Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I spent a little time writing about labels in the past, but I think I forgot one. It's a big one, too. It is one of the most consistently used labels for those seeking sobriety, and it is one of the most misused terms in the sober community. The intention of the label is sound, but the way it is used most often conjures up a lifelong sentence for the alcoholic to remain in a specific phase, if you will, of their journey. I have even been told it is necessary to remain in this phase to be successful. Unfortunately, to remain in this stagnant phase is actually the antithesis of the original use and meaning of the word, and therefore can actually prevent success. I would go so far as to say the way this word is used can be damaging to the person who desires a holistic change in their life.
I haven't done this in a while, but if you have followed me for any amount of time you know I like to look up the definitions of words. Recovery: noun; a return to a normal state of health, mind, and strength. Recovery is a period of time with an end goal. There is no time attached to it, of course, but it is meant to end when a person reaches a point of normal health. At this point, a person is then considered recovered. The way I see this word used most often is in reference to a person who has quit drinking. That's it. If a person has quit drinking they are in recovery. I do not ever hear people use the term recovered. Why? Isn't that the goal of recovery? Isn't that the point of entering into rehabilitation? Have you ever been injured and settled for just recovering from that injury for the rest of your life? No. Can you imagine even a papercut on your finger that never really healed? Every time you ate something salty it would sting. Every time you washed your hands it would hurt. Forever. No. That is not how our body works and it is not how our minds work, either. We are built to heal, but the caveat is we have to believe we can heal, first.
I will concede right now there will be many people who vehemently disagree with what I am suggesting here, and that is okay. If you are someone who believes you need to stay in recovery your whole life and that is working for you, more power to you. I applaud you for finding the path that works for you. It is different for everyone, but we can all benefit from keeping an open mind to new ideas, paths, and journeys. Since I quit drinking, I have been open to and even accepted many ideas as valid, even when I did not agree with them. I benefited from these ideas because they either helped me learn new possibilities or solidified my original beliefs. Either way, I grew as a result of listening to the beliefs and paths of others.
The moment we put down the bottle, step away from our old lives, and step onto the path of recovery, we begin a journey. While we are at it, let's look up the definition of a journey too. Journey: noun; the act of traveling from one place to another. The act of traveling from point A (alcoholism) to point B (recovered). There is a destination, but I will also concede the majority of the learning and growth does occur in the journey, not the destination. It is at the destination we get to enjoy all the benefits reaped from what we learned along the way. The important thing to remember here is recovery is not meant to be a lifelong sentence. It is meant to be a learning ground for change. It is meant to be a time to redirect our thoughts. It is meant to be a time to learn new skills. It is meant to be a time to reacquaint ourselves with ourselves. It is meant to be a time to recover.
Some programs talk about steps in the recovery process. This is a great approach as long as the steps lead somewhere. I did not join any program or follow any predetermined path when I quit drinking. I feel very fortunate for this because I never really experienced anyone else's opinion about recovery. I did not have a preconceived notion about my journey. I did not have any emotions attached to the process based on what I had heard or seen others experience. I simply set off on my path (with my partner), and I learned what I needed to be successful along the way. What I learned came from books, conversations, therapy, and trial and error. To be clear, when I say error I do not mean failure or falling off the path. I just mean I learned what did and did not work, for me. This journey is such an independent and personal one, and it really is different for everyone.
Learning ground for change
When we quit drinking and begin our path toward recovery, we are admitting we are open to change. We are saying we are ready to make the changes necessary to be successful in life without alcohol. This is obviously important because, otherwise, we stay stuck in our destructive lifestyles. We do not grow or learn, and we settle for a life that is less than we deserve. The simple act of opening ourselves up to change affords us the ability to see life through a new lens. It allows us to hear things we never heard before. It allows us the opportunity to act in ways contrary to what we are used to. Surviving change gives us the confidence to know we can grow, know we can learn, and know we are able to live a life different from what we have become accustomed to. Change can be as simple as admitting we were wrong, changing a routine, changing the verbiage we use to describe ourselves or the world, truly listening to others, trying something new, or simply accepting each day as a new opportunity to live up to our dreams. Our openness and willingness to change is a catalyst for growth.
Redirecting our thoughts
I do not know if it is the same for everyone, but it seems to me addicts tend to get stuck in certain thoughts. This is especially true when those thoughts revolve around drinking or using. I can remember a myriad of different situations in the past when I was trying to quit drinking or nicotine. A single thought would enter my mind about using, and it felt like a freight train barreling through my subconscious. All I could do was focus on that thought. Nothing else mattered except the pain and discomfort that accompanied not using. Until I gave in, that train kept circling my thoughts and blaring its horrid whistle. Our minds are incredibly powerful tools. They are equally our greatest strength and our greatest weakness when it comes to successful sobriety. The strength necessary to drive that train through our mind is equally contrasted to the strength necessary to drive our thoughts away from using and toward something healthier. They are the same thought processes, but it is up to us to choose which thought we will allow to win. Learning to redirect those thoughts to healthier alternatives is a major change toward growth, and it is not as hard as you think. With each successful redirection, it gets easier and easier until you find yourself doing it subconsciously with very little effort.