Abstinence vs. Recovery
A familiar story among 12-step program members and within the alcohol/drug abuse treatment community is of an AA newcomer who approached an old timer and said, "You know, I'm starting to connect with these ideas and with you people, but there's one thing that I'm just not getting. What's this 'spiritual' part of the program that y'all keep talking about?"The old timer scratched his head, thought for a moment, and then responded, "Well, I guess I could explain the spiritual part if you could tell me what the other part is." Of course, there is no other part. Recovery is a spiritual process. But understanding that concept is not always easy, even for people who have been around recovery for some time. It is often not understood by helping professionals outside of the alcohol/drug abuse field, and even occasionally by some within the field. People, both those in or around recovery and those not, often mistake abstinence for recovery. Abstinence begins when an alcoholic/addict quits consuming alcohol and drugs. It occurs at a point in time, as an event. Recovery, on the other hand, begins when an abstinent alcoholic/addict starts growing and changing in positive ways. It occurs over a period of time, as a process. Abstinence requires a decision; recovery requires time and effort. It has been suggested that chemical dependency is a four-fold disorderone that affects its victims physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If thats true, then for recovery to be real and lasting, it must occur on all of these levelsthat is, in all areas of one's life. Physical recovery is the least complex of the four, even though it is often the most immediate. Physical recovery happens primarily as the result of abstinence alone. The body has an amazing ability to repair itself, especially when combined with medical attention. Mental recovery is more complex because it includes not only issues associated with brain function and brain chemistry but also with issues of attitudes, belief systems, and rational, abstract thought. Emotional recovery is more complex yet. It involves not only attitudes, belief systems, and rational thought, but also thoughts first cousinfeelings. Emotional recovery involves learning to deal with feelings openly, honestly, and responsibly. It includes learning to express and resolve feelings in appropriate and effective ways. For most people in recovery, emotional recovery takes years. Abstinence alone seldom, if ever, encourages recovery on mental and emotional levels. Indeed, some individuals find abstinence alone to be a hindrance to mental and emotional recovery. This notion brings to mind the familiar "dry drunk" individual who is more "restless, irritable, and discontented" dry and clean than he/she is wet and using. Spiritual recovery is the most complex of all because it involves all of the following:
Fortunately, help with the process of spiritual growth and changewith recoveryis very readily available. The availability of help is fortunate because help is an essential ingredient in the process. Spiritually weak or spiritually bankrupt individuals don't recover just on the basis of will power alone. In fact, strong will power impedes spiritual growth more than it helps.
Structured treatment programs, substance abuse counseling, and 12-Step programs do help. They are not the only sources of help, but they are the most consistently effective, especially when combined in some systematic, consistent fashion.
Treatment and counseling provide structure, support, and intervention, encouraging insight and movement through denial, which blocks recognition of the need for both abstinence and recovery. Treatment and counseling facilitate trust by creating a supportive and accepting environment.
Twelve-Step programs, such as AA, NA, CA, Al-Anon, and Alateen, provide powerful blueprints for spiritual growth and change, which when followed, lead to a positive spiritual way of life. Furthermore, support groups offer fellowship and opportunities for service to others with similar problems.
Recovery is said to be simple but not easy. Simple, because spiritual concepts are simple. Truth is truth. Not easy, because work is work. Recovery requires effort and patience and then more effort and patience and then more.... It's worth the effort, though.
Recovery breeds greater recovery; growth and change open doors for more growth and change. Finally, as recovery deepens, abstinence simply becomes another of its many wonderful by-products.