Random Recovery Reflections

Some random thoughts excerpted from my journals during my recent blogging hiatus.

On Weak Recovery Definitions: At its central core, addiction recovery is a radically altered relationship between an individual and the psychoactive drugs that once dominated their life. Any definition of recovery that does not reference a change in that relationship fails on multiple levels. Recovery may be more than a radical change in that relationship, but it surely must include that change. The danger of ever more vague definitions of recovery is this: when recovery becomes everything, it becomes nothing.

Recovery is not like pregnancy—you are or you are not. It is a spectrum with variations and degrees of tone and quality as indicated by one’s own self-evaluation and by objective measures of substance use disorder (SUD) remission, global health, quality of personal and family life, and key measures of social functioning. The remission requirement is, however, key because it restricts application of the medical term “recovery” to persons whose alcohol or drug (AOD) use reached a point of severity to meet SUD diagnostic criteria. (Technically, a person cannot “recover” from a medical condition they never had.)

Pain and Hope in Addiction Recovery: What recovery promises is not a guarantee but the potential to transmute pain into a person—like base metal into gold. Pain and despair in the absence of hope is an invitation to self-destruction; pain in the presence of hope can be a life-saving catalyst and a fulcrum of personal transformation. Pain can be a messenger and an opening, but there is no deliverance without hope.

Mirror Faces of Addiction and Recovery: Recovery must be as morally redemptive as addiction is morally corrupting, as connective as addiction is alienating. Recovery must be the Janus face of addiction, offering degrees of retrieval for past losses. Daily acts of addiction erode and degrade; daily acts of recovery restore and upgrade. Addiction and recovery involve mirror processes of character deterioration and character reconstruction.

On Shallow Criticism of Mutual Aid Groups: If you would not judge a city based on your contact with one of its citizens, then why would you judge any mutual aid group based on your contact with one of its members, your exposure to a single one of its meetings, or your reading of a snippet of its literature? All recovery mutual aid groups (and all other social institutions) possess vulnerabilities, limitations, and imperfections in design and practice. Analysis of such are best made through rigorous and sustained investigation of each group’s history, literature, contemporary practices, as well as scientific and personal evaluations of relative effectiveness. Shallow and ill-targeted criticisms reveal more about the critic than the object of criticism.  

On the Purposes of Recovery Community Centers: The goal is not to create a larger closet within which we can hide but rather to create recovery space within every arena of community life and to serve as a guide into those spaces. Beyond their myriad menus of recovery support services, another purpose of the recovery community center is to create a sanctuary in which people from diverse pathways of recovery can gather to commemorate their survival–as individuals and as a people.

Recovery as Sweet Revenge: Recovery can be a bold rejoinder to:

–People who believed you would never change and who reveled in your failures

–People who expressed contempt for you in their every word and gesture

–People who bolstered their own self-esteem by reveling in your decline

–People who supported your addiction because of their ability to manipulate and use you in your addicted state

–People who attempted to sabotage your early efforts to stand

For such people, your recovery will be a great disappointment and cause for confusion. Your recovery is a taunt to their disbelief and disdain. Every breath you take in recovery can be an act of sweet revenge. Breathe deeply! You don’t have to recover for a righteous reason: just recover! Defy all their expectations!

The Alchemy of Recovery: Addiction inflicts intense emotional heat and pressure. It can burn you to ash or, through the spiritual heat and pressure of recovery, transform you into a diamond.

On Awe and Wonder: There is a potential point in recovery when we stop the internal and external noise and silently experience the awe of our survival—the wonder of just being. In such moments that we can feel, perhaps for the first time, truly connected to the cycle of life. It is then time to face, with as much courage as one can muster, THE big questions: “Now what? I have survived that which has killed so many others. Why? For what purpose?”

On Recovery Representation: Local, state, national, and global discussions of addiction engage multiple stakeholders. Some have ego, status, money, institutional interests in the game, but it is only one constituency—those most directly affected by addiction—that have full skin in the game. All they are and hope to be, their very lives, can rest upon decisions made at these policymaking tables. The level of urgency and experiential knowledge they possess must be included in every policymaking venue. Nothing about us without us remains the call of recovery advocacy.

On Grief and Activism: As a society, we have yet to grasp the enormity of loss exacted by the opioid epidemic. Endless lives have been and are being silenced before their time. Our eyes have run out of tears and our stark faces tell the truth of their lost dreams. While the loss of a life to drug use or addiction is tragic in its own right, it is not nearly as tragic as the loss of their stories to shame and silence. We are powerless to alter physical death, but we are not powerless to keep alive the story of someone’s life. We can move beyond grief to activism. For those of us who survived, we must speak for the lost. We must let them speak through us. Failing that, their lives, their stories, their aspirations will be forever erased. As a token of remembrance and gratitude for our own deliverance, we can speak their names and give their lives added meaning through our service. A social death does not occur until the last person speaks their name. Whose name could you speak today?

On Rhetoric versus Action: Communities reeling from the effects of opioid addiction and related problems do not need more rhetoric, reports, and recommendations; they need more resources.

Ministry of Presence: What we can offer of greatest value is our presence and our acceptance of another person’s suffering. Then and only then can we offer our own story. Then and only then can we offer technologies of survival and recovery. Many people have ideas about recovery, speak about recovery, and write about recovery. Far fewer cultivate the capacity to listen to recovery in all its glorious varieties. That is what we must all become: recovery listeners.

Self-examination and Listening as Acts of Humility: Wisdom and humility can arise from the ashes of ignorance and arrogance, but not without rigorous self-examination and a consciously cultivated capacity for listening.

On Treatment Brokers: Beware of treatment pimps and pushers (e.g., treatment brokers) who view you as a crop to harvest for financial profit. When healers see suffering, they see the potential for recovery; when pimps see suffering, they see dollar signs.

Favorite Quotes from Recent Reading:

You can’t lead people you don’t love. You can’t rally people you don’t respect. –Van Jones

We must go where the pain and peril are greatest and the quest for real solutions is most desperate. – Van Jones

On the journey to myself I’ve been so many people.—Indigo Williams

What I am, I am; and let it be enough. –D.H. Lawrence

What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. –Bernie Glassman