Balance in recovery is not something that miraculously appears – you have to make it happen. Newcomers to CATCH Recovery’s treatment programmes sometimes find the concept of balance hard to appreciate. Addicted people are drawn to extremes of behaviour where there is little room for moderation or balance of any kind in their lives before they quit. The Twelve Step Programme is designed to help them find such a balance, but there is work to be done if a successful and lasting recovery is to be achieved.
‘Mental health involves a disciplined balance that relies on self-limits and boundaries.’ (Dr P. Carnes, Author and Addiction Professional).
Addiction Leaves No Room for Balance
Addiction leads to excesses – not just in our addictive behaviour, but in our general attitudes too: we are so used to swinging wildly between acute anxiety, self-hatred and catastrophising on the one hand, and obsessive love and perfectionism on the other, that extreme emotions become a kind of sick comfort zone. Few people in active addiction aspire to the concept of a balanced lifestyle and even fewer practise it. The idea of moderation may seem an impossible goal to them but, in sobriety, it is eminently possible. The ancient Greeks understood this very well. ‘Nothing in excess’ was written on one wall where the Delphic Oracle sat and ‘Water is best’ on another: act sensibly, in other words, and avoid temptation.
Balance Is Important
Balance in life is everything. The all-or-nothing attitude that we had while our addiction was on the rampage does not serve us well in recovery. If possible, we should seek to grow in all the main areas of our lives using every available tool – meditation, education and experience of others, sharing and discussion. We do not have to be comprehensive in our approach but there is a danger if we focus too much on just one aspect – say meditation – and ignore the others. Honesty, openness and willingness to change can be useful reference points for checking our recovery actions. Sometimes it helps to see someone who you think is handling their recovery in a purposeful and balanced way and use them as a role model.
If you feel overwhelmed in any aspect of your life – work, home or relationships, then perhaps you have not been giving enough attention to self-care. Perhaps you take on too many commitments and your anxiety levels have risen. The solution may be as simple as learning to say ‘no’ or may concern your expectations and the pressure you put on yourself to succeed. You need to get real. Recovery is about peace of mind and enjoying life, not about putting yourself in difficult situations. Learning the insight to look at yourself honestly and make changes, will help to give life balance. Progress, not perfection is the way to see it.
We should start with acceptance and not dissatisfaction or worse feelings, such as self-hatred. We can all improve because none of us is perfect. There is good in all of us, and we should start by recognising this fact before we make any plan for improvement. Too many people approach recovery as a search for character defects alone, but it is not meant to be only that. We should celebrate our assets too. ‘We are surprised to find that we have good points in our inventory’. (NA Text).
But, too much self-improvement can be bad for you. It can even become a form of addiction. Mental, physical and spiritual fitness are good goals to have, but trying to be Superwoman, Mastermind and the Enlightened One all at once or separately, can cause serious burnout. It is much better to be realistic and set sensible goals. The SMART acronym helps; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Addicted people tend to be ‘all or nothing’ types, but what we really need in our life is balance.
Balance in Recovery From Addiction
The concept of balance in recovery is a goal that we may not totally achieve – we may work on it all our lives without knowing complete balance because there is really no such thing – nor is there truly complete serenity for that matter. But progress will be sufficient for our needs, provided we do the work thoroughly. ‘All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own. And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.’ (Bill W, As Bill Sees It).
The Steps are designed to bring balance into our lives through sobriety. At heart, they represent a course in ego-management designed to replace the self-defeating pursuit of desires and impulses with peace of mind through spiritual growth. Their fundamental message can be summarised as: ‘accept, ask for help, make changes and give back what you have received, which translates into the ‘Three Legacies of AA’: Recovery, Unity and Service.
Lasting recovery comes when we learn to cope with difficult situations and this is especially true with relationships – we need to have rules and limits, whether the relationship is with family, strangers, work colleagues or ourselves. Many people find relationships the hardest thing to deal with in early recovery, perhaps because addiction makes us so selfish that we find it difficult to empathise and see another’s point of view. Youngsters learn how relationships work through trial and error, but addicted people often miss out on this process, getting into inappropriate, over-dependant or abusive situations as a result. Sometimes professional help is needed to assist newly recovered people to interact in a healthy way they may never have experienced before.
‘Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.’ (Thomas Merton). Humans appreciate harmony and balance in their lives – you have only to listen to a Mozart symphony to understand that. Yet humans are also self-destructive. Especially addicted ones. We seem to have an urge to ruin things. Our need for balance in our lives means we must consciously strive for peace and harmony. Finding your natural rhythms of peace, sleep and action bring a sense of calmness.
See the Other Point of View
Balance is about understanding rather than confrontation, acceptance rather than dissent, and sympathy rather than criticism. If you have been addicted and thus become someone who puts themselves first all the time, you will likely have caused a lot of damage to others and to yourself. The Twelve Steps teach us the importance of treating other humans with the love, respect and consideration they deserve. Everyone has their own story with their own strengths and frailties which we need to recognise. We can learn so much from other people if we only take the time to look – they all have something unique to offer.
Riding a Bicycle
‘Balance: to put something in a steady position so that it does not fall.’ (Dictionary definition). People often compare recovery to riding a bicycle. It requires balance – a difficult thing to master at first, but it can be soon learnt, not from a book but by watching others do it and copying them. But above all, you have to practise it yourself, through trial and error, because the idea on its own is meaningless. It is just the same when you are learning a balanced recovery. Theory without action is useless.
A lot of well-known AA slogans deal with balance in recovery. These slogans have been around a long time and represent a part of the collective wisdom of the Twelve Step movement. They are not just words of encouragement but invitations to look into ourselves and think deeply about our priorities and attitudes. After a short time in the fellowship, it becomes easy to spot those people who are successfully finding balance in their lives. The AA slogans are evidence in the summary of the principles whereby such people now live, drawn from actual experience. They are thus a manifestation of the power of example – and they can be a vital reference point in our search for balance. Here are some of the best-known slogans:
- Easy does it: don’t rush, don’t panic – you’re on a journey, not a race.
- Let go and let God: hand your problems over, that’s what your Higher Power is for.
- Keep it simple: recovery is not complicated, but we are.
- First things first: your primary purpose is – sobriety.
- How important is it? Everything passes. Can you remember what worried you this time last week?
- Think, think, think: don’t let impulsiveness and instant gratification deflect you from what matters.
Essentials of a Balanced Recovery
Practical recovery can be summarised as ‘Learn (self-discovery), Turn (make the necessary changes) and return (give back). Working to achieve balance means including certain actions and attitudes in your everyday life – here is a list of essentials that you can check:
- Acceptance: acceptance begins with admitting our faults honestly and being realistic about our situation. If we cannot do this and instead blame others, or think that life is unfair, then it will be hard for us to make the lasting changes needed for peace of mind.
- Gratitude: not just a warm feeling, gratitude is a positive concept that we can use to exclude resentments and other negativity from our minds.
- Spirituality: if we can work to accept our existence in the vast universe as part of a benevolent concept by a Higher Power, then daily life acquires a purpose, and we find a sense of belonging and guidance. It is a spiritual journey that lasts a lifetime but the possibilities for spiritual growth are many and exciting.
- Maintenance: recovery never stops, and we are work in progress. To expect otherwise is to invite disappointment but the acts of maintenance in recovery – meetings, sponsorship and other interactions are pleasures not punishments.
- Self-care: these are specifically meditation and healthy exercise that normal grown-up people practise whereas addicted people usually neglect. Making time for ourselves for these activities will in a short time, yield measurable benefits in terms of mental health.
- Honesty: we become unhappy when we are dishonest though we may not recognise it at the time. It goes against our nature and makes true peace of mind impossible.
- Connection: isolation was a familiar state for most of our addicted lives. Reconnection with others is one of the surest ways of bringing us into balance interaction validates our behaviour and shows us when it is wrong.
- Emotional sobriety: learning to handle strong and painful emotions without resorting to old behaviour such as substance abuse or running away, takes time and practice. It also takes courage and guidance. The best place to learn is a Twelve Step Fellowship.
- Relationships: relationships work best where there are firm rules and boundaries. Any form of manipulation or co-dependence is likely to lead to emotional stress.
- Ask for help: it takes courage and humility to ask for help. There are two benefits that result – we receive help, and we learn to control our ego, one of the biggest threats to a balanced recovery.
- Helping others: by helping others we help ourselves – we acquire a sense of purpose, a sense of doing right and a sense of belonging, all of which are essential components of wellbeing. The
Former patients often tell us that in recovery, they are amazed that the famous ‘Promises’ contained in the AA Big Book, have come true for them. What they are really saying is that they have, at last, achieved a good degree of balance in their lives. Here are those Promises – they are the essence of a balanced recovery, and they can happen for you too:
‘If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half-way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialise if we work for them.’ (Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book, Chapter 6).