The Secret to Long Term Sobriety: Shifting Towards a Holistic Approach As...

The Secret to Long Term Sobriety: Shifting Towards a Holistic Approach As You Progress in Recovery


Just about anyone can sober up for a few weeks.

This is my impression anyway, because I work in a treatment center and I see plenty of people who come into the safe environment and get clean and sober for a short stint. It doesn’t matter how much the person has been using or drinking or what their specific situation is. Anyone can take the plunge and get a few weeks sobriety under their belt if they are willing to commit to treatment.

But obviously, this is not the problem. There is no great secret in short term, residential treatment. The vast majority of those who leave short term treatment will relapse within a very short period of time. It has become a depressing numbers game.

So what is the secret? The secret is in the transition. From the moment the person walks out of the door of treatment, they are in a very precarious position. The next few days are critical. Beyond that, the next few months are critical as well. The real challenge is for the person to transition to the creative life in recovery. Essentially, can they start applying what they have learned on a regular, day-to-day basis?

Misleading information can be dangerous

I believe that most people are a bit misled at this point in their journey. I’m only going on what I see as I watch countless addicts and alcoholics struggle with early sobriety and continuously relapse. Here is one of the biggest problems that I can see:

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The newcomer has been misled to place too much importance on networking as their recovery solution.

In other words, the newcomer believes (and is taught, in most cases) that the solution is social. In most programs, such as the 12 step program, they claim that the solution is spiritual, and that following the steps will lead to a spiritual awakening. This is fine, and I agree with the basic premise here. But what happens is that people who are actually involved with those programs tend to say one thing and do another, in that they have adopted a social solution, not a spiritual one. The vast majority of those in 12 step fellowships are clinging to sobriety based more on a group therapy approach through daily meeting attendance. This is not the intended course of spiritual growth that the program truly prescribes.

So the newcomer is naturally misled. They hear that it is a spiritual solution and that they must work the steps. But what are they repeatedly told? They are told that meeting makers make it and that they should do 90 meetings in 90 days. Following this advice perpetuates the social solution, not the spiritual one. Where is the emphasis really being placed? It’s a show me don’t tell me program. And what the newcomer is being shown is that the solution is social (making meetings, group therapy through the meetings, etc.).

Beyond a social solution

There is nothing necessarily wrong with using a social solution for recovery, unless that solution tends to stagnate people in their personal growth efforts. The problem that I see when people relapse is that they have failed to transition to a creative life in recovery. This transition is achievable in a 12 step program and I know several recovering addicts right now who have definitely made the transition. But they are in such a small minority compared to the newcomers who repeatedly relapse.

Given that, I can’t help but wonder if focusing on holistic growth in early sobriety isn’t the whole key to increasing our success rates. In early recovery, my 12 step sponsor pushed me to grow in a variety of ways and none of them seemed to relate directly to recovery. Thank goodness he did that, because it unlocked the potential of the creative life in recovery for me. Today, I am not stuck with limited growth with a social solution to recovery. I am free to pursue personal growth outside the boundaries of traditional treatment and therapy.


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