silhouette of person with arms raised against sunset background“Everyone should have to go to rehab,” Sara stated.  The other residents in our treatment program looked at her with puzzled expressions. “Why,” they asked.  “Because most people go through life never understanding themselves, and never trying to be better people,” Sara explained.  “Our addiction has forced us to think about our weaknesses and character flaws.  It has demanded that we work to overcome our faults.  Our plans for recovery are all about living our lives in more meaningful ways.  If everyone did that we would have a much better world.”

As the room pondered Sara’s words, heads began to nod.  There was wisdom in what she said.  The 17 men and women of different ages had committed themselves to do more than spend 30 days working to overcome their addictions.  Each person had been striving to change their life, repair the damage, and adopt new and better behaviors.  “You’re right,” George said, “most people sleepwalk through life.  “They don’t think about who they are, what they want to be, and wake up one day realizing that they are very unhappy. Rehab is our time to change, and get our lives on a path that can lead to happiness.”

That is the big picture.  Addiction treatment needs to help people understand their disease and the cunning ways in which thinking is distorted and bad decisions are made.  They must come to recognize their triggers and the high risk situations that can lead to relapse, and they must understand the underlying emotions, traumas and wounds that often feed addiction.  There is much self-examination that needs to occur, changes that must be made, new skills to learn, and healing that may be necessary.  But the objective is more than just learning to manage the impulses and the physical and psychological cravings of addiction.  The end goal of rehab is to discover new and better ways of living.

Those who do best in recovery are those who have changed their lives.  This realization has been a foundational concept of the recovery movement since the earliest discussions among the men who formed the first AA group.  “Nothing changes if nothing changes,” became one of the best known truisms of the recovery movement.

The realization upon which these statements are based is acknowledgement that long-term recovery is more than just no longer drinking or using.  Recovery is sustained by creating a life where it is easier to not use.  As the addicted person recognizes the areas of their life that feed their addiction – such as conflict, stress, unwillingness to forgive, pains that have not been resolved – they discover where change is necessary so that they can move away from their addictive behavior.   Change leads to a life where it is possible to have an addiction (for there is no cure) but where that addiction is no longer in control.

Think about rehab and the path of recovery in a new way.  Do not see it as what you must give up, or the list of people, places and things that must be avoided.  Rather, see recovery as the process of continually looking at your life and determining the changes and personal growth by which you can make it better.  Recovery can and should be a rewarding experience.  Perhaps you can arrive at a place – as Sara did — where you can actually be grateful that you have an addiction.  Many people in recovery have come to appreciate that it was their addiction that motivated than to think long and hard about what life should offer, and make the changes necessary to find greater happiness and peace.

By Michael Campbell