Recovering or Recovered?

What really is the goal?

Recently I had someone who I highly respect fault me for declaring I was ‘recovered.’

Many of you may say, “So What?” Others will say, “Damn straight!” Some might even text, “WTF?”

Apparently, this is a hotter topic than I thought. Does it really matter? Who knows the answer?

The Big Book would be a good place to start. After all, it is the Big Book. Also, the National Institute of Health has a branch called the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA). That would be another good source. A third way to find out can be referencing The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Finally, we can use groups in the culture of recovery: the ones who are in the trenches of this battle.

That’s a lot of expertise. It should be easy to come up with an answer. Right?

The main title of the Big Book is “Alcoholics Anonymous,” and the original subtitle was “The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” That later became “The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” If you go through the text and did a word search for “recovered” or “in recovery” you will only find one example of each, with neither of them being the state after completing the twelve steps. It would be easy to conclude Bill Wilson thought you could be recovered.

If you search “NIAAA” and “recover,” it is quite clear what about their position. From their website: “An individual may be considered “recovered” if both in remission from AUD [Alcohol Use Disorder – it has eleven criteria in the DSM-V if you want to look it up] and cessation from heavy drinking are achieved and maintained over time.” Pretty straight forward. They say you can be recovered as well.

On the other hand, in ASAM’s definition, “recovery from addiction is an active process of continual growth that addresses the biological, psychological, social and spiritual disturbances inherent in addiction.” In other words, you are always recovering and never actually recovered. Notice it directly contradicts the NIAAA concept of being complete in recovery. Hmmm.

Then there’s the culture. My 34-year-sober sponsor declares that he is ‘recovered,’ but the person I mentioned in the beginning of this writing, says despite my claims I’ll be forever recovering. Additionally, in the rooms, you hear it both ways. No conclusion from this source.

Why is there a difference in terms used? Here’s my guess.

The very nature of the AA organization standards (which is the Gold Standard to most people, and by far the best known) is very hands off. It is mostly unregulated beyond the strict mandates that 1) God is the ultimate authority, 2) traditions will be followed, and 3) no one should change the steps. There is no official criteria or metrics for considering anything accomplished, whether it is an individual step or all of the steps combined.

If you use the Big Book as your guide for sobriety, steps 10 to 12 are lifelong tasks for a continuous process. This is an excellent reason for saying one is “recovering” despite the author’s intention that you were “recovered” once complete.

My personal concept of recovery is the transition from an undesired state to a desired state. That’s it. It’s based on other parts of my life where the concept of recovery is pertinent to the operation. Things continuously degrade into undesirable states at work, and it is up to the team to bring things back to a desired state.

We all are often recovering from being in an undesired state. It’s correcting back to the center of our lane when driving, washing the dishes after dinner, or combing your hair in the morning. We are continuously changing things back to how we want them. At that point of achievement, one could say you have recovered. We also know it won’t last, and eventually it will go back to an undesired state. Does that mean you are forever recovering in those aspects?

With regards to alcohol use disorder, if you ask if I am completely fixed (after three years of sobriety) and the have the human body that I had 30, 20, or 10 years ago, the answer is ‘of course not.’ Most significant, according to many (but not all) the brain does not heal back perfectly to originality in sobriety. This puts me at risk for significant danger if I relapse. I have to continue to remain abstinent out of necessity because of the neurological changes. I have achieved a desired state, and I want to stay that way. I also have the capability and tools to manage prevention of that state deteriorating to an undesired state.

Words matter, but don’t let others intimidate or hold you back from expressing yourself with your choice of words, and while feedback is good, don’t worry about being judged. Share fearlessly and listen bravely. While it should be influenced by education and wisdom, your path must be charted by you whether it be pre-fabricated or tailored to you specifically - because you are the one who has to follow it. We all must accept the language that others choose to tell their story, and in all fairness, we should expect the same courtesy from others.

After all, the actual result is what is important, not the name of it.

Chuck S.

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