It is easy to get confused by all of the jargon thrown around with regard to improving one’s life, especially if one is getting better from an illness such as substance abuse or another mental health problem (or both). We cannot all agree on what a relapse is, let alone what recovery is. However, this is what it means to me. Take this only as a personal opinion based upon my experiences, both professionally for the past 35 years and personally: Recovery is simply being able to live your life the way you are at your best.
The systems each define their expectations of what recovery should look like. For the court, it may be never repeating earlier performances for the judge or probation officer. It is not doing the same thing again and expecting different results. The 12-step folks say, “Whenever I use, I break out in handcuffs.” Stop breaking out in handcuffs and you will be showing signs of recovery. (It is also a nice way to stay out of jail at Christmastime.)
The child protective services system or juvenile and family court may see recovery from the eyes of your children. Are you awake? Do you play with them? Can you laugh with them? Do you know how to handle it when they are sick or when someone is picking on them in school? If you don’t know what to do, do you have folks you can call and ask? Do you have a support system that allows you to just call and complain because the kids are on your last nerve today? Loving your children is not so much about what you “feel” as what you actually do.
I work in the substance abuse and mental health field, so I look at recovery from the point of view of the person who knows that he or she has an illness. Recovery means trying and trying again. Sometimes it means you fall down and you get back up. Not everyone has to go down the same path in life with their addiction, and so not everyone has to experience recovery the same way. The main thing, I believe, is to just keep searching and trying to get better. If you hate one treatment method, try another.
In terms of my own life, I ask myself:
“Am I living my life the way I want it to be?”
“Am I laughing, loving, learning, and moving on?”
“Do my relationships with others benefit them and myself?”
“Do I believe that I have a purpose on the planet, and is there a being greater than I that I can consult regularly in order to stay consistent with my values and behaviors?”
“Can I be honest today?”
“Do I face my fears, instead of running from them?”
“Am I selfish and self-serving or do I recognize that I am only one of a million beings who need things on a daily basis?”
“Do I appreciate all the gifts I have been given, including the very breaths I take?”
“Do I honor and respect others around me?”
“Do I ask for help when I need it?”
“Do I give help when I am asked for it?”
Finally, I ask myself each morning, “What can I do to be of service?” This willingness to see myself as a part of the whole seems to be essential to my own recovery. Again, there are many options and opportunities out there if you go and explore them. Recovery is worth it.