Recovery as Genesis
“There is nothing about a caterpillar which would suggest that it will become a butterfly” – Buckminster Fuller
Much of the literature on addiction recovery is focused on the past. Recovery is portrayed through the dominant images of a prolonged addiction downfall and an equally prolonged process of retrieving those lost assets. In reading such literature, one has the image of men and women, defined by their history, slowly walking backwards toward health and wholeness with lives haunted by the past and measured each day by what they no longer do.
There is an alternative to this rather bleak, grey image of addiction recovery, and that is one that defines recovery as a process of personal transformation—more a process of rebirth and discovery than of escape. This distinction is evident in comparing the concept of remission as used by addiction researchers and the concept of recovery as extolled in secular, spiritual, and religious mutual aid fellowships.
For the epidemiologist or clinician, remission means the amelioration of disease—people who once met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder but who no longer meet such criteria due to their sustained cessation or deceleration of alcohol and other drug use. Health in this sense is measured by the absence of pathology.
Within the recovery fellowships, remission as defined above is celebrated, but one finds in discussions of recovery there a much greater emphasis on what is added to, rather than deleted from, one’s life. Recovery is portrayed as far more than a de-addiction process—more a beginning than an end. Entrance into recovery is portrayed as an opportunity of great value that might not have been otherwise available—something analogous to comments sometimes heard from cancer patients who talk about how their C-confrontation changed their lives in unexpected and positive ways. People in recovery claiming such benefit are not glorifying the addiction experience—there is nothing ennobling about addiction. They are instead suggesting that the struggle to rise out of addiction’s quicksand affords opportunities to discover previously unknown and valued assets within and beyond the self. Listening carefully, one finds in such stories not so much gratitude for retrieval of an old self, but gratitude for the emergence of a new person and a life of enhanced meaning and value.
Pain can push one towards remission, but it takes hope to pull one towards recovery. Remission is a tale of endings; recovery is a tale of beginnings.