The Word “Recovery”

October 6, 2011

Recovery sounds like something is broken or stuck—discovery sounds exciting, fulfilling and strong.

One definition of recovery: “People who have been successful in overcoming their dependence on alcohol and other drugs usually refer to their new lifestyle as being in recovery.”*

Of course, overcoming dependence does not only include drugs or alcohol.  One useful definition of dependence is: “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering substance or activity that has life damaging consequences.”  Drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, eating, working, sex, co-dependency, anger…

So, we can be “in recovery” from any number of things, which in today’s over-stimulated, fast-paced consumer-oriented culture, comes as no surprise.  However, the more I think about the term recovery, the more I feel that it is not an effective term that facilitates long-term life changes.

A few years ago, The Betty Ford Consensus Panel published its definition of recovery in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment: “a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.”  When I think about the courage necessary to make life changes, the strength to endure, the marshalling of inner resources and the need for spiritual growth—sobriety, personal health and citizenship are important, but do not go far enough.

Granted, the Betty Ford Panel admits that its definition of recovery needs refining, and that citizenship should be understood as giving back to the community (undeniably an important part of any path of personal development).  But I feel that there is something about the term recovery that does not accurately describe the life journey of freeing one’s self of a dependency issue.

What is one literally recovering in recovery?  One’s sobriety, health and place in society—yes, but there is so much more to freeing one’s self from drugs, alcohol, or any destructive compulsive behaviour.  Also, the very word “recovery” is too suggestive of the past.  Is recovery an act of going back to recover something we lost?  And if it is, there seems to be a hint of blame or guilt in the term.  Must we recover that which we lost or were unable to hold onto?

My concern is that the terms we use be sensitive to those of us who want to empower their lives, who want to go beyond the base-line of sober living.  And I feel that while the term recovery might be useful for the early stage of sobriety, the term does not promote a positive, forward-thinking context.

Instead of saying, “I am in recovery,” I prefer the statement, “I am in discovery.”  The word discovery is full of possibility, action and constructive promise.  I am not saying that recovery excludes these concepts—it technically doesn’t—but rather, it is the tone and feel of the word discovery that is more conducive to motivating change.  Recovery sounds like something is broken or stuck—discovery sounds exciting, fulfilling and strong.

Also, I feel that discovery more accurately applies to the internal and external journey that transpires when one is making higher level life changes.  Of course, I do not mean to imply that the process of discovery is not without pain, challenges and dark moments—living a new life is difficult, and ultimately I believe that nothing worth having is easy to obtain.

Do not forget: great moments in human history were moments of discovery.  They are moments that fill us with promise and power.  Recovery just sounds too small of a word for what we are doing in this process of changing our lives for the better.  Too small of a word for the rewards that await us as we discover, day by day, who we are and where we belong.

May you travel safely and well in your journeys!