After hundreds of years of working with people addicted to alcohol and drugs, we now know what works and what doesn’t in terms of recovery from addiction. The formula is pretty clear. No matter whether you are looking at a mindfulness-based treatment program like the Kiloby Center, a 12 step based program like the Betty Ford Center or some other program, most scientists, researchers, recovering addicts and alcoholics, therapists and addiction specialists would agree that, in most cases, at least all of the following components are needed for successful, long term recovery from addiction:
- Support from others with experience
I’ve distilled these components down to very broad terms. How each of those components are met within particular programs differs depending on the type of program and what its particular aim is. The great thing is that you aren’t limited to just one program. You can mix and match, taking from various modalities to fulfill each of these components. Let’s discuss each component separately.
Abstinence. Abstinence is a fairly clear term. It means “to refrain from the addictive substance or activity.” Most recovery programs promote abstinence because of how the brain works. The brain, when using an addictive substance or activity, learns to be addicted. Its reward system is overloaded, creating a desire to use over and over in someone who is addicted. Therefore, refraining from the substance or activity allows time for the brain to heal. Abstinence, by itself, is usually not enough. The other components need to be met. Some programs do not promote complete abstinence. They promote moderation. If you are going to choose such a program, do so carefully. It may or may not work. But if you find that moderation isn’t working, begin abstaining completely. This may mean entering a detoxification program to clear away the substance from your body and/or to provide you safety within a protected environment (e.g., hospital, detox unit) where you have zero access to your addictive substance or activity.
Readiness. Readiness is perhaps the most important component in recovery. Being ready does not mean simply being ready to stop using. It means being ready to do all that is necessary to recover. For example, in a mindfulness-based program like Natural Rest for Addiction or the Kiloby Center, readiness involves the openness and willingness rest in the moment and to practice the tools that allow you to watch thoughts and feel emotions in a direct, non-judgmental way. This includes using the Living Inquiries on self-beliefs that underlie the addiction as well as using them on the anxiety and cravings that arise. Readiness also includes being ready and willing to fulfil all the other components including remaining abstinent and finding the support you need. In a 12 step program, readiness means being ready not only to abstain but also to do the 12 steps and find support within the program. Other programs involve the readiness to take up the practices and activities needed in order to recover in those programs. In the end, the type of program does not matter as much as the readiness does. If you are truly ready, find the program that resonates the most with you.
Transformation. Recovery isn’t just about no longer using. It’s about dealing with the underlying issues that led you to using in the first place. Without dealing with the underlying issues, relapse or substitution is practically inevitable. Substitution is the replacement of one addictive substance or activity with another (e.g., alcohol with sweets). Whereas readiness is the most important component, transformation is the key to actually changing your perception of your self, your perception of reality and your behavior. For example, in the Natural Rest approach and at the Kiloby Center, transformation happens through the Living Inquiries. We each see life through a false lens that distorts our view of reality. These are deficiency stories – “I’m not good enough” or “I am a victim” or similar story. In our work, we challenge these false identities so that people live more peacefully in the present moment, no longer enslaved to the need to medicate the uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations that come with these false identities. But transformation sometimes must go deeper than this. Unresolved trauma plays a big role in addiction. Addressing this trauma through resting in presence and the Living Inquiries is paramount. Another part of transformation is body work. Almost every person addicted to drugs, alcohol, food or anything else experiences blocked energies called “contractions.” As long as these contractions are there, addiction is present in one form or another. We work with these contractions at the Kiloby Center through the process of natural rest, the Living Inquiries, mining, Aperioga, Natural Flow Movement, breath work, yoga and head and body tapping. Definitely choose a program that addresses contractions or deep body work. If you don’t, you may continue to experience relapse and/or substitution for years.
If you are working a 12 step or other program, transformation is equally important. The main way transformation happens in the 12 step program is through step work, service, meeting attendance, etc. If neither mindfulness nor 12 step programs resonate with you, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to transform and many, many modalities from which to choose. Transformation may include working with a counselor or therapist. It may also include a change in eating, sleeping and other habits as well as medications (long or short term). Don’t sell yourself short by limiting your work to only one narrow way of transformation. Integrative approaches work better. For example, many who come to the Kiloby Center integrate mindfulness with the 12 steps, medications and/or changes in eating/sleeping habits. We provide all of those services at the Center.
Support from Others with Experience. Research shows that group or other support from people who have experience with all of these components is a main factor in successfully recovering from addiction. This is a broad category. Support includes group support like Natural Rest meetings and/or 12 step meetings. It also includes one on one support relationships, such as a relationship with a “servant” in the Natural Rest program and/or relationship with a “sponsor” in the 12 step program. The simple fact is that support from others who have experience with all of these components can make the difference between ongoing recovery and struggling over and over with addiction.
Service. Although it is not clear that service is an absolutely necessary component, it certainly shows up in the lives of people who are successful in recovery. In virtually every program, there are many people who serve others in various capacities and who report that service helps them “get the self out of the way.” This is why it is sometimes called “selfless service.” Service could mean just about anything – helping friends and family members recover, being a sponsor, mentor or servant, being a friend who listens without judgment, working in groups or on committees, doing 12 step calls, becoming an interventionist or counselor or even making coffee for your local meeting.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Which program would work best for me?” The answer depends on what resonates the most. You may be someone who does not resonate with the 12 step program, in which case a mindfulness approach may work a lot better. You may be someone who resonates mostly with the 12 step program. You may be someone who uses a hybrid or combination of these two programs or some other program(s). But the key is fulfilling all of the components above. That should be your perspective, no matter what program(s) you are involved in. Another important consideration is understanding that recovery is a gradual process. There are studies that show that those who stay clean for at least 5 years rarely relapse. It’s important to fulfill all of the components during those first five years and to continue using any or all of them for as long as they are needed.