Importance of Wellness in Recovery (8 Tiers of Sobriety)

Wellness in Recovery…breaking addiction is multifactorial.

Quitting your drug of choice (drug of preference is probably a better term, “choice” isn’t a big part of addiction) is one of the most difficult yet challenging parts of your life.

wellness in recovery

It requires a lot of commitment and willpower on the front end. Imagine a rocket blasting off into space. Almost all of the energy output is exhausted in the beginning to enable the rocket to break all the various layers of the atmosphere.

Earth’s atmosphere has a series of layers, each with its own specific traits. Moving upward from ground level, these layers are called the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere. The exosphere gradually fades away into the realm of interplanetary space.

The rocket needs loads of energy to break these various layers of the atmosphere yet once it hits interplanetary space, it doesn’t need much energy to float around.

Similar to sobriety, loads of energy need to be exhausted on the front end to break all the emotional spheres composed of a plethora of social conditioning, habits, and beliefs. Once the majority of these layers are broken, it’s not too difficult to maintain sobriety, all the previous layers that motivated you to remain addicted are behind you. This is the essence of creating a lifestyle that makes alcohol or drugs unnecessary.

wellness in recovery

Most people quit only to relapse fairly quickly. The statistics indicate that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of people with addiction will experience a relapse.

The biggest issue I observe is that most people commit to overcoming withdrawal symptoms, frequently at home, a professional detox, or a shoddy hotel room but inevitably relapse shortly after the most physically grueling part is over! This is likely due to never seriously wrestling with and treating the host of maladaptive habits, irrational thought processes, and intense emotions that fuel addiction.

wellness in recovery

Why Do People Relapse?

The most important part of maintaining a healthy and contented sobriety is consistency. Fr. Ralph Pfau, author of “Sobriety and Beyond” and “Sobriety Without End,” once adamantly declared,

Action is the magic word and the two most important things you must do on a daily basis are to start and continue.

Fr. Ralph Pfau
wellness in recovery

Some people relapse because they lack fulfillment and happiness in their life. They try to fill up an empty jar with booze or drugs that should otherwise be filled with emotional wellness. Drowning sorrows might seem very good momentarily, but someone with a growth mindset knows that the mere act of closing their eyes doesn’t magically resolve issues.

If you have a leaky roof, then proceed to get drunk and forget about it, it doesn’t follow that the leaky roof is repaired. Rather, the leak gets worse and the cost increases.

Therefore, when you quit your addiction you are simultaneously quitting a lifestyle that triggers it.

This is vital.

Without jettisoning the lifestyle the miraculous results of sobriety will remain just out of reach.

According to the behavioral school of psychology, lifestyle change sets a new behavioral pattern that you lacked previously.

Behavioral change is about altering habits and behaviors for the long term. The majority of research on health-related behaviors (Davis, Campbell, Hildon, Hobbs, & Michie, 2015) indicates that small changes can lead to enormous improvements in people’s health and life expectancy.

This also means that you will be choosing new and healthy relationships, purposeful work, and passionate hobbies every day. Since it is a great challenge, comprehending the basics of wellness is but a beginning. Wellness has multiple aspects; unless you adequately address all of the dimensions, you will likely fail to thrive.

wellness in recovery

With the help of this article, we will talk about different aspects of well-being. We will then look at the ways you can achieve them and some fun ways that can change your lifestyle for good.

What is the Importance of Wellness in Recovery?

The idea of wellness is connected to the willingness of an individual to stay happy and healthy and create the best external conditions to make this a reality.

In some ways, happiness is instilled in a person but sometimes the inner happiness is challenged or enhanced by external factors as well.

According to psychologists, eight main aspects affect wellness directly.

The wellness wheel illustrates this wellness model: social, physical, emotional, occupational, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, and financial.

All of the dimensions are interconnected and important to a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle. When you lose balance within or between dimensions of the wheel, your sense of well-being decreases and you can experience distress

wellness in recovery

The 8 Levels of Wellness

Emotional Wellness

Emotional wellness is the relationship we have with our emotional selves. Is the relationship healthy? Or is it toxic?

Emotions come from the Latin term emovere meaning moving. The term is a combination of energy and motion, an expression of how life is constantly in flowing motion.”

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, “emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us.”

All e-motions are fleeting, as you likely noticed. They’re not neatly fixed entities that are easily observed and measured. Therefore, developing a healthy relationship with one’s emotions isn’t a very task. It takes two major components:

  1. Understanding the mechanics of emotions
  2. Finding strategies to make the relationship harmonious

Stock Assembly

A human being’s default emotional system is a nightmare.

What’s bizarre is that we use our sophisticated brains to create this perceived lack of everything. And, if something is missing then there is always something that we need to take, to add, to do, in order to feel okay.

This has huge adaptive value. In terms of evolution, it’s enabled us to survive. But the part of our brain that creates all this is largely irrational and can’t see when it’s no longer helpful.

wellness in recovery

For example, the ability to run is incredibly convenient and efficient. However, if you just simply run for running’s sake, with no purpose, failing to hydrate properly, and fighting people when they try to stop you, you’ll simply run until you die.

Running has adaptive value and survival value when employed correctly. Unfortunately, if the running created surges of dopamine like booze or drugs do, you could, in fact, run until you die. At least, that’s the message your brain would be telling you. It wouldn’t be able to see the negative associations because the positive is overwhelming to it.

You have to realize we are designed and programmed in this way. Our brains sculpt our experience to keep us alive and the system can only handle so much information. The primitive brain cares little about joy and contentment. It cares about survival

If something feels good it’s designated as something necessary for our survival. You can envision how this can get ugly quickly.

Now if the brain is merely designed to aid our navigation while we trot the globe, it really needs to be modified, and it can be.

The brain is malleable but its stock assembly is awful in terms of emotional health.

The upshot of all of this is that most people have very ineffective coping skills. In fact, many of them are outright harmful. This isn’t intentional. People don’t think everything through and decide a destructive course of action is the best bet. Rather the habit was formed because at one point whatever they were doing was effective.

wellness in recovery

To illustrate, if as a child I had to be aggressive and throw tantrums to have my needs met this will likely follow me into adulthood. The brain is an operating system, it creates apps i.e., mental shortcuts to increase functioning. It takes what works and runs with it.

Even if the consequences begin to pile up, nothing will change without a conscious and intentional plan to rewire the neuro-circuitry of the perceptual system and rewrite the narrative of the story called You.

Dan Siegel, the author of Mindsight, views the brain as an “anticipation machine.”

It’s constantly engaging sensory data filtered through past experiences.

Perception is therefore a blend of what we are sensing now (feeling) and what we’ve previously learned (shortcut/generalization).

Not all shortcuts are created equal. Some serve us, others are less resourceful

If emotional health is the ability to adapt and adjust to one’s external conditions, then understanding oneself is the beginning of optimized self-regulation.

It’s time to create shortcuts that benefit you.

For strategies regarding emotional wellness click here for Nonviolent Communications method or here for the 9 Prefrontal Functions of Mindsight. Additionally, if you want something more 12-Step oriented click here for A.A.’s Emotional Sobriety, or for a more robust understanding of emotions click here.

Environmental Wellness

The environment that you live in directly impacts your mind and vice versa. This is the reason the environment around you (your external conditions) can be considered a symptom of the addiction itself.

At this point, I would like to explore the AQAL Map of Integral Theory which I believe can really help you grasp the richness of environmental wellness.

The AQAL Map

The AQAL map – referring to all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, and all types – is a brilliant and comprehensive tool for unlocking human potential and the cornerstone of Integral Theory. 

aqal map

John Dupuy, the author of Integral Recovery, applies Integral Theory to the treatment of addiction and the result is a fascinating and holistic methodology.

For our purposes, we will classify the quadrants as Upper Right (UR), Upper Left (UL), Lower Right (LR), and Lower Left (LL).

“In Integral Recovery, with the comprehensive outlook provided by the AQAL map’s four quadrants, we are able to address our physical health; our inner emotional, spiritual, and intellectual life; our relational life, which includes our relationships to other beings, both human and nonhuman; and our relations with the exterior world, financial, professional, environmental, and technological among others…

A simple way to express the four quadrants, which my brilliant wife came up with, is my body, my self, my people, my world. The quadrants allow us to clearly discern the causes and effects of stress in any or all of the quadrants as well as to follow the positive effects of the healing work and practices that we do.

…by the time a student reaches us for treatment their LR quadrant is a complete disaster: they have failed to pay bills, tickets, credit cards, health insurance, and mortgages, and there are all sorts of mounting debts and other life stressors that seem absolutely overwhelming from the perspective of early recovery.

All of this can lead to despair, stress, and shame, as in, “I will never be able to make this right, so what’s the point?” The increase in stress, as we have shown before, can lead to relapse as well as other financial and legal issues.

To treat issues in the LR quadrant, we find or create supportive, healthy living environments, cleaning out toxic elements from our living environments, reestablish our relationship with nature, take care of the business of living, house payments, car payments, bank accounts, educational needs, and financial planning, to name but some.

wellness in recovery

Financial Wellness

One of the major triggers that pull people back to relapse is what I call “monetary riptide.” People with bad financial stability eventually end up making reckless decisions that directly impact wellness, but the opposite is also true.

Dupuy continues, “…Then, one thing at a time, issue by issue, step by step, the bills get paid, the phone calls get made—restitutions have begun. While this may take a while (Rome was not destroyed in a day and will not be rebuilt in a day) we have found that each time a step is taken or an issue is resolved, there is a new sense of hope and empowerment: I can actually deal with this. Among our students, we’ve seen a new desire emerge, to take responsibility for one’s life situations and get that which was formerly chaotic back under control.”

The brute facts are that without financial sobriety, it’s extremely difficult to manage emotional sobriety (wellness). Mismanaging finances leads to stress and stress, in turn, leads the brain to rely on old habits of eliminating them. Usually, these are the same habits that create the stress that produced our financial stress in the first place! So, find someone who is financially responsible, whether a friend or professional and start receiving coaching to balance the checkbook.

wellness in recovery

Intellectual Wellness

Learning new things and keeping your mind alive means pushing it to the limit (this is often referred to as the growth mindset), and it requires motivation and continuous exposure to new information.

That being said, where your attention goes your energy flows. The information you discover tends to be what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking to improve your lot in life you find ample evidence and strategies to do so. If you’re looking for reasons why you can’t do it, you’ll likewise find ample evidence confirming your suspicions. Thus, as you increase your intellectual wellness remember, you always find what you’re looking for. Unless you’re Bono, then you still haven’t found it.

wellness in recovery

Occupational Wellness

This aspect often focuses on earning means, but that’s an oversimplified angle. People who find fulfillment in their work usually get less depressed because they are constantly finding new ways to channel their energy. They tend to think in terms of legacy and generativity. As the old maxim claims, “if you like your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

People who are passionate about what they do professionally tend to consistently identify ways and means to increase productivity and effectiveness. Namely, they are always trying to refine and improve their craft.

Additionally, they don’t find separating their leisure lives from their work lives. With passion, there exists a natural ebb and flow.

Occupational wellness is the ability to achieve a balance between work and leisure in a way that promotes health, and a sense of personal satisfaction and is (for most people) financially rewarding.

On the contrary, people who have a less enjoyable or perhaps tedious job, and fail to physically exercise (so pay little attention to their physical wellness), eventually get stuck in boring King Sisyphus variety of monotonous lifestyles of fast food and other means to increase pleasure, which will increase stress and therefore increase the probability of relapse.

wellness in recovery

Physical Wellness

This is connected with the activities that you perform every day and how much effort you put into the workout.

Usually, you will find yourself questioning if you have enough time for the gym. In the era of desk jobs physical wellness is compromised because we hardly get a way to work out and stay physically active but it drains our minds to keep us tired. Experts believe that this can also trigger drug abuse because it’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to deal with stress and cravings.

Let’s return to the AQAL Map. Dupuy remarks on physical wellness in the upper right (UR) quadrant.

wellness in recovery
Check out Born Tough for an excellent choice of quality but affordable workout gear

“Starting with the UR quadrant, the physical effects of addiction must be addressed. This includes damage to the functioning of the brain and other organs. Treatment modalities necessary to address the above issues are nutrition and the establishment of a healthy diet, that is, organic and nonchemical-laden, supplementation, brainwave entrainment technology, cranial electrical stimulation, and exercise (strength training, cardio, and yoga)…

Strength training causes the body to produce an array of chemicals on which the brain thrives. To name a few of the major ones, there are endorphins for a general sense of well-being; serotonin for mood regulation, sleep, and serenity; dopamine, which gives us the juice and joy to relish life; and epinephrine and norepinephrine, which give us energy and focus. Additionally, training stimulates the production of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) as well as Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), both of which are known to promote cell health and development in the brain, insulate the brain from the effects of both aging and stress, and facilitate high levels of “cognitive fitness,” (i.e., help you to think clearly, make good decisions, and function with improved mental processing times). All of this is a great help in reducing the stress that drives the overpowering cravings that are at the heart of the disease of addiction.

So, in the words of Dupuy, “Instead of a bar bill, pick up a barbell!”

wellness in recovery

Social Wellness

The people you surround yourself with will eventually make you question your life choices. If you surround yourself with people who like to drink or who are into drug abuse, this will eventually bring your likelihood of adapting to a similar course.

On the contrary, if you stay with people who are mentally and physically healthy you will get motivated to do the same. Also, interacting with people, sharing your issues, and adjusting your lifestyle accordingly will also impact your choices.

wellness in recovery

Integral Recovery is again at the forefront of targeting and amplifying wellness in this area. Dupuy outlines two primary points to kickstart the increase.

  1. It’s not just about you. When our health returns, and our capacities begin to grow and come online, we must make ourselves available to serve our fellows. Whether this is working with other addicts or any other myriad of suffering beings is up to the individual and his own conscience and inner sense of direction. But we must work on this service ethic and practice kindness and respect in all our dealings with others. If we don’t, we will miss a great opportunity to see the beauty and sacredness of each individual, no matter what her current stage of development, and our soul will become crusty and clogged with our own narcissism, which in itself can be an important factor leading us to relapse and the downward spiral of the disease of addiction. To put it simply, egoism, selfishness, and self-centeredness are contrary to the spiritual attitude and health that we need to permeate our lives in order to maintain our sobriety and continued growth.
  2. We must pay attention to our Lower-Left support system. In other words, we must cultivate healthy relationships with individuals and groups that will support our goals of Integral health, sobriety, and service. The negative side of that coin is that we cannot, in the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, continue to hang out with the same old playmates and in the same old playgrounds that supported our drug use and addictions. In other words, don’t go looking for your local support group at the local pub or drug den.

Dr. Weiss rightly concluded that “addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder.”

Similarly, Johann Hari eloquently stated, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.”

My point is this:

  • A bottle can never stand in for community.
  • Sex will never satisfy true loneliness.
  • Heroin can’t comfort like another human being.

The drug, drink, or behavior can never create the inner manageability that authentic social connection can.

On our own i.e. in isolation, we cannot create genuine social connections. So we bond with what works. Be it temporary or destructive. Our brains appear hardwired with this axiom: Connect or perish.

“Focusing on the LL quadrant, treatment could include couples therapy, family therapy, the building of an Integral practice-friendly culture and support group, other support groups such as AA or NA, religious affiliations with churches, temples, mosques, whichever is appropriate, and restorative work to heal the damages done to relationships due to drug-compelled activities.”

wellness in recovery

Spiritual Wellness

Your spiritual connection with yourself and nature are very important. Experts believe that people who believe in destiny and the effect of spiritual laws i.e., you reap what you sow, are more likely to choose healthy choices rather than getting drawn toward unhealthy lifestyles and impulsivity.

Nancy Collier brilliantly observed,

“True spirituality is not about fixing ourselves spiritually or becoming spiritually better. Rather, it is about freedom from the belief of our unworthiness, and ultimately, about acceptance.

Spirituality, practiced in its truest form, is about meeting who we really are, and allowing ourselves to experience life as we actually experience it.

In this way, it is more of an undoing than a doing. In truth, we need to take the risk that it is to lean back into who we actually are. We need to do that before we even know that who we are will be enough, or even that there will be anything there to catch us.

We need to relinquish our self-improvement plans before we believe that we have the right to stop improving. The whole thing—true spirituality—requires a kind of faith.

It’s not faith in a system, story, or methodology, but a faith that trusts that we can’t think our way into what we truly want.

No matter what path we practice, there comes a point where we have to let go of the reins; when we have to give up the quest to be good enough…

Ultimately, we shift from trying to become lovable to being love itself. And amazingly, from this place, the not-enough person we thought we were has simply vanished, or more likely, never was.”

wellness in recovery

Bottom Time

Now that you understand all these factors, you need to figure out a holistic approach that will help you target all these things collectively – I would recommend Integral Theory as a good starting point.

What are you waiting for? Balance out the wheel and get rolling!