What Does Recovery Look Like?

As we begin to recover, it’s easy to create a glowing mental picture of what we think a life in recovery should look like. Perhaps it means we’d never experience a sense of craving again, that all temptation would vanish. Maybe we envision becoming successful in our professional lives or restoring our relationships or reaching a place where we live above our emotions – some Zen-like, heightened spiritual state. 

While none of these “pictures of recovery” are inherently bad or harmful, there is some danger in forming these expectations. Because the reality is that our recovery may not look like that at all. And then we can’t help but lament our failure to attain the recovery vision. That sense of failure or defeat may even lead us back to the addiction. We are not realizing that there is no standard picture or model of recovery. In its simplest terms, recovery is about navigating real life in sobriety. It’s rarely more glamorous than that, and it will certainly look different for each individual addict.

Recovery from addiction is almost never a linear process. There are ups and downs, hills and valleys and what seem like endless setbacks. But as we are told over and over, we are seeking progress, not perfection. Recovery isn’t a skill to master. It is a lifelong path of forward movement and increasing personal and spiritual growth.

As we develop in our understanding of the 12 Steps, we begin to gain a more realistic picture of recovery. Nowhere are we promised spiritual enlightenment or monetary success or a life free of suffering. We had problems in addiction and we will have problems in recovery. We will be learning saner, sober ways to handle those problems, but we will still have them. To expect anything else is wholly unrealistic.

For many, eliminating the addictive substance and starting to live sober will lead to positive changes in mood and disposition. Coping skills begin to return; we start to see how our expectations have set us up for disappointment and how we have spent our lives blaming people and circumstances for the poor condition of our own lives. In recovery we are starting to take responsibility.

While many problems and difficulties will go away when we stop using and begin to recover, it won’t happen overnight. And not all will be made well. Many will continue to struggle with mental health disorders, they will live the legacy of trauma, their relationships will continue to be a struggle, and their demons will still be all too close. This is the reality of recovery for many people. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t recovering.

If your life isn’t living up to your recovery aspirations, it may be time to reconsider these expectations and even throw them out. We have to reframe the recovery journey as not a hurdle to overcome, but a lifelong journey to travel. Are you sober? Are you working the 12 Steps? Are you growing in your knowledge of God? Then you are recovering; frustrations, setbacks and seeming failures notwithstanding.

Christian recovery, based on the 12 Steps, isn’t a personal self-help plan for making yourself perfect. It is a lifelong path of sobriety and growth. If you are sober today, you are succeeding in recovery.