The end of September marks the end of National Recovery Month. For these 30 days, the nation acknowledges, supports and celebrates the bravery and strength of former addicts who got alcohol addiction treatment and are now living clean.
But for those of us who have never known a recovering addict (or don’t realize we do), what recovery truly is might be a bit of a mystery. What happens during treatment? What can patients expect, and for families and friends on the outside, what will their loved ones be going through?
Breathe Life’s Mike Cohan helps break it down. First and foremost, “They can expect a chance to finally be able to relax,” he says. Many addicts have been living unstable lifestyles. So going into recovery, patients will relax, be cared for, finally just get some sleep. They’ll be nurtured and take care of the basic needs they’ve been deprived of. They’ll also attend group therapy and individual counseling sessions and may receive medications to help with their addictive cravings, anxiety or depression.
That’s the beginning. But, that’s not all recovery is. For those of us who don’t have experience with addiction, our assumption may be that recovery is synonymous with sobriety. But in reality, “recovery is a sense of rebirth and spirituality,” Cohan explains. “The recovery process starts when a person decides to stop using drugs or alcohol. It becomes a recovery when there is more of a spiritual component to it.” This means the ability to take personal inventory of yourself, knowing the social factors that may have contributed to your initial addiction, and having the tools and the desire to stay clean.
“And it continues,” Cohan says. “Recovery continues forever.” Recovery, not just sobriety.
For example, if a person stays clean, but stops going to meetings or helping other recovering addicts in the community, their behavior becomes stagnant. They become what Cohan calls a “dry drunk…They’re not participating in their recovery, they’re just staying sober, and that’s not enough,” he explains. “There’s no happiness there.” These individuals become bitter about their sobriety, or get upset because they feel something is missing in their lives. They also fall into the danger zone of relapsing and they don’t know how it all happened. “They need to put time into themselves,” Cohan says. “It’s an ongoing process.”
A lifelong effort to be sure. But, surprisingly, not everything remains a constant struggle. In fact, Cohan continues, part of getting sober and recovery involves certain things becoming far easier. “You start to recognize more positive things occurring in your life. Many people in sobriety have lost their jobs, lost their loved ones, someone cheated on them…it doesn’t mean that these things aren’t going to happen. But the surprise is the strength and your ability to get through obstacles in much different and healthier ways and come out on the other end.”
In addiction, people self-medicate, using substances to numb themselves from pain. When these situations come up after treatment, former addicts might fear how they’ll deal with pain without drugs. “The surprise is…you can actually do it.”
Cohan lays out how when a person is using, they can check out for a few days, but when they come back, the problem hasn’t gone away and there’s even more to deal with – the voicemails of concerned friends, the chemical effects of coming down – the drugs actually worsened the problem. What a wonderful revelation: giving up the substance they used to rely on to get through pain “actually makes the process easier to walk through.”
We march with the courageous recovering addicts as they go through their processes and celebrate National Recovery Month for all their successes, big and small.