There is so much debate about recovery these days…is it abstinence or can it be moderation management? Does these use of medications such as methadone and suboxone mean that you are or aren’t in recovery? Does using prescription or over-the-counter medication containing “banned” substances count as a relapse?
I think about this often as a person in long-term recovery and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have an answer for anyone else but myself. I spent my first three or four years in recovery mainly not drinking…I don’t really think I was growing though. If I look back on that period of my recovery I don’t really think there was much of a change in my behaviour. I continued to react to the world and the people in it in a largely unhealthy way; I avoided difficult emotional situations and I think I spent a lot of time hiding from myself.
And then one day I started to really explore what recovery meant to me… I started reading, learning and expanding my knowledge. I began to question my beliefs around addiction and what it meant to me to be in recovery. I reevaluated my value system and what was important to me in my life…and then I started to see real change. I begun to understand (for myself) that recovery wasn’t about whether I was checking the label of each and everything I put in my mouth as to whether or not it contained any alcohol or potentially addictive substance, but rather how I was growing and developing in my life.
What I began to realise was that hiding in dark corners at parties and get togethers in fear that someone may offer me a drink and then question my refusal, wasn’t me getting well… I needed to take personal responsibility for my life and start doing some work. It was the stage where I started to formulate what recovery means to me… It wasn’t solely about whether I used drugs and alcohol in ANY form, but rather how I saw myself. And suddenly the haze started to lift for me and it wasn’t about saying no to my addiction towards alcohol (and one or two risky associated behaviours), but rather saying yes towards my life. And it was at that point in my recovery that it all started to make sense to me.
There was NO point sitting around and feeling that I had been dealt a dud hand, but rather that I needed to make the most of the hand that I had been dealt. Everyone in active addiction and recovery has a story as to what brought them there, and none is less or more tragic than the next, just relevant to the teller. So I actively began working o my recovery and stopped focusing on my substance abuse. I started to look towards a bright, exciting future where so many things suddenly became possible, rather than lamenting the fact that I was “unable” to take part in a round of tequilas, a champagne toast or a seat at the wine tasting. My vision started to broaden, my horizons started to look clear and inviting, and I stopped feeling like the awkward kid at the party who was desperate to fit in.
I started celebrating my clarity, exploring my possibilities and being grateful for the little successes in my life that I had long taken for granted. I cherished early mornings, long lazy weekend afternoons free of hangovers, and I looked forward to guilt-free Monday mornings. I stopped screening my calls, started practising gratitude and embraced the idea of personal, emotional, mental and spiritual development in a myriad of forms.
And then I knew what recovery meant to me…and I have known ever since. To me it doesn’t mean passing on the delicious home-made tiramisu, but it does mean being honest with myself. It means spending time on the things that are important to me, but also remembering the importance of others in my life. It means owning my part in any situation (good or bad) and remembering that I don’t always get it right. It means spending time with myself, constantly evaluating what I did well and what I can do better, and then using those learnings to improve on how I did things yesterday. It means listening, watching, reading, exploring and investigating and it means NEVER getting complacent.
But these are my learnings and they have taken years to evolve and develop. I don’t have the same beliefs around recovery as even some of my colleagues in the field of addiction, but as a Recovery Coach it is my quest to hold the space while others come to their own conclusions about what their recovery means to them and then walk beside them as they figure it all out…just like I did for myself.
Til next time,