The 4 Pillars of Recovery
Contributed by Darren Reed of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Read his previous blog post here.
Home. Health. Purpose. Community.
Four simple words should be simple to fulfill, right?! But, if it were so simple we would all have accomplished it. These four words are a great barometer for your recovery. Almost every new person in recovery who is struggling hasn’t fulfilled at least one of these pillars. Conversely, those with a healthy recovery nearly always have all four pillars fulfilled.
This is more than the physical place we live. This is a home that provides security, stability and is supportive to recovery. A person leaving treatment to live on someone’s couch does not have security or stability. A married person going to a secure and stable home, but has an unsupportive spouse, does not have a truly supportive home.
Having a safe, secure, stable and supportive home is often overlooked. In 2005, when I was in treatment, I was also in an awful marriage. My wife was emotionally and verbally abusive. She definitely wanted me sober, but she also wanted me to be eternally miserable for the damages I caused. As I was preparing to be discharged from treatment, my counselor said something that I will never forget. He said, “Darren, there is a good chance you will have to decide whether you want to stay sober or stay married”. I knew he could be right, but was hopeful I could do both. In the end I was wrong, and by trying to do both, I accomplished neither. My home was so miserable I couldn’t breathe and our marriage deteriorated. I resumed drinking, we separated and started the divorce process. Again, home, it is more than a physical place.
I neglected my health for years while I was in active addiction and struggled in early recovery with mental health issues. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I was treated with an anti-depressant for my depression and a benzodiazepine for my panic attacks. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had been using benzodiazepines for years as crutch and it often led me back to alcohol. When I was first prescribed a benzodiazepine, I took it only as prescribed; for severe anxiety and/or panic attacks. However, as time went by even the slightest bit of anxiety warranted a pill and eventually if I eventually started taking them more than I should have.
I personally believe that benzodiazepines are very dangerous for a recovering alcoholic. I know anxiety is awful and panic attacks need to be controlled, but I do think there are other way to deal with it. For me, I learned through therapy to accept that I was not going to die during a panic attack, and although they were paralyzing at times, I knew it would pass. It didn’t happen overnight, but I gradually learned ways to survive these episodes without benzodiazepines .
Today my physical, mental and emotional health is the best it has ever been. You don’t have to be in perfect health, but you are making progress as long as you are making healthy choices that support your wellbeing.
We all need purpose. I have purpose in my life now, but in active addiction my purpose was to get alcohol and consume it without getting caught. Without purpose, life gets boring really quick. So what is purpose? Purpose is having meaningful, enjoyable activities in life. Examples could be a satisfying job, school, volunteering, or hobbies.
One of the most common complaints I hear from people in early recovery is that it is boring. This is a really common and quite normal feeling. Often when people are in active addiction, all of our “fun” activities revolve around our use. In early recovery, we avoid those situations and activities because we know what it will lead to or we fear the activities will no longer be fun. During my early recovery, I quickly realized that recovery was not boring; I was! The truth was that I expected to get excitement by doing nothing. I had to get out and find purpose, find things I enjoy. For me, the first thing I found was running. I was very good at it, it was enjoyable and it was healthy. I also got back into volunteering and coaching youth sports. Before I realized it, I was working in a career that I loved and had so many hobbies and interests that I don’t have time to even know what boredom could mean.
Who is your community? Do you have one? When in active use, my community was who ever would listen to me at the bar. When I first tried and struggled to stay sober, I had no community. I didn’t go to support meetings and I didn’t have anyone to connect with. I was alone and spiritually bankrupt. For me, community is more than going to meetings; it is the fellowship that develops from the people at the meetings.
My community is now diverse. I have my recovery community, my fitness community, my sports coaching community and my local school/parent community. I know that I always have networks that offer me the support and friendship I need to thrive in recovery.
Building these four pillars for lasting recovery doesn’t happen overnight. But, if you keep improving your health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach your full potential, you will get there.