Recovery Process

What is recovery?

The dictionary definition of recovery is that it is a return to a normal state of health, mind or strength. Inherent in the word is the idea that you are getting something back. However, many people in recovery have never had a normal state of health or mind. Further, what is considered normal is not necessarily healthy.

These days recovery has come to mean something much more than recovering from an illness or addiction. Indeed, it is used to describe the process of reaching an optimal state of health, mind and spirit. For me the recovery process is the enlightenment processes. When I am in recovery, I am acting from my connection with source and I am reaching for greater balance, greater wholeness, and ultimate peace.

There are many important principles that form the recovery process for both substance use and other mental health disorders. Five critical principles are: 1) recovery is self-directed, 2) recovery is individualized and person-centered, 3) recovery is non-linear, 4) recovery is holistic, 5) recovery involves peers and allies.

Recovery is Self-Directed

Recovery is about achieving a personally fulfilling life. To this end, each person’s recovery must be directed by them. Any other approach would be nonsensical and doomed for failure. Each person’s must decide what they want out of life or a particular situation. Here are some steps that are useful.

  • Make a list of what you value. Include everything that is important to you.
  • Prioritize the list. What items are the most important to you?
  • Group together things that seem similar.
  • Make a list of things you want to achieve in your life.
  • What would your ideal day look like? Where would you be, who would you be with, what would you be doing?


Recovery is Individualized

Once you have a list of goals, you need to create a plan. Recovery isn’t a one size fits all type of program. What works for one person, may not work for another. Each person’s recovery plan is unique and personal. Everybody has their own way.

For reflection: “What is my way?”

The process of recovery involves learning who you are and what works for you. To assist self discovery and progress to the goal of abstinence, try listing situations from your past (even childhood) where you felt successful and fulfilled. Describe them in detail and then explore common themes.

  • What types of things were I involved in?
  • Who or what was I working with?
  • What was the end result?
  • How did I work? Did I use my hands, mind, etc.

This process of exploration will help you learn more about what truly and naturally fulfills you. Then turn back to your goals and consider the following:

  • What would you need to do to reach your goals?
  • Break this down into doable steps.
  • Determine if you could use outside help to do each step.
  • Identify helpers and recruit them.


Recovery is Non-linear

Understanding that recovery is non-linear is important to avoiding a good/bad attitude towards progress.  Judging our actions as good or bad is not useful.  It is more useful to discern actions that bring us towards recovery and our goals and those that bring us away from recovery and out goals. One way to grasp this is to do a “relapse plan”.  This means to focus on one behavior you are changing and write out the step that would lead you back into that behavior.  For instance, if you have decided to not drink alcohol anymore and theoretical individual relapse plan may look like:

  1. Feeling great with absolutely no desire to drink.
  2. Deciding to skip recovery meetings or recovery activities because busy at work and/or with family activities.
  3. No getting enough sleep due to extra activities.
  4. Deciding to not exercise because feeling tired.
  5. Go to a family activity and get in an argument with a family member.
  6. Leave the activity and want to just relax
  7. Decide to have a glass of alcohol just to chill out.


Prolapse is the process of moving away from relapse.  At any one time someone could take the relapse plan and make a different choice at any of the steps.  For instance, at step four one might decide that they need to cut down on extra activities in order to get more sleep so they can exercise.  They then might have time again to go to recovery meetings.  The key to this is learning about how to be aware of what we are doing, why we are doing it and the consequences of those actions.

We may also have to practice surrender.  In this case it may mean surrendering the extra work or activities and dealing with the loss that is associated with that letting go at the same time as being cognizant of the greater good we are achieving.  Awareness of one’s goals is paramount, as is a greater understanding of the steps that take one away from recovery and the steps that take one towards recovery.

Recovery is Holistic

This brings us to the important principle that recovery is holistic and all encompassing. Once we enter into a recovery process to change one thing often means changing things in many aspects of our lives.  Often we may find that some of our goals may conflict with other things.  For instance, having that specific great job that provides stable income may not allow us three months off a year to do a silent retreat.  We may have to choose between the two or recreate our life so that we have both.

The best way to see that our recovery impacts our entire being is to consider what triggers the behavior you are in the process of changing and what you would need to complete the transformation.  For instance, many people list HALT (hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness) as triggers for using. To effectively reduce such high risk situations as HALT you would ideally change lifestyle things such as when and what you eat and how much sleep you are getting.  You would also need to learn new cognitive processes to deal with anger and/or improve relationships. In addition, increasing support networks and learning how to really connect with people and/or a spiritual source is critical for coping with loneliness.

Exploring such a scenario puts recovery into perspective as a life-long project.  Indeed, you may start with a small change in eating regularly and then realize that the coffee or soda habit is creating additional tiredness and sugar cravings.  When you eliminate these you feel worse during withdrawal and then better after.  Then you notice that other aspects of your diet are not optimal and you can focus on these.

Recovery Involves Peers and Allies

Finally, recovery cannot be done in isolation. It requires the support and assistance of peers and allies. This becomes clear once the extent of change that is needed for a person to reach a fulfilling life is realized. In addition, the recovery process is a more enjoyable journey when walked with peers.

  • Review you list of goals
  • Determine ideal level of help you need to reach each one.
  • Identify helpers.
  • Who or what serves as an impediment to reaching the goals?
  • Plan to recruit the aid you need.


Recovery is a life-long self-directed process that is unique to each individual. The process tends to be non-linear and involves all aspects of a person’s life. As such, the process of recovery and reaching ones highest potential and self-fulfillment involves multiple people that serves as support and guides.

Minted values

In 1999 the US Mint launched the 50 State Quarters Program.  My daughter was eight.  Something about having a young child and the excitement of a new look to our old quarters got me to start saving the different states.

state quartersAfter several years, when I started shopping for a case to put my “daughter’s” collection in, I came to my senses.

My daughter is blessed with a complete disinterest in material things.  The special collectible coins meant nothing to her.  When she was eight she did not place inherent value on things for sentimental reasons.  It was actually quite refreshing.  Such a value, must be a learned behavior and I had failed to impart it.

If I was going to get a case, I would need to get my daughter to buy into the idea.  But, why would I do that?  I took a moment and moved my mind forward fifty years.  I imagined the entire coin collection in the future and its value.  It wasn’t hard to do.  I had coins that my parents and grandparents had given me.  They were simply a burden.  Something that I had to lug around every time I moved.

Why did I hang onto them?  They were valuable – that is what my relatives had told me.  In truth they were not worth very much at all.  The reality is that my relatives had passed them on to me and I was carrying them in order to pass them onto the next generation.  It is as if they had passed their values and hopes onto me and I had mindlessly accepted their burden.

There are countless values and beliefs that my relatives passed on to me.  Some have had more damaging effects than the value of collectable coins.  When I confronted myself, I found I really didn’t think saving coins was a worthwhile activity.  I was merely holding that value as a way to honor my grandparents.

What I have found invaluable is to constantly question my motives for acting.  It is amazing how much lighter I am now that I am getting rid of other people’s values and my habitual ways of acting.  I am able to honor my grandparents without carrying their values, beliefs or things.

Those quarters are long gone.  I stopped even looking at the new states as they came out.  I no longer had a motive to spend my energy that way.  My personal insight had set me free of an activity that did not really serve me.



Mindful Weeding

One of the things I value most is living in harmony with nature.  My garden is one of those places where I get to interface with a wide variety of creatures on the planet.  When I work in the garden I am mindful of what I am doing and why I am doing it.  This is the same process of awareness that I use when I am doing all other activities, but the content of “why” varies slightly.

Two months ago I harvested huge heads of cauliflower.  Once the flowering head of this vegetable has been picked, the plant is fairly well past its prime.  Many people would then pull the whole plant and send it to the compost.  I, instead, considered the option of non-action.  This specimen had very large leaves which could serve additional purposes.  In the ground, still living, those leaves served as “shade” for the young alder tree sapling that was next to it.  In addition, the leaves were a future source of food for the pet rabbits I live with.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the large leaves also served as a bird bath.  They accumulated water from the sprinklers and held it within the shallow bowl the leaves formed naturally.Cauliflower Bird Bath

The “why” for pulling the plant could be mindlessness or it reflect a value for esthetics.  I also want things to look ordered and nice, but I am conscious of my objective to make the garden at TESLI be in harmony with the land around.  I find that many of the “weeds” I leave unpulled look somewhat unsightly, but the birds love the seeds and I am finding that I am becoming quite popular with my flying friends.  In a “complex” living style, one might put up bird feeders and drive to the store to replenish the seeds.  In a simple living style, one only has to leave weeds around and sit back and enjoy finches, sparrows and even love birds feast.

When I garden, I reflect on what is right action – sometimes I feel the drive to know what is the “best” way to act.  This idea is addressed in a book I just finished reading.  In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle writes on page 194:

“When we go into a forest that has not been interfered with by man, our thinking mind will see only disorder and chaos all around us.  It won’t even be able to differentiate between life (good) and death (bad) anymore since everywhere new life grows out of rotting and decaying matter.  Only if we are still enough inside and the noise of thinking subsides can we become aware that there is a hidden harmony here… The mind is more comfortable in a landscaped park because it has been planned through thought; it has not grown organically.”

I was intrigued by his statement.  Many people are actually refreshed by the walk through a forest, despite all its disorder.  Yet, those same people would not tolerate allowing plant debris to naturally decay around their houses.  I wonder, who is making those decisions?

Reflection:  Am I choosing to do things that are in alignment with my values?  Am I thoughtful about the full ramifications of my actions?