The 5 Stages of Healing: The Pathway towards Transformation

The body is always in a state of healing itself. However, make no mistake about it, we are active participants in how well we heal.

Our actions (and thoughts) can slow things down or speed things up. It can also cause stagnation or, unfortunately, move us backwards.

Whether you are healing from an addiction, cancer, or depression, there is a distinct process we go through to address our health and life challenges. Our job is to put ourselves in the best position to remove barriers and heal.

Just as there is a progression of disease, there is a progression of healing.

Wherever you are with your recovery, there is a clear path forward.

I have witnessed hundreds of women recovering from the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of addiction-related disorders and dis-ease. They all follow a similar progression, AND it’s rooted in how well they embrace the healing journey!

The 5 Stages of Healing (using AUD as the example):

As you read the following, reflect and ask yourself:

  • What stage am I in now?
  • What am I doing now that is helpful?
  • What is keeping me from proceeding to the next stage?

Stage 1: Stop

Often a dramatic incident happens that forces us to confront our alcohol abuse, demands our immediate attention, and can even put us in a crisis mode. This could be a “rock- bottom” scenario where our behavior spirals out of control, we experience an impending collapse of a marriage, or we get hospitalized due to pancreatitis or a traumatic fall. Or it could be simple words from a loved one indicating things must change. When this happens, it often feels panicky because we’re being confronted to stop the drinking. There is much anxiety because we know we need to STOP, but often, we don’t believe we truly can.  This stage is first because we cannot begin to heal without stopping. To anchor this stage, we ask the questions: “How do I go on from here? Where can I get help?”

My advanced alcohol use disorder (AUD) resulted in an ultimatum from my family, which eventually led me to experience the gift of desperation, the point of being totally empty and desperate to change. I had reached my lowest point and finally became open to do anything and everything to put down the drink and climb out of the darkness.

  • Are you ignoring the signs that you are actually close to or in this stage?
  • What incident or event got your attention to stop drinking?
  • Have you hit “rock bottom” or felt the gift of desperation?

Stage 2: Accept the Reality

Fully embracing the ACCEPTANCE stage means we truly understand the gravity of the alcohol problem, are no longer resisting change, and fully accept responsibility moving forward. We cannot heal what we don’t accept. In other words, it’s impossible to permanently stop a lifelong addictive habit without fully surrendering.

This stage is full of change, often with physical and/or emotional pain, as we sort through the new reality. Sometimes we consciously or unconsciously try to live our old lives again, and often this takes us back to Stage 1. Honestly, if someone is going to get stuck in a cycle of relapses, it’s going to happen at this stage. (Steps 1 and 2 can be an endless loop until we accept our realities.) Once we get through this stage, there is often a big mental shift of renewal and excitement!

In my case, I relapsed a few times as I tried to hold on to illusions from my old life, and I eventually turned the corner by processing the grief of saying goodbye to that old life. Within three months of my final relapse, I totally accepted my reality. But furthermore, I desperately wanted to heal all my health issues (a majority of which were consequences of my alcohol abuse).

  • Are you still holding on to your old life?
  • What is keeping you from conquering this stage?
  • Can you recall when you surrendered and moved forward to acceptance?

Stage 3: Learn New Ideas

For many people, this stage opens the door to a whole new world of learning how to live a joyful, fulfilling, and purposeful alcohol-free life! There’s much hope and optimism as new ideas and strategies for the body, mind, and spirit are uncovered. However, it’s common to feel information overload and overwhelmed. This is why it is best to work with addiction counselors and recovery and health coaches, health and wellness practitioners of all kinds, and of course, support groups, such as SheRecovers to help guide the process. Technically, there is no end to this phase, because new information on health and wellness is always available. Also strategies change as we heal the most pressing issue, giving rise to other health challenges. For example, as we learn strategies to live an alcohol-free life, we can finally begin to work on overcoming any lingering resentments, as well as other physical challenges such as unanticipated weight gain.

Personally, I love this stage! Initially, I focused on healing my lingering health challenges, especially brain fog, fatigue, and my unhealthy relationships to food and sugar. I also recognized my own traumas, something I had totally suppressed (with alcohol, work, etc.) my whole life before recovery.

Something else I realized is just how complex it can be to recover and heal from AUD.

While there are a number of programs focused on helping women get sober, there’s much less on how to heal after sobriety. Thus, it became my newfound passion to help other women transition from early sobriety to sustainable recovery by focusing on the healing journey.

  • Have you given your full attention to learning new ideas? If not, why not?
  • What are the top 3–5 new ideas you learned that significantly helped you?
  • What are you considering now that you never thought about before?

Stage 4: Commit to Routine

Ideas are only as good as they are implemented! We must put our new healing ideas and strategies into an action plan. Remember, recovery is an action game! So, COMMITTING to a new lifestyle, and specifically creating a daily routine with new healthy habits replacing previous unhealthy habits, is essential. In fact, doing the same things around the same time every day will significantly affect the rate of your healing process and put you in “the healing flow state,” where things progress seamlessly.

Don’t delay on this; getting into a routine with your most important health (mind, body, and spirit) and recovery habits (plus removing actions and habits that do not support you) will not just strengthen your recovery but will accelerate your healing.

Admittedly, it’s my nature to create “to-do” lists and implement
new ideas, but I learned that even my good intentions were not enough to keep me accountable. So I created a Vitality Tracker, which is a helpful way to organize and track all the key areas of wellness, such as nutrition, supplements, meditation, grounding, and other activities for recovery and health in general, in one easy tool.

Routine = happy, healthy, purposeful alcohol-free life.

  • What have you committed to doing, especially now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted?
  • What system are you using to keep to a daily routine?
  • How do you feel (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually) when you follow your intended routine?

Stage 5: Transform

The final stage is the result of the totality of the previous healing stages. When the healing progression occurs, our bodies, minds, and spirits heal naturally and synergistically. This process is generally not linear, but it definitely moves forward in ways we previously wouldn’t have imagined. This last phase offers limitless possibilities, as healing is always occurring—moving us closer to balance, health, and authenticity. There is no end destination here, just deeper levels of transformative growth.

My first exposure to a personal transformation was during a 30-day yoga immersion experience that brought immense clarity and peace to my new alcohol-free life. Since then, I practice yoga regularly, meditate, and teach recovery and health to women in recovery. These practices help me stay near the feeling of transformation. I have learned this is not a destination but a feeling of tranquility and gratitude.

  • Have you experienced transformation?
  • Do you practice gratitude in your alcohol-free life?
  • What might you add to your life to gain greater levels of transformation?
This infographic summarizes The 5 Stages of Healing.
Click to enlarge.

In summary, healing is a progression that we can substantially affect with our commitment and choices. This is true whether we are healing the body, mind, spirit, or—most likely—all these at the same time. Our active involvement can be a game-changer.

So, while looking over the 5 Stages of Healing diagram, I invite you to identify which healing stage currently reflects your recovery and then apply the principles and suggestions to your life. Personalize this process to your own unique situation and begin to thrive in your healing journey!

Experience firsthand that healing is the pathway to transformation!

Jill Rathburn, BSN, RN, CPC, CPRC, SRCD, RYT, Transformational Coach, Holistic Health Nurse, Bioenergetic Practitioner
Jill is a holistic health nurse, recovery and health coach, and bioenergetic practitioner who helps women overcome significant health challenges to radically change and improve their lives regardless of disease. In recovery from AUD, eating disorders, and trauma, Jill supports women to strengthen their recovery by focusing on healing. Jill offers a 3-month holistic health course, Healing Next, specifically for women in early recovery. Sign up now for next course, which begins in fall 2021.

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