By Mark Pepper CMHC, Clinical Director
September is National Recovery Month, which gets me thinking about what recovery means to me, and what It means overall. With a history of several years of relapse, going in and out of drug treatment centers, 12 step programs, and a continued slide into the darkness of alcoholism, I look back now, with 16 years of continuous sobriety, and believe that all of the time spent trying to seek recovery has actually been my recovery. I believe all of it was necessary for me to ultimately give up the fight with my disease, once and for all.
I previously held the belief that recovery was only abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and that it had to look a certain way. I have come to see and know that what recovery means and looks like is very different for me over the years. I have my recovery, which is about abstinence, then there is the recovery that includes all the other people I know and connect with at various levels. To think that recovery is only about them being sober seems to be lacking. I have had such wonderful relationships with people in ‘recovery’ whether they were sober or not, and I know they have helped me greatly along my journey.
I want to propose that any and all efforts at a life of change, the ‘spiritual experience’ as it were, qualify as valid and honorable in the fight against addiction and alcoholism. There are likely as many different experiences as there are addicts, and to put only sober people in that box seems small. The journey, not the destination, is the recovery itself, and again, that can look so many different ways. I am so grateful that my path has included not only my own relapses and struggles but sharing so many others’ struggles along the way. “The touchstone to spiritual growth is pain” is not hyperbole….it seems the truth.
There is a notion from some people that ‘relapse is part of recovery’. I would propose that relapse is not a part of recovery, but part of the path many of us take to ultimately get and stay sober. My experience is that relapse is not recovery, actually non-recovery. I am either heading towards another drink or heading away from one. All my behaviors lead me in one of those two directions. I am not sure I can be in relapse and be in recovery at the same time; I suggest that it is one or the other.
That being said, the whole journey often takes one into relapse, and, thank God, I made it back to recovery. That is not always the outcome of relapse and or using, as we well know. I want to remember always that my sobriety is God’s gift to me, that if I think I could do this alone, I need only reflect on my own experience to see that it is not at all possible to do alone. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and others, help support the notion that what I cannot do alone, I can do with God’s, and another person’s help. And with all of that, it is a very personal journey we have in recovery, unique to each of us in our own way.
With National Recovery Month, I get to recall the journey I have had to date. It has included so many wonderful people and experiences. I love that we all get our own paths, and the one I have been on is full. One of the things I have learned is that I cannot get other people sober, or get them drunk, just as no one person could get me sober or drunk. I am just responsible for myself, and even with that knowledge, I still know I need God’s help.
Thank you all for the wonderful help along the way!!