Last week while facilitating a group for those with substance abuse issues, one person asked me to define “recovery”. He said everyone keeps telling him in the residential facility that he is in a recovery program, and he wanted me to quantify that term. The best I could do then was “Recovery is a ongoing process to change from unhealthy life habits to healthy ones.
Yesterday, while preparing to facilitate that same group, I happened to look at my bulletin board where I have a chart showing the three stages of relapse. They are: Emotional Relapse, where triggers start to appear again; Mental Relapse, where we start doing the same actions we did when we were previously using; and Physical Relapse, when we go back to actually using. I sat there looking at that chart for a moment feeling like there was something important on it I needed to realize. After a few minutes, it came to me!
The recovery process is the mirror image of the relapse process! First, we have to deal with the physical recovery of the addiction, which for most substances is up to 3 weeks. Heroin is a different story and can take a lot longer. Then, we have to work through the mental recovery, where we romanticize our addiction history. Finally, we have to create positive coping skills in emotional recovery to overcome the triggers that used to lead to substance abuse.
If we create positive coping skills, we can overcome emotional relapse without getting into mental relapse. If we realize when we are in mental relapse that we are setting ourselves for failure, we can work our way back without falling into physical relapse. Once we have fallen into physical relapse, to get back to recovery, we have to do it all over again.
So, now I define recovery as the systematic process of leaving an unhealthy lifestyle and habits behind by working to clean our body and soul of those habits and replacing them with positive and healthy habits and lifestyle.
Then, one last thought popped into my head, no one becomes an addict overnight, so no one can recover overnight. It takes hard work and determination over time. The more work and determination you put into recovery, the better your recovery will be.