In his book An Integral Guide to Recovery: Twelve Steps and Beyond, CalSouthern faculty mentor Guy du Plessis outlines a new approach to addiction recovery, one that provides a recovery map and toolkit suited to the complexities of 21st-century life.
Integrated Recovery is a fascinating approach, one that implements many of the revolutionary ideas of the Integral model, developed by philosopher Ken Wilber, and one that allows for a truly holistic recovery from addiction.
Guy has worked in the addiction recovery milieu for more than 15 years in a wide variety of capacities. In addition to his work at CalSouthern, he is the co-founder and managing director of the Integral Recovery Institute, a researcher at Momentum Mental Healthcare in his home country of South Africa and an in-demand speaker and prolific writer. In addition to addiction recovery, his research areas of interest include transdisciplinary research on mind-body bridging, existentialism and Jan Smuts' theory of holism.
Guy also is a musician, avid reader and Zen student. His favorite activity, however, is spending time with his beloved daughter Coco who, he says, “teachers him the joy and wonder of being in the world.”
CalSouthern caught up with Guy to learn more about the book—and his novel approach to addiction recovery.
How is the approach you outlined in your book different from other approaches to recovery?
I do not attempt to make any grand claims in my book that the Integrated Recovery approach is that different from other methodologies, or even significantly more effective. But what it does is provide a unique orientating map or meta-approach to recovery that includes tried-and-tested recovery practices. The book attempts to present to the individual in recovery a progressive recovery map suitable for the complexities of today’s world.
Although Integrated Recovery is a novel approach, it has not set out to reinvent the wheel as such. Rather, it is a synergistic framework that includes many time-honored recovery practices. As a holistic framework, Integrated Recovery is an approach that attempts to include and honor all the vital aspects of our lives in a comprehensive way. It’s a 12-step, abstinence-based approach that is informed by Integral Theory, mindfulness, positive psychology and existentialism.
The reason I use the word integrated to describe this approach is because it integrates your recovery program and your life; moreover, this approach is an integration of many disciplines. I use the word recovery from two perspectives: the first is the conventional perspective that you are recovering from addiction; the second is that you are recovering and moving toward your authentic self. One perspective is about moving away from—the other is about moving toward.
What makes the Integrated Recovery approach unique, relative to other holistic and integrative approaches to recovery, is that, as you’ve noted above, it implements the Integral model, as originally developed by the American philosopher Ken Wilber. The Integral model, or Integral Theory, attempts to include as many perspectives and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of any topic. The Integral model is capable of helping to design a recovery worldview that allows a truly holistic approach to recovery and its practices.
The Integrated Recovery approach is part of the nascent but rapidly developing fields of integral addiction treatment and integral recovery. Integral addiction treatment is an umbrella term that refers to addiction treatment and recovery approaches that applies Integral Theory.
What is the influence of existential philosophy in the Integrated Recovery approach?
One of the central philosophical foundations that informs the Integrated Recovery approach is an existential view of human nature. Existentialism is a philosophical outlook that stresses the significance of free will, personal responsibility and freedom of choice. This perspective emphasizes the unique experiences and needs of each individual and the responsibility each of us has for our choices and what we make of our lives.
In the context of recovery, an existential understanding would point out that we are responsible for our own recovery and how we choose to live a recovery lifestyle. We have the free will to make choices that will either support a recovery lifestyle or an addictive lifestyle. The choice and responsibility is ours alone. Even though you might have a condition that limits your free will in relation to using drugs (known as “powerlessness” in recovery circles), this does not make you powerless over the choices you can make to get the right support and to follow practices that will prevent you from regressing into this so-called powerless condition.
While existentialism applauds free will, it acknowledges that our free will functions within certain limitations. An important feature of living an authentic and ultimately happy life is accepting these limitations of our human nature. Much of our (unnecessary) suffering is due to not accepting these limitations.
The notion of existential limitations has many significant consequences for our understanding of addiction and recovery. In many ways, addiction can be understood as an attempt to by-pass certain of our inherent limitations. While in active addiction, we try to control the uncontrollable, we attempt to avoid and medicate natural human experiences of pain, disappointment, boredom and so forth, and stretch our control beyond its capacity. Ironically, this attempt at controlling ends up with us being more out of control, and enslaved by the medium we use to try to control what ultimately cannot be controlled. Existentialism clearly articulates this dialectic between free will and powerlessness that we have to navigate in recovery for it to be sustainable.
Another feature of existentialism is its emphasis on the human condition as a whole. For existential philosopher Martin Heidegger, human existence is described and understood as “being-in-the-world.” By placing emphasis on our being-in-the-world, existential philosophy is interested in the whole man in his relation to others and the world. Man as existence cannot be reduced to one dimension of his being. He is best understood as existing as the irreducible and inseparable dimensions of feeling, thinking and acting interdependently with others and the world.
The different recovery dimensions of the Integrated Recovery approach are strongly informed by these insights of existentialism. Each of these recovery dimensions (physical, psychological, intellectual, existential, social and environmental) constitutes an aspect of our total being-in-the-world, they represent essential and irreducible aspects of our existence. For recovery to be sustainable, each of these areas or recovery dimensions needs to be acknowledged as essential components of a recovery lifestyle. Moreover, each can be understood as representing a cluster of human needs. To sustain recovery, we need to develop a lifestyle that offers us the opportunity to have our needs met in each of these recovery dimensions in healthy ways. If not, our addiction (a dysfunctional method of having needs met) will likely surface in that recovery dimension.
Your book has a very specific view regarding the aim of a recovery process. Could you explain?
One of the foundational premises of my book and the Integrated Recovery approach is that addicts are not damaged or broken. Recovery is not about “fixing” oneself, but rather about the process of accepting oneself as one is.
Throughout most of my book I focus primarily on the nuts and bolts of recovery, and the how and why of the various practices of a recovery lifestyle. But another equally important component of recovery is what I call the modes of being-in-recovery.
For every recovery practice we do there also is an attitudinal component, the way we relate to the practice. These modes of being-in-recovery can either be authentic or inauthentic; they either create an openness or “closed-ness” in our being-in-the-world. Philosophers of existence like Martin Heidegger have pointed out that our modern society places an over-emphasis on doing (agency gone awry) and often neglects being. We are relentlessly driven by our goals, and equate our happiness with what we achieve. We neglect the part of our inner selves that value the quality of experience and the quality of relationships.
Even though many people have recently changed their focus from materialistic goals to so-called spiritual goals, through practices like yoga or meditation, they are often still driven by a similar need for achievement and goal-directed attitudes. Instead of now being driven relentlessly towards a materialistic end game, they are now driven relentlessly towards a spiritual end game. The consequences to the self will be the same.
In the context of recovery, there is a similar danger when perusing our recovery goals without paying attention to our relationship with these goals and our recovery practices. The practice of doing-in-recovery should not be confused with being-in-recovery. Very often, those of us that are involved in a recovery program spend so much time practicing and “self-developing” that we forget to live, to enjoy our mere being and our being with others.
Every recovery practice can be understood as having two qualities, the doing or result of the practice, and our existential attitude toward the practice. It is important to find a healthy balance between doing and being, and that your recovery program does not become another futile attempt to “fix what ain’t broke.” Your recovery practice is a paradox. You have to work hard, very hard in fact, but not to be better, but merely to become conscious of the fact that essentially you are good enough as you are right now, and that you have always been good enough. The ultimate aim of working a recovery program is not about fixing ourselves, but rather the slow process of realizing that there is nothing to fix.