Wellness is common buzz word these days. Schools have “wellness centers”, employee assistance groups have “wellness programs”, and magazines and blogs regularly publish articles on the topic. The small town I live in has a “Wellness Project” with speakers, fairs, and other activities. There’s a movement known as “Wellness Tourism” – travelling to some destination that promotes wellness. Pet companies even offer “Wellness Care” for Spot and Fluffy.
What is wellness? Here are a couple of definitions:
- The World Health Organization of the United Nations tells us that wellness is living an optimal life, beyond merely being free of disease or infirmity.
- According to Simon Fraser University in BC, “Wellness is an active, lifelong process of becoming aware of your choices and making decisions that will help you to live a more balanced and fulfilling life.”
And there are lots of choices and decisions to make. Typically, the wellness experts talk about “dimensions” of wellness, or specific areas in life that we have to attend to. Most wellness experts include emotional wellness, physical wellness, occupational wellness, and social wellness. Others, who are more enthusiastic, add financial wellness, environmental wellness, intellectual wellness, and spiritual wellness.
Recommendations to achieve wellness tell us to pay attention to our diet, exercise, make room in the day for relaxation (often mindfulness meditation), learn some coping skills to deal with irritating people or to work through a loss, take a vacation or a mental health day, be open to feedback at work, be optimistic, and find our purpose in life.
It’s obvious that those suffering from addictions pay almost no attention to wellness. Poor diet, disrupted sleep, physical ailments, depression, poor self-awareness, lack of life goals, and dozens of other problems do not lead to a balanced and fulfilling life.
It’s no surprise that some addiction treatment programs offer wellness as a way to overcome chronic drug use. Is wellness the answer to addiction? According to the wellness experts, eating right, exercising, developing an optimistic attitude, and the rest should work for those pursuing recovery. In this online program, we’ll examine wellness and how it might help.
Balance in Life
Wellness seems to be a very useful idea for those looking to overcome addiction. What person, who has been mired in addiction, wouldn’t want to be financially well, secure that he has enough money to pay the bills? Or emotionally well, secure that she is able to handle surprises without falling victim to panic or rage. Or physically well, free from alcoholic hepatitis, skin sores, or needle infections.
Balance, the experts tell us, is the key. We have to balance all these dimensions of wellness. It’s no good pursuing spiritual wellness if you eat only fast food and are an emotional wreck every time you can’t get on the internet. Exercising 30 minutes every day won’t do much for your wellness if your workplace is driving you crazy, you’re swamped in financial debt, and you can’t sleep because you’re dwelling on the depleted ozone layer.
In essence, wellness is living with healthy-mindedness and good order. Pursuing wellness means choosing to work through drug cravings rather than falling victim to them, putting in place supports to help through the rough times, proactively looking after physical health, being conscientious at work or school, marshalling social supports, making plans to remedy financial problems, and so on. These heralded as the keys to wellness; to a balanced and fulfilling life.
Wellness and Extreme Situations
One problem with the wellness approach is that it doesn’t really work in extreme situations. Following the recommendation to “be positive” is not of much use to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer or learned that her family has been killed in a car crash. “Eat according to the government food guide” will be a struggle for a single mother living paycheque to paycheque. “Learn to be open to feedback at work” won’t be helpful to someone whose boss is an obnoxious bully. And someone faced with a problematic issue—an imminent lay-off from work or awaiting results of a biopsy—will be dwelling on the potential problem, regardless of what experts recommend. And the recommendations seem to suggest that someone suffering, for instance, from terminal cancer is pretty much out of luck.
Does this mean that wellness doesn’t work in extreme situations? Not exactly. But it is useful to recognize that there might be more needed for wellness when a person plunged into a desperate situation.
The extreme situation is one reason why psychologist Paul T.P. Wong—whose work underlies a great deal of SCHC’s program—is convinced that developing the capacity to find meaning, even in the worst possible situations, is far more powerful for a fulfilling life than wellness. (Learn more about our non-12 step program).
Most of the wellness experts don’t pay much, or any, attention to the real issue of wellness: having a good understanding of who you are. If you equate wellness with good physical health, healthy coping skills, and dealing with emotional struggles, a focus on self-awareness may seem odd. But research has shown that knowing yourself is likely the greatest protection you’ll ever have when life throws you for a loop (and it’s certainly the first step in living a fulfilling and contented life).
Here’s the reason:
If you know yourself, you’ll be more able to manage your life, which is the key to dealing with your struggles. Self-awareness helps, for example, develop resilience. The great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that each of us is quite capable of facing adversity with dignity and responsibility, but we have to dig deep within and develop courage and endurance in the face of it. These traits are already inside us. We just have to tease them out.
Self-awareness helps us resist being victimized by external forces. If I am sure of my values, I won’t, for example, feel the need to be a people pleaser or perfectionist.
Those in recovery often don’t recognize how powerful they can be and often feel victimized. The solution is to know themselves so they can better manage struggles.
Find Your Unique Purpose
A common recommendation of the wellness experts is to “find your unique purpose”. This is a very important goal if you want to live a fulfilling life, but it’s one of those things that sounds fairly simple in practice when, in fact, it’s very difficult to figure out.
Those in recovery usually struggle with finding their unique purpose because they lack self-awareness and have few personally meaningful goals. Finding purpose demands that they first know themselves and figure out what is actually important to them, their strengths, limitations, desires, and wants. Purpose follows the answer to “Who am I?”
Even those who can answer “Who am I?” often still struggle with finding their unique purpose. Their struggle arises because they are too focused on their own interests and desires. Research tells us that attaching your life to something bigger than you leads to a more fulfilling life. This doesn’t mean curing cancer or some other big, splashy purpose. Most people who are sure of their purpose have goals that are down to earth such as caring for family, doing their small part to reduce climate change, or promoting the interests of a group.
Dr. Wong likes to challenge his students and followers with questions. Here’s one of them:
“Who is more contented in life? The person who discovers what she is good at and pursues their talents, or the person who works to reach her full potential to make the world a better place?”
The answer seems obvious. But, of course, the person who works to reach her full potential must face fears, overcome doubts, endure criticism, and take risks.
Editor’s Note. As one of the top drug rehab and alcohol treatment Centres in British Columbia, and indeed all of Canada, we remind readers who may be struggling with addiction to reach out for a private consultation. We have our main treatment Centre in Powell River, British Columbia, but can be reached via the Internet, via telephone, and face-to-face in offices in key cities not only in British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria), but also in cities as diverse as Edmonton or Calgary in Alberta. If you or a loved one are searching for one of the best treatment programs in Canada, please reach out to see if we are a good match for your needs.