by Devon Berkheiser
Recovery: A Lifelong Process?
In the traditional 12 step approach to addiction treatment, members identify themselves as “alcoholics” or “addicts.” They are commonly told that addiction is a chronic disease, one that will never fully go away regardless of how long they maintain abstinence. This approach can work for many people. Some find it useful to identify themselves with such labels as “alcoholic” because it is a way for them to stay humble and to use that label in a safe setting, minimizing feelings of shame. Also, the idea that recovery is a lifelong process can help people stay vigilant and avoid the pitfalls of complacency.
However, for other people, this approach can feel hopeless and shaming. The idea of saying that one can never really be free from addiction can feel overwhelming and defeating. Why even try to change if addiction is a disease that can never be fully overcome? For those who have trouble with the 12 step approach, Practical Recovery offers an alternative, self-empowering approach to recovery. This approach understands that, for many people, recovery is a process that takes a significant amount of time and effort. However, we believe that it is possible to be fully recovered, as opposed to always in recovery.
To understand why we believe full recovery is possible, it’s important to understand the Practical Recovery model of addiction. Rather than seeing addiction as a chronic disease that you either have or don’t have, PRI conceptualizes an addiction as a behavior that has become overly habitual and increasingly problematic. What started as an attempt to adapt (to stress, anxiety, sadness, and/or other difficult emotions) eventually became its own problem.
It makes sense, then, that full recovery is possible if one can learn other, healthier ways to adapt so that the old coping mechanisms (addictive behaviors) are no longer necessary/desirable. At Practical Recovery, this is the heart of the work. Recovery is about learning and using healthy coping skills to manage your emotions and tolerate periods of discomfort. Over time and with practice, this gets increasingly easy. Many people are able to gain a sense of mastery over their addictive behaviors, such that they no longer have to put a lot of effort into overcoming urges and maintaining an abstinent (or moderate) lifestyle. Couldn’t this signify being recovered, as opposed to still in recovery?
Defining Full Recovery
Just as there is no one way to recover, there is no single clear-cut definition of what it means to be fully recovered that suits everybody. For some people, being recovered may mean an absence of urges to engage in the addictive behavior. For others, urges may still come (although likely infrequently), but being recovered means living a happy and meaningful life. For others, being recovered means that they can engage in a behavior that was previously addictive in a moderate way, free from significant consequences. While it may not be possible to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition of being fully recovered, Practical Recovery believes that it is possible for your addictive behavior to become a thing of the past. You do not have to continue to struggle for the rest of your life. You can feel empowered over your addiction, rather than powerless to it. And for some, that is what it means to be recovered.