A Recipe for Recovery

Apr 09, 2023
TLDR? Check out the YouTube Video

 There are many roads to recovery. 

It’s a common refrain, and yet the culture of recovery—particularly in the West—hinges around one or two dominant organizations that seem to dictate the parameters of healing. 

It’s unfortunate—particularly since those same organizations tout the merits of staying true to oneself—but it’s our world. 

Many sufferings from addictions or compulsive behaviors eschew popular programs and institutions, deterred by rigid rules and religious dogma. 

For anyone with ethical or practical qualms, such programs can be unappealing—even hostile. 

Thankfully, recovery is more straightforward than many would like to admit. That’s why the world of healing is changing to accommodate divergent paths. From coaches (like me!) to innovative programs like Recovery Dharma, innumerable movements are taking root to upend the pervasive and toxic notion that recovery requires adherence to a particular set of rules. 

As a recovery coach and academic, I’ve studied addiction—and recovery— for a long time. I’ve spent several years assembling the elements of each program, matching them up with one another to find their commonalities.

The following guide includes the research-supported best practices common to all successful recovery programs. 

With this guide, you can create the conditions for a robust and lasting recovery from any substance or behavior. 

The Ingredients

Every recipe starts with a set of ingredients. 

Furthermore—and I learned this the hard way—every ingredient matters. For example, you cannot forego chili powder when making a curry.

To that end, there are several ingredients you’ll need to cook up the recovery you seek—each one as important as the next. The following list includes the top 10 elements for a successful rehab for any addiction or compulsion.

The Basics 

You're not giving yourself a chance if you’re not meeting the basics.

It’s funny: my clients are often knowledgeable, competent people. But many lack the discernment to realize when they aren’t meeting their body’s basic needs.

Unfortunately, addiction—all-consuming as it is—can make it difficult to focus long enough to meet—or even recognize—those needs.

To the best of your ability, ensure you are approximating the following criteria.


  • Eat Well: Addiction ravages the body, so you must do your best to provide the vitamins and minerals you might be missing. Eat whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables; if you can, consider taking a superfood supplement. I prefer this cheap alternative to the pricier AG1. 
  • Sleep Enough: Addiction can negatively impact your sleep patterns, so you must implement additional measures to ensure you’re getting enough. Consider powering down eight to nine hours before you need to wake up and getting as close to eight hours as possible. This organic, mood-boosting sleepytime Tulsi tea puts me to sleep right away.
  • Drink Water: Listen, I don’t drink enough water. No one does. But do your best to get six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
  • Go Outside: Are you chronically online? Same. Get outside, touch the grass, walk around your block—whatever it is, find a way to put your (preferably bare) feet on some soil for a change! 
  • Talk to Someone: Companionship and support are integral to recovery. Talk to someone—whether it’s a coach, a therapist, or a friend. You can book a free chat with me on my website.


Although it may sound simple, meeting the basics is anything but. I don’t always get enough sleep, nor can I sacrifice my strawberry shortcake ice creams, but I do my best, and that’s what matters most.


Most of us approach recovery from a position of self-judgment.
We tell ourselves that we are “broken” or “deficient—” or label ourselves with derogatory terms. 

The effective recovery programs—from rehabs to 12 steps—often advocate this harsh, disciplinary approach, as they are, as we say euphemistically, from a different time. 

But this is the 21st century, and we know now that self-judgment only drives addiction. Think of it this way: what do you do when you’re uncomfortable or insecure? You use (or eat, drink, gamble, etc.).

We cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. It’s time for a new approach.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg details the importance of self-compassion in healing from bad habits. TLDR? It’s crucial. 

So work on developing a self-love practice—whether meditation or saying “I love you” in the mirror every day. 

For more information on developing self-love, read Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

The Will to Change (Or the Will to Will to Change)

It might seem obvious, but you have to want to change.

While many of us throw up our hands and say, “I know I have a problem,” that’s different than committing to recovery.

Committing to recovery is a threefold promise. It requires that you: 

  • Admit you have a problem, and your methods haven’t worked.
  • Change for yourself and no one else—though you can envision how your change will help others.
  • Be prepared to put your recovery above all else.

This is where people struggle, but it’s more straightforward than it sounds. It means sacrificing your work, relationships, and other life areas to improve. Detoxing and early recovery take effort and interfere with certain parts of your life. Be ready for that, and know that it won’t last forever. 

Harm Reduction & Celebrating Your Wins

This one is controversial, but the research is in harm reduction works.

While you’re gearing up to recover, work on minimizing the harm you inflict upon your mind and body. Start by trying to reduce or control your use. 

Most importantly, celebrate your wins. Gaining positive momentum is a massive advantage when it comes to recovery—that’s the premise behind counting days or picking up chips. Tell someone else about your accomplishments, or reward yourself in some way. 

Honesty & Accountability

In her excellent treatise on the nature of addiction and the road to recovery, Anna Lembke argues that honesty is the most critical aspect of a sound recovery.

The importance of honesty is familiar to most programs and healing methodologies, and you must adopt it as best you can.

Addiction thrives in secrecy; the food addict eats alone, the gambler hides his habit in credit card bills, and the sex addict conceals his whereabouts. To that end, shedding light on your issue is the first step to clearing the shadows. 

Consider keeping a journal and sharing your honest thoughts, or if you’re feeling brave, talk to someone else.

Accountability is necessary—even if it doesn’t always feel good—because sometimes, it’s the kick in the ass you need to get back up. 

A System

A sound system consists of the proper steps in the correct order—that’s your recipe, and I’ll detail it below.

Establishing a coherent, linear system of steps allows you to minimize the number of decisions you need to make in a day, which is essential when your willpower is somewhat compromised. 

While you can implement a system independently, I recommend working with a professional. Most recovery coaches, myself included, offer six to twelve-week programs, and you’ll learn how to automate these steps so you don’t need to rely on this structure forever.


You’ve likely heard the phrase, “The opposite of addiction is connection.”

This quote comes from Johann Hari, author of a brilliant socio-political account of the War on Drugs, Chasing the Scream, and Hari knows what he’s talking about. 

What every program has in common is a built-in system of mutual aid and support. To recover, you’ll need the help of others who have.

Consider reaching out to other people you know, joining a support group, or finding a qualified and experienced professional. 


Addiction is a maladaptive implicit learning mechanism.

At first, it’s something you do; then, it becomes who you are. Implicit learning is the type of automated, reflexive learning that helps us remember to ride a bike or type on the computer. It happens subconsciously. 

For this reason, mindfulness is an integral component of recovery from addiction. To heal from a wound, you must acknowledge it—the only way out is through.

Consider adopting a mindfulness practice such as meditation, Reiki, visualization, or prayer. Your suffering demands to be felt, and once you allow yourself to feel it, it tends to move on. 

Additionally, the more you practice mindfulness, the more likely you are to catch yourself craving or fantasizing. 


I hesitated to add this one to the list because it’s difficult for many folks.

However, joy is an integral component of recovery. After all, why would you stay sober or abstinent if your life isn’t worth being present for in the first place?

Carve out time for yourself each day—five minutes if necessary—and do something you love. Spend time with people who make you happy, and go places that bring you joy. Do your best to explore new hobbies and possibilities.

When the addiction is gone, you’ll have more room for joy than you know what to do with.

To Thine Own Self Be True 

Ultimately, these are only suggestions.

The best path to recovery is one you will follow. And remember: you don’t need to meet any standard—you’re aiming for progress, not perfection.

The Process 

Once you’ve assembled your ingredients, it’s time to get started.

The following section describes the fundamental steps of recovery at length—and offers actionable exercises and prompts for you to use on your journey. 

I use the acronym D.A.R.E. to refer to this recipe, partly because it’s funny and partly because it’s accurate: you are daring to move into a new state of being, one where recovery is something that you are instead of something that you’re doing. 

The recovery process is complex—and it certainly isn’t linear. Recovery is all about accepting duality, nuance, and messiness.

To that end, work your way through the following exercises as best you can, but remember to exercise self-compassion.


We begin with discovery.

To start, you must dare to discover. You must be willing to explore every facet of your habit and how it has impacted your life.

While you can work on several habits at once, I recommend working with one at a time.

Write down:

  • The pros and cons of continuing
  • The pros and cons of recovery 
  • The short-term consequences of your habit (past, present, and future)
  • The long-term consequences
  • The impact of your practice on others.

While this process may trigger unpleasant feelings, it is necessary for a sustainable recovery.

The feminist theorist Eve Sedgwick once said, “What matters so much [regarding substance abuse] is not the substance itself as much as the magical properties one attaches to it.”

What magical properties have you attached to your behavior? Here are some of mine:

  • Drinking helps me make friends and write
  • Nicotine helps me focus
  • Liquor helps me sleep
  • I can’t live without substances

The point of this exercise is to question these beliefs. Spoiler alert: none of them hold. Drinking did not make me a better writer; nicotine (and withdrawals) detracted from my focus, alcohol  interferes with sleep, and I could live without substances—and so can you.


An analysis is where most people get stuck—not because it’s hard, but because our contemporary modalities for recovery all seem to place a disproportionate emphasis on the value of analysis.

While understanding where your beliefs and behaviors came from is a crucial step to recovery, it isn’t the only step. 

Unfortunately, therapy, AA, and most other recovery programs encourage perpetual analysis, leaving addicts languishing in treatment for years, confused as to why they don’t seem to get better. 

The analysis is a straightforward, iterative process. When we analyze, we trace our damaging habits or beliefs back to the source, meticulously assessing all of the conditions, experiences, and memories that gave rise to the pattern. 

This is a complex and sometimes painful process, so you must give yourself grace and cultivate an unyielding self-care practice. 

Once you are ready, begin by writing your habit's story. We tell stories to make sense of the world. Our stories, in turn, influence our beliefs—and identifying your beliefs about addiction is essential to healing from it. 

Here are the instructions for an exercise I commonly use with my clients: 


  1. Write the story of your habit that you tell yourself NOW.
  2. Write the beliefs and judgments that accompany  the story

Remember, your habit should meet the following criteria:

  • An account is a pattern. We make patterns to make meaning of the barrage of stimuli that assaults us every day
  • An account is the same way: we weave disparate events together to make meaning of our experience
  • We tell stories because our stories tell US who we are. Your account has you at its center.
  • Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. There is an initiating moment, a period of rising intensity, a climax, and a resolution. 
  • Stories often feature judgments and interpretations.
  • A story is causal: when things happen in succession, there is causality.
  • A story contains a moral structure: there are good and bad events
  • A story forcibly neglects all contradicting events and stimuli.


An example of a story about a habit: 

I started smoking cigarettes when I was thirteen. I kept going because it helped with my stress and got me through graduate school. Then I started coughing and had trouble working out. I think I will die from smoking.


Then, write a different story. What will your level of recovery be?

Once you’ve completed this story, begin to look at your ancestors and relatives: who shares this behavior with you? How did that influence you?

Ask yourself which early childhood experiences may have influenced your story and where you obtained your beliefs around the substance or behavior.

This illuminating process marks the halfway point of your road to recovery.


Rebirth is where the magic happens.

I named my business Firebyrd because that’s what you are: a phoenix, risen from the ashes. We aren’t becoming new—we are making something brighter and stronger from the old. 

To that end, you’ll need to envision your life in recovery. 

The power of visualization cannot be understated; visualizing goals is proven to enhance motivation, self-confidence, courage, and mindfulness. People who imagine their goals are more likely to achieve them—that’s why many professional athletes use this trick before a big game or event.

The process is simple, but you must repeat it regularly. Like brushing your teeth, visualization works best when practiced for a short time regularly rather than crammed into one day.

First, write down your vision. 

  • Articulate your vision in the present moment 
  • Think only of the positive
  • Focus on the sensory details: what do you see, hear, and feel? 
  • Pretend it has already happened and express gratitude.

Then, establish a 5-10 minute window during which you will commit to visualizing. Set a timer and read your vision. Then, focus on materializing it. 

Consider getting a book on how to use visualization for recovery, such as Dr. Joe Dispenza’s Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself


The fourth step of the recovery process is exercise, and it’s exactly what it sounds like! 

Recovery is a practice, not a destination. It’s where we go when we’re attuned to ourselves and aligned with the universe. And just as quickly as we can enter it, we can also leave.

Every recovery program stresses the importance of regular reflective and meditative practice. To that end, you must carve out time each day to focus on your spiritual and psychological growth. Consider any of the following methods—or makeup one of your own!

Like most things, recovery requires persistence and practice. But, like most things that need training, you get better with time.

The important thing is to consistently expand your ideas about recovery and spirituality—regardless of how you do that.

Consider reading books or listening to podcasts on the subject. Some of my favorites include:

The Final Product

So you’ve finished the steps, you’ve completed the system—and your life isn’t perfect.

Unfortunately, recovery is inherently imperfect. You might relapse, you might sink into another toxic behavior, or you might face the feelings you once kept bottled up.

Regardless of how you screw up, it will happen. Although programs like AA stress “continuous” sobriety and abstinence, this concept can interfere with our drive to recover when we fall.

Remember that all you have is today—this very moment—and do what you can to make it the best moment it can be.

And when you’ve done that, let go of the outcome because recovery is all about drawing the line between the things you can control and those you can't. 


If you need additional help—or someone to talk to—consider booking a free recovery discovery chat on my website. As always, feel free to leave comments or share your thoughts! I always love to hear from you. 


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