The Lifestyle of Recovery
By: Dr. Fred J. Hansen, Ph.D, BCP, LPC, CEO of Life Management Resources
For many who are dependent on alcohol and other substances, lifestyle blocks our recovery. It is easy to see the problem when we have a bad lifestyle: living with an abusive partner, hanging out with drug-dealing and drug-seeking friends, or going to bars with old friends just to prove that we can have a soft drink among all that alcohol. Counselors and sponsors tell us that we must leave behind all negative influences in order to make recovery our highest priority.
For all of us, recovery has to come in first place, ahead of wife, kids, jobs, relationships and all other earthly things we treasure (we always put God first). This decision should be obvious – if we put recovery in second (or lower) place, we will eventually lose our recovery, as well as whatever it is that we put in first place.
Our wives/husbands/relationships won’t be willing to stick with us through an alcoholic death spiral. Our children don’t want to be around a melancholy, drunk, angry father or mother. Our employer doesn’t want a hungover, half-with-it employee who comes in late to work to make up for leaving early!
There is also another way that lifestyle can interfere with recovery. Our mistake is taking a good, attractive lifestyle and making it the center of our lives. We then require our treatment and recovery goals to “fit into” our lifestyle, and not disrupt it. The more attractive our lifestyle, the more likely we are to compromise our recovery in search of a happy and comfortable way of life. If our lifestyle is comfortable, easy and well-funded, we take that as a “given” fact of life and then try to accommodate our recovery without disrupting all that’s pleasurable about life.
In IOP treatment, this shows up as an unwillingness to spend more than the 8 weeks in the program, even though Supportive Outpatient is available for 8 more weeks and Aftercare is available for a year. Patients frequently say they’d love to have additional time here, or “I’ll be back”, but something about the home or workplace demands the highest priority instead.
Many graduates, many with excellent jobs, tell me they must return to the workplace and get going full strength because their company can’t do without them. On the other hand, if you died, would they close down the business in your honor because there’s no point in going on without you, or would they adapt to your absence? If we try to have business as usual as our lifestyle, recovery fades away because there isn’t enough time in a day to do our usual lifestyle, much less add SOP/Aftercare/AA/NA.
My suggestion is to take a blank calendar week and write down what we need for recovery, and then open the rest of our time for other things. That way, when we reduce our schedules, all our recovery activities are preserved.
Many people make lifestyle changes to support recovery. They don’t eat at restaurants that feel more like a bar with booths. They don’t go to activities where alcohol is the center of the event just to impress friends or business associates. Instead, we keep SOP/Aftercare and AA/NA on our calendars so nothing interferes with them.
As much as we love things in the “real world”, hopefully we love the world of spirituality and sobriety more. AA’s Big Book (p.84) says “We have entered the world of the spirit. We have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. Love and tolerance of others is our code.”
In sobriety we develop a joyful, grateful lifestyle, our recovery is non-negotiable, and everything else must fall in line.