Jay has very kindly written this piece for the site about his experiences in recovery. Many of his experiences are similar to mine and I hope we soon have a chance to do a podcast on the subject. I think this is a really great post and will hopefully encourage others to try this path.
I had gone to traditional behavioral modification programs for most of my addiction. These are the places that break you down to build you up and strongly encourage you get a sponsor and do the steps. It felt as if the only way I would ever graduate the program was to give in and do the twelve steps. I had gone to a place that held you accountable through your roommate, and if you didn’t pray openly on your knees you would get in trouble for it. At this point I wanted to be sober and I thought that my reluctance was defiance. I was convinced that because I could not adapt, I was doomed to use again.
It wasn’t until I went through a holistic treatment center that I felt like I had any chance of staying clean. I had a lot of misconceptions about “alternative treatment,” from commercials I saw on television. I thought it was unfair that I would soak up the sunshine while the people in my life I had hurt would suffer through another New Jersey winter; cleaning up the mess I left yet again.
Holistic treatment options are a rising trend among the recovery industry. They offer a bunch of other tools in either addition to or as a replacement of traditional twelve step treatment, holistic treatment is a much more explorative and much more open option and array of care. The center I went to had an animal rescue ranch in the back of their sober living. I got an opportunity to volunteer and help with the animals. For me, this was the first instance in quite some time where I didn’t feel worthless. Sometimes, I would sit near the horses and meditate. I didn’t want to be alone but I knew I needed to find peace, and this to me was finding what many people referred to as God.
We weren’t forced to go to meetings. They would bring Refuge Recovery meetings into the house every week where an outside speaker would come and share their experience getting clean through a Mindful based approach. Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist based model that emphasizes the importance of meditation as well as its own set of principles and inventory work. As a journey from within, Refuge encourages its members to dig deep inside of themselves, as well as build a Sangha, or community, in order to heal.
Once a week we would have a SMART meeting come in. SMART Recovery, whose acronym stands for Self Management And Recovery Training, was another method of a recovery group I didn’t hate to go to.
Smart offers its members the opportunity for harm reduction, as well as a practical way to approach each day with various tools and methods for growth. From journaling to sharing about your week and stresses, I felt apart of a group for the first time in quite a while. I wouldn’t say that this was necessary a switch flipped that rescued me from addiction, but it became one of the many tools I got to choose from in a regular basis.
Along with recovery groups, holistic treatment centers focus on health and nutrition, as well as exercise and healthy activities to add to the recovery routine. Many centers have basketball or tennis courts as a way to encourage their clients to become active as well as have fun and engage in leisure activities with one another to build and strengthen connections. These activities aren’t offered in lieu of therapy or assignments. They’re offered as a way to help the individual discover their interests once more. The therapeutic value of leisure activities is immense, and after a day of healing and process groups, these activities were the perfect way to raise endorphins and connect with other people on a lighter yet arguably deeper level than a traditional approach can offer. I began to feel as though I wasn’t alone. I played ping pong or shot the basketball around with some other people who were trying to stay clean, too.
Nutrition and health fall into the wellness category. The idea is that a healthy body is a happy body. This doesn’t mean strict diets and a rigorous exercise routine, it means a mindful approach to health and eating. In addition to looking good, eating healthy and exercising is a way to feel good. Many of us are either malnourished when we arrive in treatment or have been surviving off of junk food, or little to no food at all. Because of my failing liver health I was strongly encouraged to eat raw foods and a vegan diet for the first month I was there. I ended up eating vegan for almost a year because I felt such a difference in my mood and my energy level.
When you eat healthy and exercise, your body returns to homeostasis or a balance of normalcy much quicker than when you eat junk food and don’t exercise. In the beginning of recovery, I found it essential to take care of myself. Things I took for granted like a good night of sleep became things that I craved, and through meditation, exercise, and eating healthier my sleep has improved immensely. Holistic treatment for me was a collaborative effort of different tools and methods that I got to custom fit my needs and wants. I was so burnt out on the twelve steps that I would have done anything if I thought it would help me to stay clean and find happiness.
If the twelve step approach hasn’t worked for you in the past, then try something new. There are options out there in holistic treatment or even non twelve step recovery meetings where likeminded people are waiting to meet you. The recovery world has changed quite a bit over the past 80 years, offering much more than it had previously. Search for what works for you and believe in yourself.
Taking a break from the twelve steps and their fellowships allowed me to get to a point of stability where I can sometimes go to meetings now and not hate it. I support my friends who speak or celebrate birthdays at AA and I stay for the entire meeting. I don’t feel as though I’m leaving the life boat, I feel as though I’m already on solid land and I’m going to be supportive of others who are finding their own path.
Whether it’s AA, a hospital detox, a Malibu Rehab, or kicking drugs on your parent’s couch, whatever means you have to stay clean will work if you believe in it. If you have the luxury that I had of choosing where to go, I strongly encourage a holistic treatment center or an alternative approach for anyone who might not have found any success in AA or traditional treatment. The world has changed quite a bit in 80 years, and recovery had begun to change with it. Follow your heart and believe in yourself; live the life you were meant to live clean and happy.