I use the word “recovery” when discussing not only only addiction, but depression, anxiety, and trauma, very intentionally.
The reason why addiction treatment traditionally uses the phrase “in recovery,” as opposed to more emphatic phrases like “overcoming” or “conquering” or other phrases that indicate someone has definitively healed from their addictive patterns, is to remind those who struggle with addiction that they always remain at risk for relapse.
Once the compulsive, self-perpetuating, destructive patterns of addictive thinking and behavior have been etched in your nervous system, it can be incredibly easy to go back to them in times of stress or negative feeling.
Addiction treatment acknowledges that every single day, recovering addicts need to think and do things that manages their risk of relapse.
Managing the risk of relapse tends to get easier the more “clean time” one accumulates, and as one gets better wit the skills and tools that help them deal with addictive thinking and cravings.
But to get it in one’s head that one is “past” the risk of relapse can be enormously destructive.
We can let our guard down, slack off on using the tools and skills that contribute to healthy living…and that puts us at risk for relapse when we least expect it.
Thus, no one is ever really “recovered” from addiction— everyone is perpetually “in recovery.”
I find the same to be true of depression, anxiety, and trauma.
When our nervous system is wired and conditioned for depression, managing it is very much possible— there are skills and tools that can absolutely make life much easier to live, even IF our biochemistry and environment makes us vulnerable to depression.
But successfully managing depression depends on recommitting to using the tools and skills necessary to manage it every day. It’s like addiction that way.
We’re never really “recovered” from depression. We will likely always have that predisposition toward depression in our biochemistry and nervous system.
But if we think of ourselves as constantly “in recovery” from depression— a phrase that reminds us that, even on our good days, we NEED to access our tools and skills to stay emotionally on balance— we stand a much better chance of doing the things we need to do EVERY DAY to keep our heads above the emotional water.
The same is true for trauma.
Most of my experience is in working with people who have had really awful things happen to them, either in the recent or distant past— and who struggle with the aftereffects so much that they wonder if they’ll EVER see light at the end of the tunnel.
Many of them want to know when they’ll be “DONE” with their trauma work— when the truth is, trauma work is much like addiction work: when you’ve been traumatized, it’s highly likely that you’ll always be vulnerable to post traumatic symptoms and triggers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t create and experience a life worth living.
It just means that we have to be realistic about the need to use certain skills and tools every day to manage what trauma has done to our nervous system.
Hence: I tell people we are “in recovery” from trauma…not that there will come a point where our trauma work is “done.”
I completely understand why the way I refer to depression, anxiety, and trauma work as ongoing “recovery” work might be a bummer for some people.
I hear you, I really do. I, too, want to be “done” with my own recovery work. I want to be past it. I want to know that I’ve done what I need to do to “handle” that painful part of my life.
But something I’ve learned in my own journey is that the fantasy of being “done” with recovery work is a major risk factor for relapse.
There won’t be a day where I get to wake up “without” ADHD.
There won’t be a day when I get to wake up “without” having had a panful history.
There won’t be a day when I get to wake up “without” a nervous system and past experiences that make me vulnerable to addiction.
If i’m going to live a successful life, I need to be realistic about that.
Surrendering the fantasy of ever being definitively “done” with recovery work can be sad.
But it is also a tremendous relief— because it is real.
And it truly does give us the best shot at a real life.
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