I have always advocated that the best approach to addiction recovery is one that is centered on holistic growth.
What I mean by “holistic growth” is that the recovering addict or alcoholic should be pursuing holistic health as their driving force in recovery. Everything that they do and every action that they take should move them toward greater health for themselves. The “holistic” part just means that they should consider all areas of their health: physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional, and so on.
Protecting yourself from unknowable threats through the holistic approach
One of the biggest benefits to the holistic approach to recovery is that it is a comprehensive approach. This means that using this approach can help to protect you from seeming “unknowable threats.”
I have heard a sales pitch for a spiritual enterprise once that posed the question like this: “There are things that you know, then there are things that you don’t know, and then there at things that you don’t realize that you don’t know.” Their spiritual solution that they are peddling is supposed to fill in this knowledge gap and teach you about “the things that you don’t know that you don’t know.”
It’s all a lot of smoke and mirrors and simple manipulation, in my opinion, and after I figured that out I promptly left.
But their idea is still a valid one, in that there are “unknowable” threats in every person’s life that they probably could never prepare for directly, because they just can not anticipate them in any way.
This is where the holistic approach to recovery (or to life) comes into play. Let me give you an example from my own real world experience.
I had a friend in addiction recovery who was an overweight smoker. He continued to smoke and even though he wanted to start exercising and eatinging healthier in order to lose weight, it never really happnened. I was in the process of adopting a holistic approach to recovery and so I was focusing on things like exercise, nutrition, and I even quit smoking cigarettes. He wanted to do these things and he talked about trying but he never really made a serious, life-or-death effort at doing them.
It turned out that he fell ill and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He spiraled downward over the course of a few months and never really was able to quit smoking. Further, he was not able to make radical changes in his diet at that time and he told me that such changes were “overwhelming to him.” He died shortly thereafter.
My belief is that as soon as you get into recovery and start repairing your life, you need to start making a serious effort at pursuing holistic health in your life. My friend’s death is just one example of something that the holistic approach would have prevented and treated almost perfectly.
With an holistic approach to recovery, the addict would almost immediately tackle the smoking problem, right off the bat, as a serious threat to their health and as an extension of their addiction. What is the point of sobriety if you are going to die fifteen to twenty years early due to smoking addiction? This is a no brainer and is something that every recovering addict or alcoholic who still smokes needs to address, pronto. It is too big of a health issue to dismiss…..not to mention, your success rate in sobriety increases after you quit smoking cigarettes (whereas most addicts argue that it would decrease without knowing the true data to back up their false claim).
So the same can be true of something like exercise…..not only should you quit smoking in recovery (if you happen to be a smoker) but you should also start partaking in regular exercise. Why? Because it protects from “unknowable threats.” Without knowing exactly what your future health or disease prognosis is, you can bet that the more in shape and fit you are, the better able you will be at combating health issues. It’s preventative maintenance that has been kicked into overdrive. Quit smoking, better nutrition, get into the exercise habit….it all adds up to a signficant amount of prevention. This holistic approach is how you fight the “unknowable threats” that others think they can conquer with only spiritual means.
Going beyond spiritual growth to open up a new world of opportunity
A common mistake in traditional recovery circles is to put too much emphasis on the spiritual approach to recovery. While the spiritual element can be important, it is but one piece of the holistic approach.
Our disease affected us in many ways, not just spiritually. Even though we were spiritually bankrupt when we got clean and sober, we had other significant problems as well: physical dependence, poor physical health, secondary addictions (nicotine), emotionally unbalanced, mentally scattered, socially isolated, and so on. The spiritual component was only one sliver of the total makeover that we needed for our lives.
When you realize that you can achieve meaningful personal growth outside of the strictly “spiritual realm” it can open up a lot of possibilities. For example, I discovered exercise in my second year of recovery and it has been a huge foundation of my sobriety ever since. Obviously this sort of thing may not be for everyone, as not everyone will base their recovery on something like running twenty or thirty miles per week. But this is part of what makes the holistic approach so powerful: much of it is in the exploration of new growth opportunities that you can find what ultimately works for you. If you seek traditional recovery they will likely stifle you with an in-your-face “This is what works, take it or leave it” approach. With the holistic mindset you are encouraged to explore, to find what is working for other people, and to try things out for yourself.
For example, at one point I met some people in recovery who suggested that I try meditation. I did that for several months, studied the art of meditating, learned new techniques, and dedicated a few hours each week to the practice. Ultimately I gave it up in favor of distance running, which is its own form of moving meditation and has a lot of the same benefits. But it was still a valuable experience and at one point I also had taken the suggestion to try exercise as well. So the holistic approach is about exploring options rather than just doing what you are told by the first person who tries to help you in recovery.
Spiritual growth can still be a huge part of recovery. In fact, it is likely critical. But the thing to realize here is that traditional recovery will typically only offer you one or two paths to spiritual growth (one path is 12 step based and the other is religious based). In traditional recovery circles people are not going to be talking about the alternatives to these. They are not typically going to suggest that you find your spiritual growth through moving meditation in the form of exercise, or that you might find your higher power through creative expression in the arts, or that you build your foundation of recovery on something other than AA meetings. Traditional recovery preaches open mindedness but only as a means to their own end, they preach open mindedness but only as a means to get you to become open to their solution that they are offering. I do not blame them for doing this because they have found a solution that works for them and helps them to stay clean and sober, so they are confident that their solution can work for anyone else. The truth is that some people benefit from alternative solutions that traditional recovery cannot offer them (but hard core 12 step proponents or religious recovery advocates do not realize this).
So it is not that spirituality is the wrong path, or that it is not helpful, or that people should not pursue it. None of that is accurate. Spiritual growth can and should be a huge part of recovery. All I am saying here is that traditional recovery restricts you in how it proposes that you find the spiritual path. It is too rigid. It focuses on one narrow path and the real journey to spiritual growth and holistic health is wide and varied. This is the foundation of Spiritual River and the whole Creative Theory of recovery itself. Spirituality is still part of recovery but it is only one part. Personal growth is the true vehicle of recovery and spiritual growth is a by product of that personal growth.
Develop the capacity for a richer and fuller life by exploring new avenues of growth
Life should become exciting in recovery. If it does not then you run the risk of returning to drugs and alcohol, because every addict knows that they can at least find some temporary excitement in using their drug of choice. Therefore they should find excitement or passion in their life of recovery so that they get excited about living again. If you dread getting out of bed in the morning then your recovery journey is going to be a struggle, and staying clean and sober will likely remain a challenge for you. Instead, you want to find avenues of growth in your life that are challenging and exciting enough that you want to jump out of bed in the morning and attack the day with enthusiasm. Perhaps not every day in recovery should be like this but at least some of your days should be. Indeed, if you cannot find this excitement about life then what is the point of recovery? You have to work toward something positive.
One way to do this is to take suggestions from other people in recovery when it comes to your “shoulds” and your possible growth experiences. This is difficult to do and you sort of have to put your ego on the back burner in order to take advice from others but it can be very freeing if you follow through with it. For example, I asked for a lot of advice in early recovery and ended up taking on several suggestions and “shoulds” myself. At different times it was suggested that I:
* Quit smoking cigarettes.
* Start exercising.
* Start meditating.
* Go back to college and finish my degree.
* Explore spirituality.
* Explore my religious roots.
At various times through my early recovery years I took all of these suggestions and actually tried them out. Some of them worked out for me and others did not. But looking back I can see that taking those suggestions and asking for advice in early recovery was invaluable. I am glad that I did it and I now have a much richer life because of it. For example, going back to college led me in a new direction in life and it actually helped prompt me to start my own successful business later on. I had been on a computer programming career tract and going back to school pushed me into the direction of marketing. This led to the formation of a successful business and it definitely changed the entire course of my life in a very positive way.
During my early recovery I had this attitude of excitement regarding personal growth. It was like I knew that any goal that I might set was achievable and so there was an excitement about which direction to take. This was especially true after I had successfully quit smoking cigarettes. Because the challenge involved with quitting smoking was so intense, I felt like I could accomplish any goal that I chose to focus on. This is what gave me the drive and the enthusiasm to eventually build a business. The fact that I had overcome my addiction, started exercising on a regular basis, and quit smoking cigarettes was enough to give me the confidence and the momentum to tackle nearly any goal that I felt like I desired. So I set my sights high with the goal of eliminating my day job, and I was able to achieve that goal.
Doing this was not a grind and it was not a chore–it was exciting and blissful. I have never had so much fun and excitement in my life. To be honest, developing the exercise habit and quitting smoking were fun goals to achieve as well. I never hesitated to reward myself or celebrate the fact that I was making progress either. Recovery should be fun and exciting, goal achievement should be something to celebrate.
My theory is: push yourself hard enough to achieve goals that really matter to you.
Ask yourself: “What goal could you achieve in your life that would change everything for you? What would make a huge difference and have a huge impact on your life and make a big difference?”
For me, the answers to that were things like:
* Become a distance runner and be in the habit of regular exercise.
* Quit smoking cigarettes.
* Build a successful business and quit my day job.
Those were not trivial goals and they all had a huge impact on me. All of those goals continue to impact me in a positive way to this day, in fact. They were all life-changers. They were all big goals that required lots of positive action. My theory is that successful recovery should be about finding such goals and challenges and pushing yourself to achieve them. What have you got to lose by recklessly pursuing positive changes in your life? What have you got to lose by aiming for big juicy goals that would have a life changing impact?
Why the heck not pursue something great? What else is recovery for?
Avoid fighting against yourself by putting all of your goals into alignment
What does it mean to have your goals be in alignment with each other?
Notice that one of my goals in recovery was to quit smoking cigarettes.
Notice too that one of my other goals was to get into the exercise habit and become a distance runner.
Now even though I did not necessarily realize it at the time, but these two goals compliment each other perfectly. Distance running and regular exercise is practically “a cure” for smoking. The chemicals that you generate from exercise are almost a direct replacement for the feeling that you get from smoking a cigarette. Not to mention the fact that it is very difficult to run every day if you are still in the smoking habit.
These two goals compliment each other and I never really gave the much thought before, but now I do think about goals and how they fit in with my other goals in life. At various points in the past I have struggled in life because I had goals that were in conflict with each other. I was fighting against myself at times because I had two goals in life that were in conflict. My goal of self medicating and being happy with drugs and alcohol was in direct conflict with my goal to be healthy. It was also in conflict with my financial goals, because I tended to spend all of my extra income on drugs.
In recovery, you have this opportunity to chase whatever goals or passion that you desire. But it pays to stop and think when you consider a new goal and see if it is in alignment with your other goals (and therefore in alignment with your values). I had the goal of creating independence for myself and building my own business and this seemed to line up well with my goal of being a distance a runner. They both required a lot of discipline and consistent, positive action to achieve. In many ways they were very similar goals and I can look back and see how one helped to stimulate the other. The discipline that I learned from becoming a distance runner was the same discipline that I used to quit smoking and also to eventually create a successful business. Each goal led me to success with a future goal; each goal taught me the discipline that would be required to achieve new things in my life.
So how do you find new goals that are in alignment with your existing goals? It is all based on your values, or what you hold to be valuable in your life. For me I quickly figured out that health was the ultimate currency, and therefore holistic health was the highest value. This just meant that if I could create better health for myself in any area of my life that it would generally be a good thing for me to do.
Physical health in particular was one of my highest values. This included sobriety itself, but also quitting smoking, exercise, better nutrition, and so on. Anything that led me to better physical health was in alignment with this value.
Other areas of my health are important too, such as mental health, emotional health, social health, spiritual health, and financial health. If one of these is seriously lacking then it can affect the whole (person) negatively. For example, if your emotional health gets too far out of whack then it can eventually affect your physical health as well. The same can be true of poor finances.
So the point is that you want to consider all areas of your health in recovery, not just spiritual health and not just physical health. This is what is meant by “holistic.” Look at ALL potential areas of your health and then find goals that are in alignment with greater health.
The practical benefit of considering all areas of health is that you get “accelerated growth” on your recovery journey. Instead of just focusing on one kind of health (like spiritual growth as they typically do in traditional recovery) you will benefit from considering growth in all areas of your life.