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Just What is Recovery?

September is "Recovery Month." What does that look like? There are treatment and recovery advocates draping the hallways of State Capitol buildings and the U.S. Congress in support of legislation that is supportive of treatment. There are treatment programs all over the country putting on special community events and handing out pins and banners in support of recovery. There are large groups of recovering people in various places staging marches aimed at demonstrating the truth that recovery is not only possible, but that it is reality.


That is all fine and good. Almost anything that increases public and governmental support of treatment and recovery is fine and good. Almost anything that in any way helps to reduce the stigma still attached to addiction is fine and good. But just what is this thing called "recovery" that is being celebrated? For an answer to that question, I turn to what I consider to be the finest text on addiction yet written, Narcotics Anonymous, commonly referred to as the "Basic Text" of NA.


In the chapter titled "Recovery and Relapse," it states "Many people think that recovery is simply a matter of not using drugs. They consider a relapse a sign of complete failure, and long periods of abstinence a sign of complete success. We in the recovery program of Narcotics Anonymous have found that this perception is too simplistic." The text clearly goes on to say that "complete and continuous abstinence ... is still the best ground for growth."


So if recovery is more than abstinence, just what is it? And if addiction is more than just the abuse of drugs, what is it? The "Basic Text" offers some answers. In the chapter titled "We Do Recover," it states the following: "We know well the two things that make up true addiction: obsession and compulsion. Obsession -- that fixed idea that takes us back time and time again to our particular drug, or some substitute, to recapture the ease and comfort we once knew. Compulsion -- once having started the process with one fix, one pill, or one drink we cannot stop through our own power of will."


This chapter goes on to describe the various components of recovery: "Recovery begins with surrender.... [Recovery is} an ongoing process of awareness, surrender and growth.... Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to change are all new attitudes that help us.... We learn to be honest with ourselves and to think of both sides of things.... In our recovery, we find it essential to accept reality.... We learn that conflicts are a part of reality, and we learn new ways to resolve them instead of running from them.... We learn not to become emotionally involved with problems.... In recovery, we learn to depend on a Power greater than ourselves.... We seek help from addicts who are enjoying lives free from the obsession to use drugs.... We become able to receive as well as to give.... We come to know happiness, joy and freedom."


This brief excerpt from the "Basic Text" of NA clearly identifies many of the characteristics of recovery beyond mere abstinence. This is what I am celebrating this month and I invite you to join me.


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