As a writer, I am well aware of my tendency to let clutter accumulate on my desk and throughout the rest of my office. Generally I postpone clearing off my desk until the fire department declares my office a fire hazard!
By coincidence, as I type this column I am in the midst of unpacking the piles of boxes from our most recent move, clearing off my desk, reorganizing, and de-cluttering my office. This is truly a gargantuan task which, much to my wife’s chagrin, I have put off for the past eighteen months through sheer procrastination. I rationalize that as a creative spirit I find my writing, various community activist projects, and just soaking up the sun to be much more fun and “productive” than rolling up my sleeves and tackling the more mundane aspects of contributing to making our home a truly inviting and relaxing abode.
Adhering to an honored tradition among writers to advise readers to “do as I say, not as I do,” I firmly believe there is both a practical and spiritual side to the annual ritual of spring cleaning. Indeed, the act of directing focused attention to cleaning out the clutter in our living space seems to inspire us to focus on letting go of the excess baggage we have been carrying around in both our heads and hearts for far too long a time.
For those of us in recovery—and we’re all in recovery from something—I believe the spring season provides an ideal opportunity to take inventory and do a bit of “spring cleaning” in regard to both our thought patterns and behaviors as they impact our prospects for enjoying a truly fulfilling life in recovery. Below are some suggestions you may wish to consider.
Nutritional Spring Cleaning
It is a well-known fact that the typical American puts on five to seven pounds during the holiday season. What is not so well-known is that this amounts to a net average gain of one and a half pounds each year, reflecting excess poundage that is not taken off. While at first glance this may seem like no big deal, consider the following. If you begin this pattern at age eighteen, by your thirty-eighth birthday you will have put on thirty extra pounds. By the time you reach age forty-eight you will have experienced a total weight gain of forty-five pounds—enough to place you in the obese category with its attendant risks associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a variety of other unpleasant ailments. By the way, you’ll be in good company here as a full one-third of adult Americans are considered obese. The solution is to make an earnest, immediate commitment to cut back a bit on the calories while concurrently increasing your level of physical activity.
Fitness Spring Cleaning
Give yourself a fitness tune-up! Every spring I take my ‘89 Toyota Camry in for a tune-up, or at least an oil change. Is this working? All I know is that I am now the proud owner of a “classic Camry” with 330,000 miles on the odometer. I’ve also saved tons of money, unlike my friends who slack off on the maintenance and trade their cars in every couple of years.
That being said, it is sad but true that we take better care of our cars than our own bodies. Why not step out into the fresh spring air and treat yourself to a fitness tune-up? Of course this goes hand in hand with the above recommended weight loss clean-up. Ask yourself—or better still, your spouse or your best friend—am I truly giving my body the daily exercise that it needs and deserves in order to promote optimal health and wellbeing?
This is not rocket science. You simply need to adopt a form of exercise that you will enjoy, otherwise you won’t stay with it, and commit to devoting the next month or two to building up to a thirty-minute exercise session that you will engage in at least five times a week. Make this a fun part of your daily routine!
Addiction Spring Cleaning
Take a good hard look at your nicotine addiction and substitute addictions. As I discuss in my book, The Wellness-Recovery Connection, between 70 to 85 percent of practicing alcoholics and addicts are also addicted to nicotine. Many, perhaps the majority, are heavy smokers and the majority of this group carries their nicotine addiction over into their recovery. In truth, nicotine addiction is the leading cause of death among people in recovery.
If you have tried to quit on numerous occasions only to relapse, don’t despair; you’re in good company, including yours truly. Persistence pays! For immediate state-of-the-art assistance in kicking the habit, do a Google search for the free Stop Smoking Quit Line serving your area. These Quit Lines are generally offered in affiliation with state health departments. You can also visit www.smokefree.gov for information and tips on quitting.
Now is also a good time to take inventory concerning where you stand in regard to dangerous substitute addictions that can undermine your prospects of enjoying a high quality life in recovery. Substitute addictions include eating disorders—including anorexia, bulimia, and just plain over-eating—sexual addictions, gambling addiction, and compulsive workaholism, to name a few. Identify the substitute addictions that are prominent in your life and seek skilled help in conquering them. If you are in doubt as to whether a particular substitute addiction applies to you, talk this over with a trusted addictions counselor, your primary physician or another trusted health advisor.
Spiritual Spring Cleaning
This is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of our spring cleaning for wellness in recovery. We need to block aside the time to ask ourselves: What grudges and resentments toward others am I still clinging to, and what other self-defeating attitudes and behaviors am I carrying that are holding me back from experiencing a truly rich and rewarding life in recovery? After taking inventory, we then need to identify which of these spiritual “skeletons in the closet” we are willing to tackle at this point, and implement appropriate action to release this baggage. By all means seek out help in conquering these demons—particularly valuable sources of help can include a trusted sponsor, clergy-person, addictions counselor or therapist, together with a trusted partner and/or friend who will not reinforce your natural tendency to rationalize holding onto this spiritual baggage.
The following example from my own experience may be of help. As a writer, counselor, and addictions professional, I am painfully aware of my inclination to be extremely critical toward both myself and others around me. A few years back, the priest at the church my wife and I attend recommended that for Lent we choose to give up a persistent negative behavior or thought pattern that we would like to be free of. Aware of the critical side of my nature, I wrote down on a card “I am releasing my critical tendencies and replacing them with compassion and appreciation.” I added this to my affirmation cards, which I review at the beginning of each day.
In closing, I hope this column has stimulated you to undertake your own spring cleaning for wellness in recovery. I would be pleased to hear of your undertakings in this area, and can be reached at [email protected]
Until next time—to your health!