How to Define Recovery

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When I got sober, I knew nothing about recovery. I thought there were alcoholics and people who drank regularly, drinkers and sober people. The word recovery was foreign to me. I had heard it used here and there, but when I got sober it wasn’t the norm to describe someone who had quit drugs and alcohol. I knew it was used to describe clean time in Narcotics Anonymous, but I didn’t know that it could have other significance. Times are slowly changing and now in 2019, recovery has a deep and far-reaching meaning.

The sobriety circles there has also been a lot of talk about what defines recovery or sobriety. I’ve heard some people say that if you’re not in a 12-step fellowship, you’re not really in recovery. I’ve heard people say if you’re using medication-assisted treatment, you’re not sober. I’ve heard people say if you use CBD oil or drink non-alcoholic beer, you’re not really in recovery. In early recovery, these judgements got me thinking. I wanted to do recovery the right way, but as time went on, I realized, there is no right way to do recovery.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) defines recovery as, “a complex and dynamic process encompassing all the positive benefits to physical, mental and social health that can happen when people with an addiction to drugs or alcohol or their family members, get the help they need.” SAMHSA defines recovery as, “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” SAMHSA also has a list of 10 guiding principles of recovery, including hope, relational, purpose-driven, many pathways, holistic, peer support, culture, addresses trauma, strengths/responsibility, and respect. She Recovers, an organization of women who are recovering in all areas of their lives and help others to do so, believes that, “we are all recovering from something.” This could include recovery from substances, grief, cancer, self-harm, low self-esteem, workaholism, sexual assault, abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. She Recovers also believes that hitting “rock bottom,” isn’t necessary to pursue recovery in any area of our lives.

As you can see, there are many different meanings behind the word recovery and its definition is constantly evolving. It’s no longer limited to the narrow definition of “sobriety,” or someone who abstains from drugs and alcohol. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, recovering is being in the process of overcoming a disorder or shortcoming. To me, to recover is to be in a state of self-discovery and change. It’s to become aware of behavioral patterns, positive and negative aspects of your personality, and notice when and how you can improve yourself. It means to be in a renewed state of consciousness, to undercover who you are and who you want to be and strive to become a better version of yourself every day.

For the longest time I thought recovery meant living without drugs and alcohol, and to many people it does, but that only scratches the surface of what recovery is. When I talk about my recovery, I define it. I say I’m Kelly and I’m in long-term recovery, which to me means I haven’t had a drink or a drug or a cigarette since May 2013. I explain it like this because recovery is personally defined by each person. That’s right – you get to define your recovery.

Recovery is defined by you. Maybe you quit drinking. Maybe you drink, but you quit drugs. Maybe you’re in recovery from sexual assault. Maybe you’re recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or emotional abuse. Maybe you have a combination of these things. You don’t need to be involved in a peer support group, but many people are. You don’t have to go to therapy, but many people do.

Your recovery should reflect your personal goals and reflect a path built towards achieving those goals. Recovery should help you reach your independence as a member of society. Your recovery should encompass your entire life, including mind, body, and spirit. It’s a process of regaining self-esteem, self-acceptance, and forging a positive and meaningful purpose in life. Recovery should provide you with a sense of hope and empowerment. Defining it for yourself, with your personalized pathway in mind will lead to a better chance of success and fulfillment along the way.

How do you define your recovery?

Kelly Fitzgerald Junco

Kelly Fitzgerald Junco is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.