Recovery means something different for each of us. No matter who we are or where we are in our lives it can be reasonably safe to assume that we will all at some point find ourselves in a time or recovery. I enjoy the use of metaphors with my clients to assist them in developing fresh insight and activation of behaviors with a value-based approach to their recovery. Most clients, if honest, will tell you that if they are now in recovery, that means they once found themselves in a place in which they were compromising their values on a daily basis, and were actively participating in behaviors that reinforced the behavior for which they are now in recovery. In celebration of recovery month, I would like to share a metaphor that I utilize with clients struggling with what it means to be sober and in recovery,
You can recover an item that you seek for, but you can also recover an item that you were not looking for and had completely forgotten about. This speaks to the expectation that in recovery the individual with be deliberately pursuing after things that they once valued and patterned lifestyles after. The individual becomes fixated with the idea that they will be living a better lifestyle, and that it will be entirely based on their ideal level of functioning based on past experience. What this does not equate for though is the reality that the individual may have grown older, wiser, and much more capable than they ever were before. It also may highlight that an individual will now walk with a limp that did not previously exist for them prior to whatever experience they are recovering from brought them. It also doesn’t equate for the reality that an individual can learn and experience new things never before seen in their lives, and it can often be an intimidating feature of their recovery. This also speaks to the reality that recovery might possibly be more difficult than an individual anticipated, and this can push an individual toward relapse.
This is where the fight occurs against avoidance and the press begins to learn to accept the reality of what each individual's recovery looks like with the idea that by accepting it and committing to change, the individual will overcome avoidance and the temptation to return to the behavior they are recovering from by accepting that life comes with both joy and pain. There is power in acceptance, and it is the antithesis of avoidance.
The metaphor: An individual is standing on a river bank, looking out at the river before them and the bank on the other side. On the bank which they stand, life has become chaotic. They have no control, and everything is patterned and lived after the chaos that now surrounds them. They never wished to live on this bank, but sure enough after one mistake to the next and one compromise to the next, they find that this bank is no longer a place to visit, but it is where they now reside. The lifestyle, the chaos, and the danger are all very real and the individual knows it, but still they stay on the bank. On the other side of the river though, they see a shore that looks peaceful, and they determine in their mind that it is the place they want to live. To be able to make it to the bank though, they must cross the river.
While traversing the river, the individual begins to make changes to the behavior that reinforced the lifestyle that lead them to living on the undesired bank. They push away anything they believe will be detrimental to their journey to the other bank where they believe their recovery waits for them. The river begins to change them, and begins to wash away the things the individual no longer wants to hold onto. They fight the rip of the current avoiding being washed away, all with the hope that on the other bank is a life, which was so beautiful and full of opportunity when seen from the banks of chaos will perhaps be a life they once enjoyed and let go, or one they’ve never experienced before.
The individual plants their feet on the other bank. They take in a deep breath and rest for a moment. They’ve made it. They now reside on the banks of their recovery. This is where the true heartache come for me as a professional. The individual then stands up, looks at the world laid out in front of them on these calm banks full of opportunity, and they turn their backs to it all and look back to the river and toward the bank of chaos, as if they miss the fight of the river, and the life they so desperately wished to leave behind. The individual will then state, “Recovery means everything to me” while they fixate on the fight through the river, and the lifestyle they once lived on the banks of chaos. When they wake up the next morning they look back to the banks of chaos and pound their new mantra into their heads, “Must stay in recovery, must stay in recovery, must stay in recovery”. The lives they hoped and dreamed for are now only a mere fraction of what they ideally envisioned. It isn’t because the opportunity is not there, it is because they are fixated on what once was, or intimidated by what could be.
I had a client state to me that they did not get into recovery so that they could be miserable. I concur. Recovery will be reflected in all areas of an individual’s life that is committed to their hopes and dreams. An individual will not just recover relationships, opportunities, and things, but they will also recover their lives, and the true potential of what that means can only be played out by each one of us. Celebrate your recovery, no matter what it is from, with those that matter to you most, and set a path toward a life worth living, with all the good and bad, and lets see what your recovery truly means.