Wednesday, June 11, 2014

There's more to recovery than just not drinking

By Bob Gaydos
       You’ve heard it plenty of times. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself: “He/she stopped drinking (weeks/months/years) ago, yet he/she is still (pick your own adjective) an angry, irresponsible, lazy, careless, argumentative, moody, selfish, unpleasant person. Sometimes I wish he’d just drink again.”
No you don’t. 
The truth is, although significant advances have been made in understanding the physical and psychological characteristics of alcoholism and drug addiction and considerable improvement has been made in educating the general public about addiction, there remains plenty of confusion about the word “recovery.”
As the first paragraph suggests, it is not simply putting down the drink or the drug. Drinking or drug use are merely symptoms of a complex disease. Simply stopping the use of alcohol or drugs may result in some improvements in a person’s life, but abstinence is not recovery. It’s merely the necessary first step. 
        It’s true that some people can recognize a problem with their drinking, stop before it gets worse and go on to lead what might be considered “normal” lives. But some can’t. These are the ones who may have stopped because of pressure from loved ones, but who continue to behave as they did when they were drinking. They’re referred to as “dry drunks” by people who work in the field, meaning the only thing missing is the drink. 
        That’s what the various recovery programs and 12-step groups are all about -- giving alcoholics or drug addicts a way to live life without the substance and without feeling sorry for themselves. Recovery is not about trying not to drink or drug; it’s about changing the way you live your life.
         It isn’t surprising that the general public might be unclear about what recovery is. Until recently, there wasn’t a generally recognized definition for people who work in the field of substance abuse. In 2007, a panel formed by the Betty Ford Institute to suggest a definition of recovery came up with this: “Recovery from substance dependence is a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health and citizenship.” Note the word “voluntarily.”
         A more detailed “working definition” of recovery was presented in May of 2011 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which had been working on the question with others in the behavioral health field for several years. SAMSHA’s definition: “Recovery is a process of change whereby individuals work to improve their own health and wellness and to live a meaningful life in a community of their choice while striving to achieve their full potential.”
          Key words: “work;’’ “wellness;” “change;” “choice.”
SAMSHA also issued what it calls guiding principles of recovery. Again, for anyone who suspects he may have a drinking or drug problem, or for anyone who suspects a loved one may have a substance abuse problem, this is a suggested path beyond mere abstinence.
SAMSHA’S Principles of Recovery
  • Person-driven
  • Occurs via many pathways
  • Is holistic
  • Is supported by peers
  • Is supported through relationships
  • Is culturally based and influenced
  • Is supported by addressing trauma
  • Involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility
  • Is based on respect
  • Emerges from hope

SAMSHA also offers four “domains” that support recovery:
  • Health: Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way.
  • Home: A stable and safe place to live that supports recovery.
  • Purpose: Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors and the independence, income and resources to participate in society.
  • Community relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love and hope.

       That’s a lot more than, “Hey, I put down the booze, so get off my back.” The professionals agree that recovery is an ongoing process, not a destination. While the journey is different for each individual, it shares common traits: The person has to want to change, not out of resignation to a miserable life without drink, but rather with hope for a more rewarding life, with the support and respect of others.
       Recovery is something to enjoy, not endure.