First published in 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous (the book from which the Twelve Step fellowship got its name) says that alcoholism and other addictions are “cunning, baffling, powerful.” Because of the Hydra-headed nature of addiction, treatment for it and recovery from it requires a broad array of means and methods.
I experienced this “by any means necessary” approach when I developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma some years ago. The oncologist prescribed a combination of seven medications administered over a four-week cycle, repeated three times. Perhaps only two, three or four of the chemotherapy drugs would have sufficed to knock out the cancer, but the safest course was to receive a combination of all seven, and then repeat that twice more. That strategy worked, and thankfully, after 13 years, I’m still cancer-free.
Pursuing recovery is a lot like my treatment for lymphoma. Solving the puzzle of addiction often requires working with different pieces, in different combinations:
- The structure piece – Tried and true recovery programs, such as the Twelve Steps, have a certain logic which, when followed, helps members get and remain “sane and sober.”
- The cognitive piece – Actively learning about addiction and its effects is essential to enlisting all the powers of one’s mind in the process of recovery. Members attend meetings where they hear stories of experience, strength and hope from those with longer-term sobriety/recovery.
- The behavioral piece – “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Recovering addicts learn to take small but significant steps in casting off unhealthy behaviors and developing healthier ones.
- The fellowship piece – “Let us love you until you can learn to love yourself.” Newly recovering addicts learn new ways of socializing that provide them with “sober references,” and they obtain a sponsor who offers “a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants.”
- The physical piece – Recovery requires the cultivation of healthy physical habits and self-care. In some cases it’s advisable to seek the opinion of doctors for help with medical conditions that might affect one’s moods.
- The emotional piece – It’s vitally important for the addict to develop skills of emotional regulation and distress tolerance, as well as new social skills, so that he doesn’t reach for his drug of choice when he gets too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
- The spiritual piece – When our lives become unmanageable and we’ve come to the end of our own resources, many addicts enlist the help of a “Higher Power” to help them get re-regulated. Recovering addicts use spiritual tools such as prayer and meditation, and begin to find new meaning and purpose in their lives.
- The service piece – “In order to keep your sobriety, you have to give it away.” Helping others in the same way they’ve been receiving help seems to provide addicts with the insight, strength and continued resolve they need to pursue recovery.
When I had cancer I sought healing “by any means necessary.” Recovery from life-controlling and life-denying addictions requires the same approach.
If these “sobering” thoughts have touched a nerve in you, please reach out and let’s talk about it. “Together we can do what we could never do alone.”