What is the difference between abstinence and recovery?

imagesOne of the very first questions I ask my clients when we start working together is “What does recovery mean to you?”  The answers vary, but most of them tend to talk about abstinence.  And for most people recovery does mean abstinence, but recovery is not just abstinence!  In my opinion, recovery certainly involves “stopping”, but “staying stopped” without the necessary personal growth and development, is extremely difficult, if not impossible.  I work with people who talk of “white knuckling” their recovery for years and years, feeling lonely and isolated, hiding from the temptations that the outside world holds.

And the mere fact that we are having this conversation means that they have had some sort of slip or relapse that has caused our paths to cross.  When we start to introduce the idea of #recoverycapital to our clients at The Foundation Clinic they are almost relieved to hear that life needn’t be all about trying to embrace sheer focus and willpower to overcome and manage a substance abuse disorder.  Recovery is about living a fulfilled and purposeful life, creating and building upon the emotional, mental, spiritual, social and spiritual resources in their lives.  Life and recovery become interchangeable, as we explore values and spiritual principles, equip clients with simple, practical tools for overcoming triggers and urges, goal set and action plan, and start to understand and embrace adult emotions, rather than living in the guilt and shame of active addiction.

Recovery is not about putting life on hold while we learn to deal with our disorder.  It’s about building a life that doesn’t leave space for drugs and alcohol.  It’s about developing a healthy lifestyle and a positive self-esteem that makes us feel worthy of fulfilling personal and professional relationships.  It’s about a change in mindset, seeing the obstacles in life as a set of exciting challenges and opportunities for growth, rather than a set of potential pitfalls.  It’s about changing our negative self beliefs into those which support and assist us in life (and recovery) instead of negative thoughts, beliefs and actions ultimately leading to those very same negative self-fulfilling prophecies.  And it’s about self awareness and pursuing a conscious, present-focused existence that ensures we are living to our highest personal values, achieving the aspirations that we set out for ourselves and are intentionally pursuing through well-laid out action plans.

Recovery is not simply about putting down the harmful substances and then pretending that they don’t exist.  Recovery is about wanting and needing more from life, so that we are not restricted in our choices!  It’s about consciously and proactively creating and developing the skills and the resources to go after a life that we believe we are worthy of…not being limited and imprisoned by drugs, a fixed mindset and a set of negative, limiting beliefs.

There’s not really my life and my recovery as they are one and the same thing.  When I am taking care of my emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical wellness, I am taking care of my recovery.  And a lot of my recovery has had nothing to do with staying away from substances and unhealthy behaviour, but rather about creating a life that is about everything I am saying yes to!  Because saying no becomes tedious and wears us down, whereas focusing on what I am moving towards and saying yes to is exciting, motivating and inspiring.  My recovery is not about abstinence as much as it is about growth and purpose, about speaking my personal truth and living courageously.  Recovery doesn’t mean we get everything right all the time, but rather we resource ourselves so that when we are faced with challenges and difficult situations we have a healthy, proactive set of coping tools and techniques to move through these tricky times.

So here are some of the things that recovery means to me, other than abstinence:

  • Recovery means choice,
  • Recovery means growth,
  • Recovery means knowledge,
  • Recovery means connection,
  • Recovery means presence,
  • Recovery means peace and serenity,
  • Recovery means self-love and -worth,
  • Recovery means adventure and fun,
  • Recovery means time,
  • Recovery means being authentic and courageous.

For more information about Recovery Coaching and our Recovery Coach Training, please feel free to contact me on leigh-anne@thefoundationclinic.co.za or (010)900-3131.