What is recovery

What is recovery? When are you recovered?

Recovery means something different to many of us who have suffered from addiction or alcoholism. It often depends on if you are a 12 step group member, or if you have left, or did not take part at all. For many, the idea of recovery is more than putting the drink or other substance down, it is a way of life. Many in AA, will refer to people who are not working the 12 steps, as dry drunks which I find rather condescending. It implies you cannot be sober unless you are willing to pray or subjugate yourself to some form of God, and do things their way. I and many others find this type of approach ridiculous, and have distanced ourselves from it.

I tend to think as myself as recovered these days as I have moved on from the problems of addiction ( and the problems of being in a recovery group). Many will disagree with me, and say somebody with my level of past problems ( 25 years serious abuse ) , will always be in recovery. I am mindful of the fact that I could cause myself problems if I start drinking again, in the way that I did before, but I don’t value the term alcoholic, which members of AA define themselves on a daily basis, as anything other than a negative self-image and an activity that I did in the past. I have done a lot of work and have moved on.

Being in a recovery group was helpful in some ways, in my early days, but once I had got to a certain stage the ideas that were being presented to me were of little use and it was time to stand on my own two feet and deal with life. In fact I found many of the ideas that I had been exposed to in 12 step groups had actually affected me in a negative way, and had induced some guilt. People in AA will tell you that you will relapse if you stop going to meetings and a small part of me wondered if this was true. I also was uncomfortable with a lot of the ideas from the “Big Book” chapter 5 which I found unhelpful. I actually went through a phase of “recovering from recovery” where to quote a well used AA slogan, “I crossed the bridge to normal living”. This is why I chose the name for this site as I realised that many people do find it a bit difficult to make the transition, or are frightened to do so.

Recovery is what you make of it. Attending AA is certainly something that a great many people seem to find helpful. I you are one of those  that enjoy it then I suggest you carry on going. However it is not the only way, and many people like myself have done better following less religious and more rational solutions. That is something that some members of AA should think about before they try to convince everybody, that their way is the only way worth doing. Often people in AA are not that functional in normal life and that is not what I wanted from recovery. For me, having a good social life and being a useful member of society is what interests me in recovery, not being seen, playing lip service to the customs of AA in meetings.

You may wonder why this important? I think it is because it affects the way you view yourself. the idea that you are powerless may help in the first few weeks but can actually program people to fail in the long-term. If you call yourself an alcoholic enough you may act like one in a stressful situation. If you view yourself as recovered, you may well move on. I decided to write this after seeing an answer Lance Dodes had written on the fix to a question about when is somebody recovered. Here is a link but it may get lost in other questions so I will copy it below. http://www.thefix.com/content/ask-expert-0 Lance Dodes This is from the online addiction website the www.fix.com

What does the word recovered mean? I though it was still recovering after doing rehab but wonder what the benchmark is for simply being recovered? – Tess

Lance Dodes: Many words in the addiction field have been tossed around for years without being clearly defined or even being meaningful.  “Recovered,” “recovery” and “being in recovery” are examples. In most of life, “being in recovery” means a person is making progress even though s/he isn’t “cured.” Sometimes it is used as a synonym for “being in remission” – indicating relapse is a clear possibility (as with being “in recovery” from cancer). Other times it means “on the path to a definite cure” – as in being in recovery after surgery. Neither of these usages is problematic, so long as we all understand what is meant. But in the addiction field, the term has been used in a third way in 12-step programs.

There, it is traditional for people to refer to themselves as “in recovery,” no matter how long they have been abstinent from their addictive behavior and no matter how well they are doing in life. Partly, this is the same as saying they are “in remission,” based on the idea they can always suffer a relapse. But too often, being “in recovery” has come to mean something different: that they are on what they declare is the right path. When used this way, folks are condemned as not “in recovery” if they drop out of 12-step programs or are thought to not be “working the program” adequately. When “recovery” is used this way, it is more a political statement than a factual or medical one.

Tess’s question sounds like it has roots in this “recovery community” definition of addiction and its treatment. I hope that Tess would ignore the agendas of anyone attempting to define whether she is “recovering” or “recovered.” Instead, I suggest that she think of her addiction as a repetitive behavior that arises with great force at key moments when she feels overwhelmingly helpless. These moments can be predicted and avoided once she knows just what her emotional vulnerabilities are.

However, there will always be some risk of becoming overwhelmed, and responding with the old behavior. To this extent, it is true that she would never be “cured.” But we are all at risk of repeating old behaviors (in my field it’s called “regressing”), whether these old behaviors are addictions or anything else that used to be part of our solution to life. That’s not a specific feature of addictions, it’s just the way humans are. It makes no more sense to label oneself as “recovering” forever from an addiction, than it does for a person who used to be depressed to forever be “recovering” from depression, or a person who has been cancer-free for 15 years to still define herself as a cancer patient. It certainly makes no sense to define “recovering” in terms of whether you are in one treatment approach or another.

Addiction is a terrible symptom, but it is not who you are, and once you understand how it works emotionally in you so it doesn’t sneak up on you, there is no reason to dwell on what words you use.


Commenting area

  1. I do not say that I am in recovery,recovering or recovered. I see it as, I used to abuse substances. I stopped abusing those substances over two years ago. I also do not label myself as “alcoholic” or “addict” I do see myself simply as a human being who is in learning about better coping strategies, problem solving and healthy ways to do those. I take it as a compliment and relief if someone said to me “You’re not in recovery” Thank gaaawd!!!! Because I was never ill/diseased.

    • That is a really good way at looking at things! I think many of the people using the term recovery in the way that 12 step members do, are trying to justify their involvement in a group that has ideas that they may actually find irrational, but do not want to challenge.

    • I like the way XNA put it and before I even read it that is what I had started telling people when they asked me questions. My response lately has been “During a time more recently when I was very depressed I abused alcohol for a period as well as in my youth when I was busy trying to be a party animal. Today I’m choosing to be more responsible no matter how down I may get and I no longer abuse alcohol.” I too find the term “Dry Drunk” offending and actually did even during the short period I attended AA meetings. I attended meetings for 9 months and I have never been around a more depressed group of individuals in my life. I’m not saying there were a few that didn’t fit into that category, but there were far too many who behaved as if they still had not left rehab. They considered themselves powerless victims over a disease, which I personally don’t believe it should be classified. A battle to be fought “One Day At a Time” and an inability to move forward quit frankly because they are working the program. I talked to some old timers who had worked the steps numerous times. Seems like if it really worked of you worked it you wouldn’t have to be working the steps over and over again, and I might have found the atmosphere a little more joyful. I left the program because the more I read the Big Book, I realized it conflicted with my religious beliefs. However, I got an added bonus when I left, I no longer felt like a victim and within a very short period my depression finally lifted.

  2. Thanks for your comment, I also felt a big relief after leaving. Things improved for me when I tried other methods. We are all different and respond to different solutions.

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