Recovery means different things to different people.
You can be in recovery from a major surgery or in recovery from a minor illness. Some people think of recovery as what you do after a hard, physical workout. You stretch, relax, and drink a protein shake. You plan a meal that replaces the fuel you lost, facilitates muscle repair, reduces fatigue, and promotes optimal performance for your next work out.
And there’s the recovery of lost documents after a computer crash – that’s the kind of recovery no one likes.
This article is about a different kind of recovery: recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder. Also known as addiction recovery, recovery from addiction is similar to all forms of recovery. The goal is to restore balance, promote healing, and either prevent you from becoming ill again or establish the type of resilience that keeps you healthy and strong in the future.
Here’s how the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery from alcohol or substance use disorders:
“A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
That sounds like something everyone – regardless of their health status or relationship to alcohol or substance use – can use in their lives. We can all stand to improve. And it’s a safe bet to say all of us want to direct our own lives and reach our full potential.
This begs a question. If these are common goals to us all, and people in recovery from alcohol and substance use disorders work to achieve these goals every day, what can people who aren’t in recovery learn from people who are in recovery?
In other words, what are some common recovery practices we can all benefit from?
Recovery is Active, Daily, and Practical
During the initial phases of treatment, people in recovery collaborate with counselors and therapists to discover practices that work for them in their lives, in real time, in the real world. They find what’s effective and throw out the rest. This is a critical element of the treatment process, because the practices they implement when they leave treatment have such a significant impact on their health and well-being. Establishing a solid recovery routine is essential for long-term, sustained sobriety. While this may sound melodramatic, consistent adherence to a recovery routine can literally mean the difference between life and death. That’s why the most common recovery practices work for just about everyone. They’re passed on because time has shown they work for a wide variety of people and situations.
That’s also why the list we’re about to share is transferrable to people who aren’t in recovery. Every item on it can help anyone interested in general health and wellness. It can help anyone maximize their potential and live a life of their choosing. And everything on it is based on real-world experience, not theory or speculation.
Here we go:
Five Recovery Practices Everyone Can Use
- Honest Self-Assessment. People in recovery have to take a long, hard, look in the mirror and face uncomfortable facts. They’re in recovery because what they’ve been doing up to that point in their lives has not worked. To move forward, they have to recognize their mistakes, shortcomings, and clearly see the problems they face. Not only that, they have to own them without equivocation or excuse. That’s the first step in growth for people in recovery. It’s also an essential first step for anyone who may be stuck in a rut or simply looking to get more out of life. They have to assess their behavior with (sometimes brutal) honesty in order to decide what’s helping, what’s hurting, and what they want to either eliminate or improve in order to grow.
- Open and Direct Communication. People in recovery – whether in residential treatment, outpatient treatment, or solely attending 12-step meetings – learn to communicate hard truths about themselves and others in unambiguous and uncompromising language. Relationships in recovery depend on this type of clear communication. It’s true for all recovery relationships: those between counselors and patients, between recovery peers, and between people in recovery and their families. It’s also true for healthy relationships in general. We rely on the people around us – friends, family, coworkers, and peers – to be open, honest, and direct with us. It’s not always easy, but we all know it’s the best – and we could learn something from people in recovery about how to do it.
Daily Reflection. People in recovery – since they struggle with an illness that changes the way they think, feel, and behave – must exist in a state of constant self-examination. This is not as extreme as that might sound, but it’s true. They’ve established patterns of thought that are hard to break. And since those patterns can reappear in an instant, people in recovery have to be vigilant. They take time out every day for introspection and self-examination to determine if those patterns have re-emerged or they’re still on track. For people who aren’t in recovery, intentional daily reflection can help on personal, spiritual, or professional levels. It’s a daily self-check-in to make sure they’re living the life they want based on the values of their choosing.
- Self– Over the past several years, this phrase has become so common it’s almost lost meaning. By self-care, we don’t mean manicures, pedicures, massages, buying shoes, or taking vacations. Although those are all certainly valid forms of self-care. However, what we mean in this context is far more basic. For people in recovery, self-care means doing all the things that sound like advice from grandma: eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, getting plenty of sleep every night, maintaining good personal hygiene, and keeping a clean home environment. For people who aren’t in recovery, the benefits of basic self-care are clear: when these things start to slip, something is out of balance. When things are out of balance, what follows is typically something like an illness – a cold of flu. But for people in recovery, when things are out of balance, what can follow is relapse.
- Social and Spiritual Engagement. A few years ago, scores of articles circulated around health and wellness circles that talked about Blue Zones. Blue Zones are places in the world where people live the longest and seem to be the happiest. Aside from diet, exercise, and environment, an examination of these zones found another common characteristic: almost everyone living in them had a vibrant social life which often had a spiritual component. For people in recovery, the importance of a healthy, dynamic social support system cannot be understated. A fellowship of recovery-oriented peers keeps people in recovery connected to the world and offers them chances for recreation and socializing that are recovery-friendly and support sobriety. There’s another similarity to point out, as well. 12-step recovery support groups have a spiritual element, and people in recovery often cite their connection to a higher power as an important element in their sustained sobriety.
Tools for Recovery, Tools for Life
It’s often said people in recovery from alcohol or substance use disorders have to relearn how to live life from the ground up. It’s different for everyone, of course. The amount of relearning and restructuring depends on the severity, length, and type of disorder in question. Someone in recovery for the first time after decades of addiction most likely has more rebuilding to do than someone seeking treatment in the early stages of addiction. The same is true for anyone who wants to improve their lives in any way. The amount of rebuilding they need to do depends on where they are, where they’ve been, and where they want to go.
It starts with a willingness to change, embrace new knowledge, and put that new knowledge into action. And even if we’re content where we are and not seeking to make any major change life changes, we can all benefit from the type of awareness people in recovery bring to each day. We like to think of it like this, in our own variation of the classic Socratic maxim:
“The examined life is one worth living.”