What is Recovery?
Recovery is an intensely personal experience that is hard to define in a general way. There are multiple pathways to recovery including: treatment, faith/spirituality, natural, criminal justice interventions, support from individuals, and/or family, mutual assistance groups and recovery community centers. Everyone’s journey results in their own unique experience of recovery. Therefore, recovery has many definitions and it is hard to agree on a single one. It goes beyond abstinence alone to include a full re-engagement based on hope, resilience, health and wellness, and includes family, friends and community. Recovery starts when a person begins to make better choices about his or her physical, mental and spiritual health.
There are several phases of recovery which include: transition/stabilization, early, middle and sustained recovery. The journey leading to sustained journey is often not a linear progression:
The transition/stabilization phase usually occurs within the first 90 days of recovery, as a person realizes his or her coping mechanisms are no longer helpful and begins the recovery process.
The early recovery phase generally occurs between 90 days and one year, when a person begins to integrate the initial changes in thinking, feeling and action into his or her life. During these first two early recovery phases, a person may attend self-help meetings; mutual assistance meetings,work with a counselor or therapist, or a recovery coach; participate in recovery group therapy; and/or connect with recovery-supportive friends; and/or connect with a faith institution and/or recovery community center. Early recovery has to be sustained and solidified to move into the mid-recovery phase.
The mid-recovery phase occurs after early recovery is stabilized and solidified. It often occurs after approximately one to three years. It is often at this time when the person in recovery may choose to address past issues while establishing a balanced and stable life. A person in this phase of recovery is usually well connected with a recovery-supportive social network and may be involved in individual and/or group counseling with a qualified therapist to address past issues.
The maintenance phase, occurs after about three years of recovery, and it is at this point the process of recovery typically becomes a way of life. A recovering person has accomplished major changes on the physical, mental and spiritual levels, and he or she may now choose to focus on personal interests and ambitions. At this phase of recovery, a person often finds it helpful to reach out to support others on their journey of recovery.
The sustained recovery phase occurs as the person masters the skills to maintain recovery and to continue to pursue health and wellness. Statistically, the risk of return to active addiction is minimal after five or more years. Although sustained recovery has not been studied to any great extent, we do have access to stories of inspiration and hope from individuals and families and communities that were lost and re-emerged in strength, humility and wisdom.
What needs to happen for individuals to achieve and sustain recovery? How is sustained recovery maintained? What degree of improvement in which areas of one's life are required for the individual to have something he or she does not want to lose to active substance use? We need to explore these questions and others to examine and improve our understanding recovery and work to effectively promote it.