Recovery from addiction—with or without chronic pain as a co-occurring disorder—is the process of sustaining abstinence and learning and practicing the awareness and skills necessary to live a whole, healthy, and healed life. These two elements reinforce one another: sustained abstinence creates the opportunities to learn and practice the skills that facilitate growth and healing, which is not possible during the unremitting entropy of active addiction. Conversely, learning and practicing the skills that facilitate growth and healing is instrumental to sustaining abstinence. Without abstinence, recovery is not possible. However, recovery is much more than simply remaining abstinent from the specific manifestations of one’s addiction. Abstinence is the avoidance of the objects of one’s addiction, whether they be drugs and/or activities. Beyond abstinence, recovery is
- participating in life activities that are healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling based on needs and interests;
- changing attitudes and actions, as well as relationships, thoughts and emotions, especially those that are uncomfortable and painful;
- discovering parts of self of which one had been unaware, and rediscovering those parts that were buried in the rubble of active addiction;
- learning and practicing new patterns of living, finding new meaning in life, and moving toward physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.
Twelve-step addiction recovery programs are sometimes criticized for perceived low rates of success—as defined by the percentage of people who start attending meetings compared with those who remain abstinent and in recovery over time. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal illness, similar to other chronic life-threatening diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. Just like these other diseases, there is no cure; compliance with treatment protocols is often inconsistent, and relapse is all too common. The reality is that the vast majority of people basically pass by or pass through these programs, never making a serious commitment to recovery. A drive-by approach to recovery won’t get it done. Recovery that’s built to last requires perseverance. It’s a lot of work, and in order to be successful, a person really has to want it. Practicing addicts typically devote multiple hours each day to maintaining their active addiction—planning and pursuing the ways and means to use, using, and recovering from the acute effects of using. Most give little thought to the significant amount of time and energy it takes to support their addiction—they simply do what they have to do. Yet, many of these same individuals become extremely concerned about the amount of time and energy maintaining recovery requires, and are ultimately unwilling to make that investment. This blog post is an excerpt from Some Assembly Required – A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain by By Dan Mager, MSW; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).