What is recovery?
Recovery is a multi-phase, lifelong journey of growth and development. Detoxification is only the first step on the journey of recovery. But physical detox alone will not help you stay clean and sober. Recovery from your addiction will be a lifelong process that typically requires formal treatment followed by continuing support from a sponsor, counselor, physician, AA members, family, and clean and sober friends. To maintain lifelong abstinence, you’ll need to develop new problem-solving skills to cope with stressful situations and troubles. You’ll also need to be prepared to work hard on your personal development and spirituality to deal with any emotional or physiological triggers that could cause you to re- turn to your old ways of coping—that is, using.
When people first begin the journey of recovery, they often think that it is all about staying sober, but it is really so much more than that. Sobriety is how the journey starts, but if we work an active Twelve Step program we find that recovery is actually more about a spiritual transformation and becoming the person we were always meant to be.
In recovery we learn new ways of thinking, acting, feeling, and being. We learn about the wonderful truth that a Higher Power is active and working in our lives, and that it is through this power that we are changed
Why is it important to realize that recovery is a lifelong process?
The Minnesota Model of addiction treatment effectively combines the best of the medical and social/behavioral treatment models with spirituality. It is based on the idea that recovery is a lifelong process that takes place over time, in specific stages. Each stage has tasks to be accomplished and skills to be developed. If a recovering person is unaware of this progression, unable to accomplish the tasks and gain the skills, or lacks adequate treatment, he or she will probably return to use.
What are the seven habits of successful sobriety?
1. Forget willpower—embrace your Higher Power. Accept the fact that addiction is a disease. You can’t use willpower to control even limited use of alcohol or drugs. Abstinence is the only solution.
2. Use the problem-solving skills you learned in treatment to stabilize your emotions as you go through life’s crises.
3. Learn to identify and manage stress or any co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression.
4. Build a sobriety-based lifestyle. Embrace clean and sober friends and engage in healthy recreation.
5. Learn to let go of self-defeating behaviors. Identify and snuff out stinking thinking. Know that you deserve to be happy and healthy.
6. Be prepared for the lifelong process of continued personal growth and development. Continually examine your goals and values, and make improvements that will give you more life satisfaction.
7. Don’t get lazy with your recovery—it takes focus to abstain for a lifetime. Remember that any use of alcohol or drugs will reactivate the progression of the disease of addiction. Stay focused. It’s your life.
What are the stages of recovery?
The transition stage begins the first time a person acknowledges an alcohol or drug-related problem. As a person’s addiction progresses, he or she tries a series of strategies aiming to control use. This ends when the person realizes that safe use of alcohol and/or drugs is no longer possible for him or her—not ever.
The struggle for control is a symptom of an identity conflict. Alcoholics and drug addicts enter this phase of recovery believing they are normal drinkers and drug users capable of controlled use. As the progression of addiction causes more severe loss of control, they must face the fact that they are addictive users who are not capable of controlled use.
During the transition stage, addicted people typically attempt to control their use or stop using. They are usually trying to prove to themselves and others that they can use safely. This never works for very long.
After going into treatment, you probably experienced physical withdrawal and other medical problems. This began your stabilization period. During treatment you probably began working to break the psychological conditioning that increased your urge to use. You began to stabilize the crisis that motivated you to seek treatment, and started learning to identify and manage symptoms from co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression. This prepared you for the long-term processes of rehabilitation. A recovering person typically takes six weeks to six months to master these symptoms with the correct therapy.
Early recovery period
Early recovery is marked by the need to establish a chemical-free lifestyle. To do this you must learn about the addiction and recovery process. You must begin immediately to build relationships with sober and recovering people who will support your desire and efforts for long-term recovery. We also need to separate from friends who use because when we are around them when they use, we are unable to keep from using. This may be very difficult if you have never had relationships with people who maintain sobriety-based lifestyles. We may feel alone during this time, and it is important to find healthy support. Going to AA meetings, meeting with your sponsor, and finding healthy recreation opportunities will help expose you to clean and sober people who will offer you support and friendship as you focus on lifelong recovery.
You will also need to develop recovery-based values, thinking, feelings, and behaviors to replace the stinking thinking you formed in addiction. This period typically lasts one to two years or more.
Middle recovery period
Middle recovery is marked by the development of a balanced lifestyle. During this stage you will learn to repair the damage done to your life during use. You will need time to reestablish healthy relationships with your family, set new vocational goals, and expand your social circles. During this time we may try to move out of the protected environment of a recovery support group to assume a more mainstream and normal lifestyle—and sometimes we mistakenly believe that we can now drink normally. Either way, this stage may bring us stress as we begin applying basic recovery skills to real-life problems.
Late recovery period
During late recovery, you should take proactive steps to make progress on any ongoing personality issues that still interfere with your life satisfaction. In traditional psychotherapy, this is referred to as self-actualization. It is a process of examining the values and goals that you have adopted from family, peers, and the culture you live in. You’ll start to evaluate whether you want to keep these values or discard them, and you’ll start forming new ones. In normal growth and development, this process occurs in a person’s mid-twenties. Among recovering people, it does not usually occur until three to five years into the recovery process, no matter when recovery begins.
This is the time when you will learn to change self-defeating behaviors that can trigger a relapse. These self-defeating behaviors often come from psychological issues that started in childhood, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, or cultural barriers to personal growth.
The physiology of your addiction will last for the rest of your life. The maintenance stage of your recovery is a lifelong process of continued personal growth and development. Here you will cope with adult life transitions, manage routine life problems, and guard against relapse. Any use of alcohol or drugs will re-activate the physiological, psychological, and social progression of the disease.
Could you encounter roadblocks during recovery?
Although some patients progress through the stages of recovery without complications, most addicted people do not. They typically get stuck somewhere. A “stuck point” can occur during any period of recovery. Usually it is caused either by lack of skills or lack of confidence in one’s ability to complete a recovery task. Other problems occur when the recovering person encounters a problem— physical, psychological, or social—that interferes with his or her ability to use recovery supports such as AA meetings, sponsorship, and counseling.
When recovering people encounter stuck points, they either recognize they have a problem and take action, or they lapse into a familiar coping mechanism: denying the problem. Without specific relapse prevention skills to identify and interrupt denial, stress begins to build. Eventually the stress will cause them to cope less and less well. This very often results in return to use. If you use your relapse prevention skills, you’ll be able to moderate the emotional and psychological effects of crisis in your life, which will help you maintain lifetime abstinence.