During my first years of recovery, I learned the action steps of staying sober and maintaining sobriety one day at a time. In addition, I was taught the five core elements of a human being.
These are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social engagement. The purpose of the sectioning of the different aspects of being human is to begin to conceptualize the fragmentation that occurs in addiction. The goal is to begin to understand the meaning of wholeness and fulfillment of life in recovery.
During active addiction, the dependency is formed around the unconscious belief of an intense need to “fill a void.” The “void” is an absence of essential life fulfilling sustenance such as love, sense of purpose, understanding of self, connection, belonging, empowerment, spiritual awe, just to name a few. That this desire to fill the absence of essentials for life is unconscious has created a strong reaction to what the “real” cause of addiction is in the recovery community. There is the belief that it is an allergy, or a malady of mind, body, and spirit, or cognitive dissonance. I agree with them all! I believe that getting to the solution is the primary goal and purpose of recovery and treatment, which for me is gaining freedom from dependency. Any way to gain this freedom as depicted here or in any practice of treating addiction is beneficial, and I do not argue the validity of where it has arisen from. If the goal is to replace the dependency with a “better” or “lesser” one, that may work short-term, however, continued recovery will erode if the underlying condition is not addressed. This underlying condition is the unconscious intense need.
My belief on codependency is that it is a dependency on being needed. As I write, I am reminded of a line in the movie “What About Bob?” where Bob Wiley, played by Bill Murray, eventually breaks down to his core belief as he says emphatically, “I need, I need, I need!” Amongst the hilarity of that scene lies the truth underneath all of his diagnoses. Whether the context is an addiction to a substance, a behavior, or a person, the result is similar- powerlessness to the need.
The need is enhanced by the fragmentation of obsession and compulsion which renders an active addict barren of that which he or she is seeking – freedom, happiness, belonging, empowerment, and so on. In recovery, once the compulsion is arrested, and the
obsession lifted, the goal is now to refill the recovering addict with a principled life which results in the fulfillment that was so intensely desired to begin with. In recovery the message is simple – don’t use/pick up/drink/act out (depending on the specific program), go to meetings, work the 12 Steps with a sponsor, and carry the message to help another suffering from this problem. I believe this really does work, and I believe that further efforts physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially create the opportunity for sustained healing for many more. Transitioning the unconscious beliefs to the consciousness of healing addicts and codependents allows this need to shift and a new life to be uncovered in recovery.
With all the disempowerment and struggle that arises from the unconscious need, a simple formula for gaining a measurable structure of fulfillment is required. In attending 12 Step meetings over the years I have heard shares referring to “getting back to the basics, or “I don’t have to get back to the basics if I never leave them.” The meaning of basics referring to what the recovering person learned in the beginning of coming into the new sobriety. It is my attempt here to join the two aspects of recovery and treatment into a simple formula for early recovery as well as long term sobriety. This is my version of the BASICs for a healthy life.
Going back to five core elements of being human, using the BASICs formula daily will satisfy each component in a positive, well-rounded way. The result is an improvement in life fulfillment and self-esteem.
The first element to evaluate is physical. Performing activities that physically build you up rather than tear you down. Building: this includes eating healthier and working out at a self-caring pace to build up your physical body.
The second aspect of being human is mental/intellectual/ psychological. Conveying positive affirmations to yourself as opposed to beating yourself up. Affirming: this encompasses any intellectual activity that develops an increase in your self-esteem such as affirming positive truth about yourself, and learning about who you are and the world around you in exploration and wonder.
The third component to be aware of is emotional. Practicing emotionally soothing actions in a safe environment where there is unconditional positive regard. Soothing: the primary notion of this is to be gentle with yourself with acts of positive self-care such as resting, laughing, and encouraging yourself without harsh judgment.
The fourth yet very fundamental concept of being human to become aware of is spiritual. Participating in spiritually inspiring experiences in your daily life. Inspiring: this is anything that you find that gives you a sense of hope and purpose that is greater than yourself in any and every way. It can be through religion, science, unexplainable mystery, anything that you can relate to that inspires you. This is the core of the essence of love. I feel that spirituality is taking a full breath in and out and becoming centered in a knowingness of Source. One of my favorite sayings is “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The fifth segment of experiencing humanness is social. Engaging socially in happenings that truly connect you with others.
Connecting: to truly connect with others requires an openness to get out of your head and commune with other like-minded human beings that can share their experiences with you. This creates a greater expression of who you are in the world as you connect with others.
Creating a journal that charts your daily progress of each component will help you better understand where you are gaining strength in your sobriety and where you are experiencing deficits to your development. Even just reminding yourself before undertaking
certain challenges and becoming aware of your daily behaviors, if they are Building, Affirming, Soothing, Inspiring, or Connecting in a positive healing manner or not, will help you walk through situations that you may have felt difficulty with previously. The statement “Practice these principles in all our affairs” includes living life with the BASICs one day at a time. A good mantra to keep with you is to “Be yourself, Do your best, and Let Go of the rest. When you ask for help while living this philosophy you are using all five of the BASICs and you will know you are on the healing path.
Noel Neu, MS, LMHC is the CEO and clinical director of Empathic Recovery (www.empathicrecovery.com). Mr. Neu has been a clinician in private practice for over ten years and has developed programs for “Assertive Awareness” training, “Living your Truth” to build self-esteem, and helping families with addictions heal.