What is recovery from addiction? Most people would say recovery is when someone who has a problem with alcohol or other drugs quits drinking or doing drugs, but this isn’t near all that constitutes recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous there are those who say they are recovering alcoholics and those who say they are recovered alcoholics. Recover-ing suggests an ongoing process, while recover-ed speaks to a present altered state. I can see both perspectives. Recovery from addiction is a long-term, ongoing process that has to be managed, but at some point in recovery the recovering person no longer experiences what Bill Wilson called a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Wilson was referring to the first hundred members of AA who had “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body”. Many people in recovery latched onto the word “recovered” and it created a debate. What Bill Wilson likely meant is that in recovery, if you are changing and practicing the principles of recovery in all your affairs, you will not feel like a hopeless drunkard. You will recover from that seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.
When a person is abstinent from all mood-altering drugs, they’re ready for recovery, but they haven’t recovered. And even when a recovering addict gets to the point they’ve recovered from the seemingly hopeless state of mind, they have to continue managing their recovery or they’ll likely slide back to old mental states, and start frequenting old play grounds, and associating with old drinking and drug using buddies that often lead to relapse.
In treatment, we don’t cure people of addiction — we prepare people who have a problem with alcohol or other drugs for recovery. We provide the necessary education and therapy for a person to apply what they’ve learned to their recovery over a long period of time, maybe the rest of their lives. This doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for outcomes, because what we as professionals provide in treatment and what we recommend for ongoing recovery are important.
It’s natural to think of lifetime recovery as a huge burden, but it’s not a burden. In fact, recovery should enhance a person’s life and lead to healthy and enjoyable living. Recovery should add quality years to a person’s life. Alcohol and other drugs are poisonous when used in large amounts over a long period of time, so when a person is not putting poison in their system on a regular basis, they feel better — when a person pays attention to their mental and emotional state, seeking balance and happiness, they should have higher self-esteem ad a positive outlook on life — when a person is seeking to develop healthy and honest relationships, then that person’s life is richer and fuller — when a person exercises and eats good food, their body feels stronger and more energetic, and they think more clearly. These are some of the actions that constitute recovery management, and they aren’t burdensome, they are life-saving and life-enhancing.