In order to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism you need to become a healthy person.
That is a very broad statement, so let’s break it down a bit here. Healthy in what sense? Obviously in the sense that you need to stop putting large quantities of drugs and alcohol into your system, but what else? Why the focus on health in recovery? Is it necessary at all?
I would argue that the pursuit of better health is a fundamental principle in addiction recovery.
In other words, if you want to stay clean and sober, then it is not enough to simply avoid alcohol and drugs. You must actively pursue better health for yourself in all areas of your life.
To be specific, those in recovery should be seeking better physical health, better mental health, better emotional health, better social health, and better spiritual health.
Your two reactions to this suggestion might be “Why?” and also “That is overwhelming! How could anyone ever do it all?”
So let’s tackle the “why” first.
The word we are really discussing here is “holistic” health. Holistic just means that we are talking about the “whole person” rather than just one aspect of that person, such as their spirituality for example. So holistic health includes all of the different areas listed above, like social and emotional health and so on.
This is important in addiction recovery because a relapse can come from any direction. A physical relapse in which a person drinks alcohol or takes drugs can happen due to many different things in life.
You will see this more and more if you stick around in recovery for a long time. If you go to AA or NA meetings every day for a year straight then you will begin to see examples of how people relapse.
Now in every one of these cases you can point the finger of blame at spiritual deficiency if you want. You can say “that person relapsed because they lost faith in their higher power.” So you can say that if you want, but is that really helpful? Is that truly the answer that explains every relapse?
I think not. I have watched people relapse who appeared to be “more spiritual” than I am. Why did they relapse why I remained sober? What was different for them?
The difference, I have found, is in these other holistic areas of health. For example, I have watched many people relapse emotionally after going through a tough break up in early recovery. They were working a program of recovery, they were praying and meditating every day, and they were attempting to work through the steps with a sponsor in 12 step recovery. And yet they still managed to relapse after going through a very emotional break up because they let their emotional state get too dangerous. Wildly swinging emotions are not good in early recovery, and can lead to relapse.
I have watched people who had ten years or more of solid sobriety who also had a strong spiritual program that ended up getting put on painkillers due to a random injury. They were old school alcoholics and did not suspect any sort of pill addiction, but they ended up getting addicted in a way that they never could have predicted.
I have watched people who simply got sick at some point, and their illness became a huge drag on their sobriety, and it eventually caused them to drink.
All of these reasons point to the “why” you need holistic health to be a priority in your life. You cannot predict where the threat of relapse is coming from next. You cannot predict exactly how your disease will try to get you to relapse in the future. But it is certain that your disease is definitely going to try to get you to relapse. And it will do this over and over again throughout your life as you maintain sobriety.
In other words, your disease is “doing push ups” all the time, getting stronger, even while you remain clean and sober. Your only choice is to fight back, get stronger yourself. And the ways in which you must get stronger are physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and mentally. Because a relapse can happen in any one of those areas.
So that is why you must pursue holistic health in recovery. Now let’s deal with the overwhelming part.
If you are just getting clean and sober and someone tells you that you have to improve your health in all of these areas, all while figuring out how to not drink every day, it can certainly be overwhelming. So what is the solution to this?
First things first. One, ask for help and go to treatment. This is my number one suggestion. Go check in to a 28 day program. Build a foundation. This is a huge opportunity for you. This is your best possible starting point in recovery. Go to inpatient rehab. Give yourself this huge advantage. Get on the phone, call a rehab, start asking questions.
Second, start doing what they tell you to do at treatment. Ask for help, then follow the advice. Go to AA or NA meetings every day and get a sponsor. Start working through the 12 steps. Start taking advice. Start listening and doing what they tell you to do.
This is simple, if you allow it to be simple. Do what you are told to do. Don’t try to figure out sobriety. Don’t try to figure out recovery. Just take each day, one at a time, and do what your sponsor suggests. If you can get out of your own way then eventually you will get stronger in your recovery. Eventually the answers will come to you. Eventually things will fall into place and you will look back and realize that you were right to surrender to the process, to let go of everything and just listen for a while. That is how you ease into recovery. Let go and listen. Do what you are told. Stop trying to manipulate everything and everyone. Let yourself be manipulated instead. Let the therapists and counselors and sponsors in AA tell you how to live. This will lead to happiness.
Your holistic health is a key point in long term recovery. You need to be healthy in all of these different areas of your life in order to protect yourself from the threat of relapse. Listening to a sponsor make suggestions will help you to find the right path. One day they will tell you to write out a gratitude list, which will make you stronger spiritually. Another day your therapist may encourage you to start exercising, which will make you stronger physically. An old friend convinces you to give up cigarettes. Your peers in AA convince you to leave the toxic relationship that is holding you back from happiness. Your sponsor suggests that you go back to school and finish up.
We cannot plot our best course in recovery. Other people have to advise us if we want to live our best life. And in order to do that we have to listen, to take advice, to be willing to learn.