By Brian McAlister, author of the best-selling book Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power
The holistic route to recovery
You might be wondering: “What the heck does ‘holistic’ mean anyway and what does it have to do with recovery?”
Recently I was asked this question by a person in early recovery. It brought me back in time to when I was new to recovery, struggling to stay sober. Back then, the word “holistic” conjured up mental images of monks in robes, chanting in unison, existing on twigs and seeds.
At that time I considered myself a man’s man. I had spent the previous 15 years as a biker and drug addict. Being told in early recovery that I was powerless over addiction and I needed to surrender was difficult enough to swallow, but the idea of a holistic route to recovery did not resonate at all.
Today I thank God that my bottom was so severe that I was willing to listen, because when it comes to the holistic path, I could not have been more wrong.
Addiction affects our “whole” being
Addiction is a complex illness with biological, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual roots. Addiction is an all-encompassing malady that negatively impacts our “whole” being. Like a virus it creeps into every corner of our life, and to be able to achieve long-term recovery and actually enjoy the process, treatment must target this entire range of factors.
Holistic means “relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts.” The holistic approach to recovery works because it treats the entire spectrum of the addict’s needs.
You’ve got to change just one thing
This all makes perfect sense to me now, but in early recovery I still had a lot of misguided beliefs rattling around in my head. I am reminded of some advice an old timer gave me in early recovery when I asked how he had stayed alcohol and drug free for so many years.
He said: “Brian you’ve got to change just one thing.” I asked him what that was and he replied, “EVERYTHING!” Holistic recovery addresses all the challenges we face as human beings, not just drugs and alcohol.
Uncovering the root causes
Today, many doctors, treatment facilities and insurance providers encourage long-term medication rather than treatment. This quick fix approach to recovery rarely works and the addict just ends up switching brands of drugs. Rather than masking symptoms with medication, holistic therapy uncovers the underlying causes of addictive behavior.
The key to avoiding relapse lies in our ability to develop the skills needed to handle life’s challenges in a healthy way. Developing a long-term addiction recovery plan requires that we address each of the underlying root causes of addiction. The scope of options concerning a holistic approach to recovery are limitless and could fill an entire book, but as an introduction, let’s examine the basics:
Physical: We addicts are remarkably resilient. In just few weeks of avoiding mind altering-substances, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and mild exercise we usually look and feel better. This can be a dangerous time unless we stay focused and keep pressing forward.
Emotional: Addiction stifles our emotional growth. It’s said that the best thing you get back in recovery are your emotions, and the worst thing you get back are your emotions. Most addicts began using in their teen years and, when newly sober, find themselves to be ill equipped to deal with unfamiliar feelings and emotions without self-medicating. In addition to developing a new emotional IQ, coping with guilt in recovery is essential.
This is why it is important to become engaged in the addiction recovery community. Outpatient treatment programs, therapists, and of course 12-step meetings can provide the emotional support and fellowship needed to help the newcomer transition from active addiction into recovery.
Mental: Anger, stress, fear and remorse are high on the list of reasons for relapse. Learning productive ways of dealing with these everyday occurrences is a process.
Exercise, going for a walk, something as simple as taking a few deep breaths, can be a great stress reliever. Just talking to another person in recovery and sharing your challenges and frustrations has interrupted many a relapse.
Spiritual: Another habit I suggest that you pursue is daily prayer and meditation. Prayer is speaking to God, the universe, the Higher Power, or whatever you wish to label it. Meditation is the ability to calm your mind and listen for the answers.
Before I got sober I was in full flight from reality. In my delusions I considered it weakness to rely on God or any other Higher Power. Today, prayer and meditation are the foundation on which my new life has been built.
Stability: Lastly, part of a holistic life in recovery involves making sure our material, financial, and relationship needs are met. Many who consider themselves spiritually superior downplay the importance of material and financial prosperity. I believe financial security is an important component if we are to enjoy recovery at its fullest.
Love: Always remember that Love is our greatest need. Love gives rather than takes. A person can have a successful life in recovery but without someone to share it with much of the joy will be lost. A holistic life of peace and prosperity is yours for the choosing. Don’t miss it!
The benefits of holistic addiction recovery are lasting
By addressing the whole person, not only the symptoms of the disease (i.e. using + boozing), holistic recovery has helped many addicts – myself included – achieve true and lasting sobriety and enjoy a rich and rewarding life.