Written by: Anthony Anders, ADC, LCDC-III Chemical Dependency Counselor
“All you have to do is quit using drugs and your life will automatically be better.” Sorry, but no, it is not that easy. True, a major life barrier to wellness will be removed, but that is where the work begins. Drug use is often symptomatic of a deeper underlying issue. In my years as a counselor I have yet to hear anyone say, “Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to find something that would destroy my life and hurt everyone close to me.” But it happens.
As a counselor, I was trained and understood that my job was solely to deal with talking about cravings, medication compliance protocols, and if a relapse had occurred (in a nutshell). What I have come to realize is that there is a myriad of elements permeating one’s life that brought a person to a life of addiction, and until they are managed or eradicated, or new coping mechanisms to these elements are established, a return to chemical incarceration is probable if not imminent.
I work with people in seven broad wellness sectors that help people uncover issues and make plans for the recovery journey ahead. I truly believe “the storms show us where our leaks are” but we must have ways and cohorts who can help us patch these leaks. These sectors help people divide and conquer as well as see the separate influences on our overall wellness that was once so compromised. This way too, after abstaining from drugs, we are able to see a dynamic way to observe certain influences that need our continual attention and restoration.
Physical Wellness: This is where the drug abstinence starts. We need to address the deleterious conditions we are subjecting our body to for overall wellness to have fertile ground to grow. Along with that, we must also explore physical conditions that may have occurred as a result of neglect (e.g. diet/nutrition, dental) as well as medical conditions posing greater threat (e.g. Hep-C, HIV). Physical wellness can include, diet, nutrition, medication, supplementation, exercise, and a variety of avenues to help people on the journey back to health.
Mental/Emotional Wellness: Drug often diffuse mental health issues and make it challenging to discern an underlying issue that has lurked for some time or one that may have been exacerbated by an ongoing substance use issue. This sector may need added layers of supports and therapies and can often be crucial to assist someone in galvanizing a recovery plan that will remain effective.
Social Wellness: New people and new places. Is the person isolating or among powerful influences? Are these influences positive or negative? This sector also explores the health of the family unit overall and interactions of the patient in recovery. It can be hard to get or feel well when the social environment is polluted and not suitable for the needs of a person trying to get their footing in recovery or treatment.
Spiritual Wellness: This element can trip people up. Religion and its practices are a difficult topic for some, but to me, when embarking on recovery, spirituality is about reconnection. It is about exploring one’s beliefs and philosophies. It is about finding peace and a place. Where you sit on what day of the week to do this, what book(s) you read, and things that inspire you are part of your own personal journey. The key is to seek truth and awe and is a long-term, and very personal relationship.
Environmental Wellness: The actual locality of where a person tries to recover is paramount to their recovery. To try to grow and thrive in the same polluted environment can be a lofty goal at best. This can require simple tidying, remodeling of one’s living space to a total relocation if necessary. But triggers can lurk in very clandestine ways, so giving a face lift and strong consideration to how and where one lives and/or spends a lot of time (work, school, home, etc.) can greatly impact outcomes.
Occupational/Educational/Contributional Wellness: Having purpose or a raison d’etre helps in our recovery navigation. Yes, having a job/career is essential for certain resources, but this does not mean that the unemployed or unemployable are without promise or merit. If not a job, I ask is there a way to contribute or volunteer? Can a person grow in the contribution in their own home as they move toward their redemption? Are there skills the person has always wanted to learn. Perhaps not one of the initial factors we explore, but in ongoing recovery this is important and many find that their pursuits turn to more altruistic of motives as well.
Experiential Wellness: I always have said that recovery gives us “a chance to do everything all over again for the very first time.” We can see the world through a new set of eyes. But new experiences, travel, relationships, tasks, and hobbies to name a few, can spark new connections not only in our brain but in ourselves as a whole. I tell people, “When you are green you grow, when you are ripe you rot” and to get out there and experience a new world in recovery. Addiction and drug use robs people of anything that impedes the continual and voracious feeding it requires snuffing out the luxury of new experiences. Recovery bestows that right back to us and it is up to each person to reach for it.
Giving up drugs is the excavation, but what we build as a new life in recovery is where the work begins. I try to show people how even though one sector may be thriving, this may free up attention and energies to address others. Recovery is ongoing. It is dynamic. And recovery is a philosophy of authenticity, growth, exploration, and expansion. When a person in recovery gives up what used to be the world, a suitable replacement must be waiting in the wing. I feel by exploring the sectors of ongoing wellness is definitely a good place to start.
* If you or a loved one is interested in recovery, make sure you inquire about counseling and the peripheral supports offered to help the individual and their family get the help they need!