The Four Principles of Recovery

  • Heading into October, I wanted to talk about some lessons I learned recently that form the Four Principles of Recovery that I talk about in my second book, Life Will Tell You. I had referred about two months ago to my intent in starting a round of cognitive therapy sessions. Since beginning this kind of therapy two weeks ago, I have been examining things and writing them down in a spiral-bound notebook. I asked myself, "What lesson was I supposed to learn? Why has this hard time come on?"

    As I began sifting through my life, I understood clearly that comparing "then and now" was like comparing apples and oranges. The illness mutates over the years, and the only constant is that we need to be proactive and stay vigilant in adapting our approach and utilizing new tools in our recovery.

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    It is my contention that we have every hard time to thank for making us who we are today. Life wasn't meant to be easy. It is our greatest challenge that offers the greatest potential. Had I not gone through what I did recently, I might not have realized it was time for a change. As I wrote and wrote, I discovered what I call the Four Principles of Recovery, which I want to talk about in detail here.



    We need to first be compassionate towards ourselves so that we can be compassionate towards other people. We can be kind to our mind by embracing the struggle. Zig Ziglar has a book coming out in October called exactly that: Embrace the Struggle: Living Life on Life's Terms. [I will review it here shortly.] How can we do this? We can understand that we are human and to aim for progress, not perfection. It helps give comfort when we do the things we love that make us feel good, with no expectation of doing them well or achieving an external reward.

    The Nike advertisement suggested, Just Do It. This week I bought the art supplies I needed to have on hand for when the table top easel arrives in the mail. I'm not Picasso and it is not my goal to sell my artwork competitively. I want only to calm my mind and do something that used to give me great joy when I was younger.

    Striving for the "win-win."

    This is the corollary to the first principle. Practicing the win-win in your daily life will make things go smoother. John Nash, whose beautiful mind enabled him to win the Nobel Prize for his mathematical formula of "100 percent negotiation," figured this out decades ago: each party in a transaction needs to obtain equal [100 percent] benefit. It cannot be 75 percent for me and 25 percent for you, or the other way around.

    How does this apply to recovery? We are all in the same boat. The goal is to bring the other person up. He is aware of his limitations and reminding him of them won't help. Lifting each other up is the order of the day. I admit that early in my recovery I did not want to associate with the other people in the halfway house and residence where I lived. I'm not the same person today that I was back then. After talking with a friend about how it is our duty to help people feel good, I remembered the expression "the win-win" from when I worked in business. [I actually told a woman who was interviewing me for a job that I believed in the "win-win."] The reality is that our peers have much to offer us and to offer the world. We are a community of equals united by our common illness.

  • Seeking help instead of going it alone.

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    Yes, this is the lesson that was drilled into me this week. I could be stubborn: set in my ways. Yet sometimes we need to find innovative solutions. It is not a sign of failure when we try on our own to make something work and aren't successful. For the past four years, I thought if only I tried harder, the problem would go away. The risk with going it alone all the time is that we get stuck in a rut where change isn't possible, so we achieve the opposite of the effect we wanted.

    To grow, we need to go outside of ourselves. A qualified guide like a therapist could offer a new perspective. I've had two cognitive therapy sessions so far and already I feel I'm on the way to better coping with what goes on.


    This is the cornerstone of the four recovery principles. We are able to recover when we accept we have a medical condition we will need to manage for the rest of our lives. I was in denial of this and discontinued the medication in 1992 only to relapse three months later and go back into the hospital. I had thought if I no longer took the medication, I wouldn't be sick anymore. Today I understand that I'm healthy precisely because I take the Geodon.

    Acceptance of our illness, self-acceptance, and acceptance of other people are the sure-fire signs that we can achieve optimal mental health. With these things in place, recovery is within reach.

    Does any of this resonate with you? It seemed like a breakthrough to me to discover these four principles. I'd love to hear your impressions on this too. Your comments are always welcome.

Published On: September 23, 2009