The ancient and venerable perspective on spirituality called Buddhism presents a therapeutic prescription for the fundamental ailment of human beings — suffering. That is, living out of step with reality. It teaches that to our detriment, human beings tend to seek private fulfillment above all else.
This sounds very much like the case with an addictive lifestyle, which is characterized by narcissism. Because of this attitude, an addicted person lives as if he or she is the center and primacy of everything. Chemical addiction develops into a lifestyle that is self-absorbed, self-centered and self-indulgent. This is out of step with the reality of a healthy lifestyle.
Just as Buddhism prescribes eight steps to right living, I propose eight steps for transforming an addictive lifestyle into a healthy lifestyle. Together, I call them the “Eightfold Path to Chemical Addiction Recovery.” This “path” can be a useful guide for successful alcohol and other drug (AOD) counseling.
1. Right motivation: Without a goal, there is no orientation; without an orientation there is no advancement, only random movement. Proper motivation for recovery is a healthy, happy life. However, without a clear picture of this goal and a deep sense that attaining it is worthwhile, this type of life can never be achieved. Recovery requires a deep, personal commitment from the recovering person to realize the best possible version of himself or herself simply because of his or her own intrinsic and inestimable goodness. There is right motivation when it is internal, honest and devoted to healthy, happy living because the recovering person deserves this type of life having been wonderfully and powerfully made. Any other motivation will misdirect one’s efforts or will never sufficiently energize the person to accept and confront all of the challenges that will arise on the way to right living.
2. Right choice: As motivation is no more than a platform for decision-making, even with right motivation, the recovering person is required to make proper choices. Humans live in a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” world where what happens in one’s life refers as much to how one responds to motivations as to what motivations there are to respond to. People genuinely oriented to recovery must put their choices where their motivations are so that their actions will give life to their motivations. Merely “wanting” to live rightly is not enough. Motivations must be translated into actions, and this transformation depends on the power of a person’s will to bring about healing change. This will power, in turn, is dependent on right learning and right discipline to be successful.
3. Right learning: Lasting recovery requires a person to develop not only a right set of ideas and strategies about addiction but also a lifelong commitment to them. Reaching out is essential for recovery, and continuing to learn about the recovery process is part of this reaching out. Yet, ongoing learning about addiction and recovery is not only about gathering more information; it is likewise about being lovingly self-critical. Lifelong learning develops both increased enlightenment and strength of character to move from a self-absorbed, self-indulgent way of living to a lifestyle lived in terms of truth and reality.
4. Right discipline: An attitude of right discipline is required by right learning in order for challenges to be overcome. Discipline is the development of strategies and strengths through conformity to set guidelines. This means being a willing disciple to those who present right motivations and who are able to foster the strength of character needed to overcome obstacles to turning right choices into realities. Convenience, fatigue and apathy are primary challenges to recovery success. Discipline is wisely harsh in that it demands certain actions and attitudes even in the face of such tempting diversions, but in return, it provides the competency to accomplish what the discipline is for. Should a teacher allow his or her students to do whatever they want to do in the classroom, there would be no advancement toward mastery of the subject matter. Students as such tend to opt for convenience, tend to prefer inertness to the fatigue that comes from effort and tend to allow their focus to wander in order to indulge their whims. Once properly disciplined (that is, trained and conditioned), a student can perform a particular task effortlessly and with gusto. So it is with recovery. This is because right habits of mastery have been formed through the combination of right motivation, right choices, right learning and right discipline.
5. Right habits: Whatever is done over and over again develops into a pattern. People incorporate patterns as habits. A personal habit is a “second nature.” It is a routine of behavior or attitude that is ready-at-hand, just like the abilities to see and digest are ready-at-hand. Habits are required for competency, for a random success does not an expert make. Recovery requires the development of a set of habits devoted to healthy living. Through habits, there arises that intuitive competency and strength that immediately and without fail recognizes what needs to be done in a situation and allows a ready, unhampered flow of proper response. This is called mastery. Emergency medical technicians work quickly and effectively, not because they are not thinking but because they have developed habits of competency that no longer require them to think about what needs to be done before they do it. Recovery requires the development of similar habits of mastery, ones proper to healthy living, such as proper hygiene, ongoing growth-promoting activities and daily prayer. A set of right recovery habits leads to a right recovery lifestyle.
6. Right lifestyle: Having developed a set of recovery-oriented habits, a person takes on a recovery lifestyle. A recovery lifestyle is a way of living that exhibits a global devotion and trajectory toward healthy, happy living in spite of continuing challenges tempting a return to active addiction. What does a recovery lifestyle look like? It shows itself in the demeanor of a person who is confident in his or her orientation to recovery while being vigilant and lovingly self-critical. A recovery lifestyle shows strengths, skills and right habits that characterize the full range of a person’s life condition. Biologically, a right lifestyle reflects caring for one’s self, i.e., proper eating, proper exercise and proper consultation with healthcare professionals. Psychologically, it shows itself as clarity of mind and a hunger for education and skill advancement. Socially, it presents itself as the capacity to recognize genuine love and an eagerness to connect with others honestly and compassionately. Spiritually, it is revealed in regular meditation and prayer, a sensitivity to beauty and harmony, and a sense of serenity in terms of an intimacy with a higher power.
7. Right actions: Right lifestyle stands as a source of continuous right action. Right motivation, right choice, right learning, right discipline, right habits and right lifestyle are all platforms for personal power to change and support the transformation of intentions into actualities. To be recovered means to behave like a recovering person behaves. It means to live as if one were moving to a perfect state of health and happiness in all that one does. Anything that develops, maintains or advances recovery is a right action. Some right actions that have proven worthwhile on the way to recovery are 1) living one day at a time with a focus on sobriety as the goal; 2) adhering to a recovery program like the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous; 3) developing healthy connections with sober people; 4) attending and participating in support meetings even though they might no longer seem necessary; 5) devoting oneself to works of kindness and generosity, like involvement in the welfare of others, especially those still afflicted with addiction; and 6) deliberately and routinely setting aside time each day to reflect and pray in order to connect more closely to a higher power and to come upon a deep sense of serenity.
8. Right reflection: Finally, it is natural for a person to step back and take stock of his or her life. Having engaged the other seven steps to recovery, a person needs to review and appreciate both what he or she has done and what has been done for him or her on the way to recovery. Right reflection allows the recovering person to evaluate and appreciate the progress that has been made. Right reflection requires honesty, fearlessness and a willingness to continue on the right path. When things are well, the recovering person feels a deep sense of gratitude along with a confirmation of his or her own intrinsic worth. When things need adjustment, the recovering person accepts faults and limitations and sets his or her focus on overcoming them. In either case, a sense of encouragement can arise. Being aware of progress and recognizing the need for more progress return the recovering person to a sense of right motivation so that his or her journey will be true and sustained. Right reflection completes a circle of recovery as it serves to guide and inspire the further pursuit of genuine health and happiness. And, best of all, with right reflection, the recovering person can attain an overall sense of being in the right relationship with reality and thus can be prompted to smile deep down with the appreciation of becoming ALL RIGHT.
Robert Bailor is a substance abuse counselor at Talbot Hall, the Ohio State University Hospital East, Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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