Recovery is a beautiful process of learning, growth, and healing. September was National Recovery Month, so we had a whole month to reflect on the process itself. While the term “recovery” can be applied to getting better or improving with regard to a wide range of conditions, it is most commonly associated with overcoming addiction to alcohol and other drugs. In this context, recovery is generally thought of as becoming abstinent from these substances. However, the process of recovery goes far beyond abstinence. The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has defined recovery from both substance use disorders and mental disorders as: A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. Recovery from addiction is the process of sustaining abstinence and learning and practicing the awareness and skills necessary to live a whole, healthy, and healed life. These two elements reinforce one another: sustained abstinence creates the opportunities to build the skills that facilitate growth and healing, which is not possible during the unremitting entropy of active addiction.
Conversely, learning and practicing such skills is instrumental to sustaining abstinence. Beyond abstinence, recovery involves:
- Participating in life activities that are healthy and meaningful, based on your needs, interests, and values.
- Making changes in how you relate to your thoughts and emotions - especially those that are uncomfortable and painful.
- Discovering and developing parts of yourself of which you had been unaware, and rediscovering those parts of yourself that were buried beneath the rubble of active addiction.
- Developing new patterns of living with conscious awareness, and moving toward mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual balance.
Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal disorder, similar to other chronic life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Like these other illnesses, there is no cure for addiction. However, it can be treated and managed successfully through the process of recovery, allowing those with it to live long, full, and healthy lives. Life takes its toll on all of us, and everyone, whether or not they struggle with addiction, chronic pain, or any other serious condition, sustains a certain degree of damage along the way. Recovery provides a pathway to heal from that damage and become stronger, just as broken bones can become stronger after they heal than they were before.