we move through our recovery journey. And at various times in our life, we are going to see a need to focus on one specific area and ask for help and direction with it.
This is how to succeed in long term recovery. Good luck!