What Does Recovery Mean?


INVISIBLE ELEPHANT I keep coming across the word ‘recovery’ on this website. What exactly does it mean?
That is an interesting question, and the short answer is that ‘recovery’ means different things to different people. There is, perhaps, no definitive answer.

That is a little glib. Can you be a little more specific?
Ok. Elsewhere on this website we defined addiction as follows:

Using any mind altering substance, whether legal, prescribed or illegal to an extent where it is having a negative impact on your physical or mental health, work, family circumstances or relationships is considered to be addictive behaviour.

If we stick to that definition then it follows that changing the use of your particular substance to the point where it no longer has a negative impact on your life can be viewed as ‘recovery.’

Hang on a minute. I thought ‘recovery’ meant total abstinence?
The truth is that for a lot of people it does. For many individuals who have had serious and long term problems with drug or alcohol use, total abstinence from mind altering substances becomes a necessary reality because they struggle to exercise any control over their substance use, once they start. They have a saying in the ‘rooms’ that sums this up quite nicely.

‘One drink is too many and a thousand is never enough.’ See what I mean?

But I don’t want to be totally abstinent for the rest of my life!
No one has suggested you must. However if you are going to have the odd beer or what-have-you then you will need to learn to be completely honest with yourself. Self-awareness will become vital to your success or failure.

What do you mean by that?
Well by and large we were not particularly successful at exercising either self-control or awareness over our drinking or drug use before-hand or it would never have been necessary to enter into treatment in the first place! Fair enough?

I guess.
Cool. Then were you to decide that total abstinence is not for you, then awareness over what you are doing, how often and why is important. Otherwise you run the risk of ending up where you started, which would be both depressing and a waste of your time.

Is that it for ‘recovery’ then?
Not entirely. For most people dealing with their drink or drug problem is only a part of the equation. Building a decent life is the other half. Good relationships with family or friends; a job or volunteering; hobbies and holidays; feeling good about yourself and your place in the world (however you might choose to define it) are all vital if you are to successfully rebuild your life. These things combined equal recovery.