At what point does active recovery become simply a healthy living practice? Is a person who was once addicted, always to be considered addicted? Can a person be fully healed from addiction and living a lifestyle of exercising, journaling, thinking positively, eating well and surrounding themselves with like-minded people – just to be a healthy person?
In my experience, the recovery process started long before I quit drinking. For years before I took my last drink I was in what I’ve learned is called the “contemplative stage” of change. At this stage people are ambivalent about change, meaning they are back and forth about whether they have a problem and/or whether they are willing to do anything about it. I had a suspicion there was a problem, but was far from doing anything as profound as actually quitting drinking to solve it. I did have a desire to improve my life however, and I was motivated to break free from feeling miserable. So, I began to systematically make improvements to my life. It started with small changes. I changed my diet and went to a nutritionist; I practiced yoga and ran marathons. These changes left me feeling inspired, but frustrated.
The ambivalence became more intense as I eliminated options; my drinking problem became more obvious. Still I wasn’t ready to quit drinking. So, I went to the doctors and counselors about my mood. I eventually left my job and changed my relationships with friends and family. All of these moves were made with the intention of improving my life. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but these changes were the foundation of my recovery. Eventually, I quit drinking, but only when I was good and ready. If I hadn’t taken the earlier steps, I would not have gained the awareness and the desire to move in the direction of abstinence.
Since I quit drinking, I have continued to deepen my recovery practice. I’ve read books, taken courses, practiced mindfulness and meditation, built new relationships, participated in group sessions and helped other people to recover. Exercise, sleep, journaling and ongoing attention to my thoughts are part of my daily self-care routine. It’s been almost 2 years since I quit drinking, but I would say it has been 5 years since I’ve been in ‘recovery’.
My definition of recovery is broad. For me it has not just been about quitting drinking, but about overcoming depression and breaking a lifetime of unhealthy patterns. It took me a long time to accept the term ‘recovery’ as the actual process I’ve been going through, but I’m okay with it now because I subscribe to my own definition of the word. For me, recovery is spectrum term, just as addiction and depression are spectrum disorders. Life experiences bring us trauma and challenges to overcome on an ongoing basis. Recovery gives us the tools of resilience to bounce back from what life gives you.
Indeed we are able to transition out of recovery mode and into wellness mode. You know it has happened when you reach a baseline of mood you are satisfied with – meaning you are generally ‘happy’ without drugs. As well, it happens when you are equipped with the tools to support yourself when more problems arise in life.
When you no longer have the desire to use drugs to avoid your problems and you are ready to take on life with courage and vigour, then you are not recovering – you are living!