To claim that every individual who makes it into recovery from addiction experiences the same thing would be an overgeneralization. Each person is unique and so is their situation. Even the concept of recovery will mean different things to different people.
There does tend to be similarities in how people progress through recovery. For this reason it is appropriate to talk about phases of recovery. Once it is kept in mind that the experience of each individual will vary, it can be useful to look at recovery as progress through different stages.
Recovery from addiction is a difficult idea to pin down. Some may view it as a once off event that happens when the individual stops using alcohol or drugs. For others it is ongoing process that may even have begun before the individual actually quit their addiction. Some people can view recovery as being similar to serving a prison sentence. They are deprived of their favorite crutch and the best thing they can do is count the days. For other people it is about freedom and the chance to completely rebuild their lives.
There is no one definition of recovery that everyone will agree upon, but there does seem to be a lot more to it than simply not using alcohol or drugs. If that were the case then all addicts would be in recovery before they got their first hit in the morning. Recovery is all about change and growth. It involves developing a new way of living that will produce a level of happiness and peace that was never previously experienced by the individual.
It does make sense to view recovery as a process rather than a once off event. The most common experiences that individuals will tend to go through include:
* Acknowledging that they have a problem. The individual is able to get past denial to see the reality of their situation.
* Willingness to change. They decide that they no longer want live a life blighted by their addiction.
* Investigation of recovery options. Here they will begin researching options for escaping addiction.
* Into action. They will now take action to end their addiction. This may include going to rehab or attempting to give up alone.
* Detoxification. When they stop using the addictive substance there will be a period of withdrawals.
* Early recovery. During this time the individual will need to learn how to live life without a chemical crutch. It involves developing new coping mechanisms and new attitudes towards life. This can be an exciting time as people discover just how much joy there is to be found in sobriety.
* Recovery maintenance. This stage never ends. Staying sober becomes a way of life, but the individual could still relapse if they are not careful. They need to stay committed to recovery and building an enjoyable life away from drugs and alcohol.
It is suggested that those who enter rehab will pass through four stages during their time there including:
* Initiation into treatment. This is when the individual first arrives at rehab. This can be a time of mixed emotions, and often the addict will still be dealing with the effects of whatever drugs or alcohol is still in their system. Some people will be initiated into treatment against their will, and so can feel doubtful of success at this stage.
* Early abstinence is where the real work begins in rehab. The individual has now committed themselves to go along with the program. This can be a difficult period because of withdrawal symptoms. This might be the first time that the individual has had to deal with life without a chemical crutch in years so emotions can be high.
* Maintaining abstinence. This can be a treacherous period because it involves moving from rehab back to the real world. The individual will have been encouraged to build an armory of recovery tools during their time in rehab, and now will be the time to use them. This is the time when people are most at risk of relapse. So long as they remain committed to recovery they will make it through this period.
* Advanced recovery. Once people have been sober more than 5 years, they will usually have created a comfortable life away from addiction. The risk of relapse never completely goes away, but staying sober has become a habit. The individual will have faced many challenges during the preceding years, and this will make it easier to deal with any future challenges that come their way.
The Recovery Model has been developed within psychiatry to increase understanding of this process. This model suggests that there are different elements of recovery including:
* A secure base. For recovery to happen the individual needs a secure roof over their heads and enough income to survive.
* Finding a meaning to life. People need to find meaning in recovery to keep going.
* Hope. This is vital because otherwise recovering from addiction would be pointless.
* Rediscovering a sense of self. Their sense of self is no longer tied up with who they were as an addict.
* The development of new coping strategies. The old way of doing things led to addiction so the individual has cope with life differently in order to build a successful recovery.
* Supportive relationships.
* Empowerment. The individual is now confident of their ability to deal with life.
The phases of recovery from addiction involve dealing with difficult challenges. Two of the most talked about obstacles to progress in recovery is the pink cloud and dry drunk syndrome.
The pink cloud itself is not a negative experience; quite the opposite in fact. After years of numbness the emotions become alive once again. Life can feel wonderful and it is such a great relief to be finally free of addiction. These are all emotions that the individual in recovery deserves to feel, but the worry is that it can become out of hand – people can become too high and lose sight of the ground. The person can feel so confident that they become complacent about their recovery. There is also the risk that once their emotions stabilize they can feel disappointment and disillusioned. The great joys in recovery are there to be enjoyed, but it is important to keep in mind that the low points are part of it too.
Dry drunk syndrome is where the individual is no longer using an addictive substance, but in other ways their life remains the same. This often occurs because people have become stuck and they are no longer moving through the stages of recovery. Their behavior deteriorates and it can easily lead to relapse. Some people remain as a dry drunk for years on end, and this means that they miss out on much of the enjoyment available in recovery. In AA they talk about people who haven’t touched a drop in years, but still haven’t managed to get sober.