It’s important that we understand recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as a complex and challenging journey, one that takes dedication and time. For many people who struggle with addiction or who love someone who struggles with addiction, the promise of a month spent in concentrated, residential rehabilitation seems like adequate treatment. And yet, when we consider those who have successfully recovered from addiction, it’s clear that the process of recovery must continue long after such rehabilitation is over.
Unfortunately, a recent study found that 56% of the people who received treatment at a residential facility did not engage in recovery practices after their discharge. A majority of those individuals relapsed within a few months. And so we have to acknowledge that without an ongoing set of practices and tools, most people are simply unable to break free from addiction—hardly a surprise, considering how profoundly substance abuse alters the body and mind.
Such mind/body alterations aren’t easily erased, and their vestiges can last a lifetime. But recovery is possible, and those who do meet their recovery goals do so consciously, with an awareness of their journey as one that requires attention, planning, and care. In working within the recovery community, I’ve witnessed many processes and tools that can make that journey a successful one; in particular, lasting sobriety usually involves adherence to what I call The Five P’s of Successful Recovery:
- Purpose. True change requires not only that we acknowledge where we’ve been, but that we see and understand where we want to go. When we have a sense of purpose—the desire to achieve a deeply-held goal, to pursue a dream, or to accomplish something which holds meaning for us—we find new sources of energy and strength. With new strength, we’re more able to persevere when challenges arise. One of the most devastating aspects of addiction is that it fosters a sense of purposelessness. Conversely when someone who struggles with addiction identifies a meaningful direction or a dream, it can be much easier to leave drugs and alcohol behind. The search for a sense of purpose can be challenging, exciting, and rewarding; it’s also an integral part of the process of recovery.
- Practice. The kinds of change that recovery requires—changing the mind’s patterns, shifting the way one acts under stress, and transforming responses to everyday events—do not happen quickly. Such deep-reaching changes call for practice; much like learning to play an instrument or developing skill at a new craft. Recovery asks us to repeat the behaviors we want to develop over and over again. And, in fact, those behaviors could include playing an instrument, singing, or learning to paint—recovery usually involves an ongoing commitment to stress-relieving activities and support systems. Whether it’s meeting with a support group such as AA or talking with a counselor, meditating or exercising, some kind of continued practice—one that becomes part of daily life—helps to manage addiction-related urges and thoughts and brings clarity, focus, and sense of grounding to the recovery journey.
- Perseverance. While I’ve said this before, it’s worth repeating: successful recovery doesn’t happen in 30, 60, or even 90 days. Rather than a sprint, recovery is a marathon—a process that happens slowly, over the course of a lifetime. For many people who live with addiction or who want to help those who do, this can be the most difficult lesson—accepting that recovery, like any worthwhile process, is never fully complete. Just as an artist never reaches “the end” of their creative journey, a person in recovery never totally sets aside their work. Each day requires a recommitment to recovery, each day requires the management of stressors and emotions. No life is absent this kind of humbling cycle: walking on a spiral, we move up, but we pass by the places we’ve been again and again. Recovery requires one to acknowledge that inevitable cycle, to seek the support of those who can help in difficult times, and to develop the perseverance that, even as we move in circles, keeps us moving up.
- Pray. For many people, overcoming addiction requires a sense of something greater than one’s own strength and vision. Whereas feelings of loneliness and isolation can contribute to the damaging effects of addiction, the experiences of connection, care, and love that many find in reaching out to a “higher power” can be a fundamental part of leaving addiction behind. It’s normal for someone who struggles with addiction to feel weak and powerless. As millions of people in recovery have found, acknowledging such feelings of weakness and welcoming the presence of an able, loving God can be one of the most important steps in this sometimes difficult process of change and growth.
- Praise. Those who live with addiction often experience great difficulties, and it’s easy to see why addiction can foster negativity. Focused on problems and wrongs, those struggling with addiction are sometimes unable to see that which is good and beautiful in their lives. As we work to undo those negative patterns, it’s important to make gratitude, positivity, and praise the foundations of recovery. Simple daily mantras of gratitude—I am fully alive; I am loved and loving; God cares for me and my journey; I have deep value as a person—can keep us alight. If we remember to see our lives, our communities, and the world around us through eyes of praise, addiction loses much of its power.
Purpose, Practice, Perseverance, Pray, and Praise—these Five P’s, along with other tools you may develop and discover throughout your own journey, can provide a powerful framework for recovery. As you implement them, observe how you change and grow. Let others know about your commitment to these principles, and ask trusted friends to support your path. Be kind, careful, and honest with yourself—addiction isn’t a death sentence, but rather a difficult illness that requires attention and ongoing treatment. Seeking your purpose, developing a regular practice, cultivating perseverance, making time to pray, and remembering to praise—no small tasks, but, applied one day at a time, each of these endeavors can become an integral part of recovery, health, and a bright and balanced future.