There Is No GPS on the Pathway to Addiction Recovery

Updated on April 9, 2018
Lesa Densmore profile image

Certified addiction advocate, coach and consultant, Lesa uses lived experience and education to promote addiction awareness and prevention.

Some Choose a Recovery Path Less Traveled
Some Choose a Recovery Path Less Traveled

My recovery time from addiction has been 9 years, short compared to some, long compared to others. I remember when I was first seeking help I got advice to attend an anonymous support group, get a counselor, or go to treatment; I did all three. Although I combined certain traditional approaches to initiate recovery, sustaining recovery has been a patchwork of ideas and approaches that have changed over time. Some approaches have been traditional, some unusual and perhaps absurd. To many this would represent no pathway or recovery style at all, but none of us are in a position to judge the recovery process of others, whether traditional or completely outside of the box.

Traditional Recovery Frameworks

The addiction recovery experience has been dissected into multiple groups, some are widely understood and accepted: treatment-assisted, spiritual, abstinence-based, and natural recovery for example. While others are misunderstood or controversial: medication-assisted, moderation-based, harm reduction, peer-assisted, and secular to name a few. Recovery achieved through any of these frameworks, or any other framework is often referred to as a pathway of recovery.

Within the addiction arena there is an increasing acceptance and agreement that there are multiple pathways of addiction recovery. This consensus indicates that an important public and professional breakthrough has been achieved within the addiction field.

Addiction Recovery is a Process Over Time
Addiction Recovery is a Process Over Time

Because addiction is a chronic relapse-prone disorder, recovering from it is a lifelong process, with relapse being a part of recovery for many. The recovery process for some is fairly consistent and structured, but for others unsteady and ever changing.

When thinking about breaking the addiction cycle, what comes to mind for most is treatment. Treatment is just one pathway of recovery. Sometimes addiction treatment works, sometimes it doesn't; even multiple episodes of. There is a large base of pragmatic data on understanding addiction and treatment modalities short-term, but less is understood about the recovery processes over time.

Recovery-focused research has made some progress in recognizing the multiple pathways of recovery, and has even classified them based on their unique and similar qualities. Multiple recovery pathway conferences are now held throughout the world. These conferences discuss in detail the distinct characteristics of certain addiction recovery pathways. This progress is important and good, but more important is to understand that recovery reality is not always as faultless and pure as these pathway classifications may propose. For many recovery is messy, and the experience can change considerably over time.

Recovery Pathways may be Traditional or Unique

Addiction Recovery is Person-Centered
Addiction Recovery is Person-Centered

In visualizing a recovery pathway the image in our minds often represents some kind of junction or intersection. The perception suggests that there are options requiring a clear-cut decision on a specified pathway within an established framework of recovery. That one must choose option 1, 2 or 3 with some sort of guidance from an addiction recovery GPS, and supporters standing at the starting line conveying their pathway be the correct, or only "true" path of recovery.

Life after addiction is being led by millions, with many finding and sustaining recovery within the already established traditional frameworks. We cannot disregard however the multitude of people in long-term recovery that have done so outside of the boundaries of these traditional approaches. In other words, many people have established an approach to personal recovery that may not be considered a pathway at all. Some individuals recovery experiences represent more of a mixed-bag of approaches that evolve and change over time, rather than the traditional image of a well-marked path.

The recovery experiences of some are actively evolving, and achieving it does not have to pass through some predetermined evidence-based modality or approach. Think of is as a quilt with lots of different patterns and frames, versus a solid colored blanket. Some recovery journeys are a hodgepodge of experiences where the components are frequently changing and interchanging, sometimes even consisting of unusual, bizarre, or contradictory origins. While others follow an established method that has been mapped out within a certain belief and step-by-step instructions.

Recovery May Be A Patchwork of Ideas

Many People Customize a Recovery Style of Their Own
Many People Customize a Recovery Style of Their Own

When we examine recovery pathways it may appear like a fixed line of options. In my coaching practice I like to suggest that these "choices" are resources that rest on the border of the often changing circle of recovery. In one phase of recovery a person may draw upon resources that are completely different than in another phase. People may draw upon a mix of ideas and approaches from one or more resources, or customize a recovery style of their own that doesn't fall in line with any. Recovery resources are available to us if and whenever we need to utilize them.

People may initiate recovery within one framework but migrate to or combine other frameworks to sustain recovery. For example, someone may attend a 12-step meeting on Monday and a SMART Recovery meeting on Friday. Both programs have very different philosophies and guiding principals, however; the person may find key ingredients in both that are helpful to them at the time. This also means that a person using a needle exchange program today, may be sponsoring others in Narcotics Anonymous in the future. Some individuals initiate recovery through an abstinence-based pathway, but sustain recovery through a moderation-based approach and vice versa. Many people do not seek addiction treatment early in their recovery, but later seek clinical services to help strengthen it, and some simultaneously use addiction medications while participating in an abstinent-based treatment program or support group. Sometimes a person may initiate recovery with a religious or spiritual belief or attachment, but later in recovery find that this orientation changes to secular, or recovery with no religious or spiritual basis at all.

The Reconstruction of Life

Long-term addiction recovery requires a keen focus, a re-building of life after it has been damaged. Rehabilitation involves a re-birthing of one's life across many areas; emotional, physical, spiritual, cognitive and more. It rests within one's own eagerness, responsibility, and objective. Attaining such reconstruction long-term and maintaining harmony across these areas is not universal. For some it is more like spontaneous improvisation, for others orchestrated intentions that one follows through on over time.

None of us are in a position to judge how others negotiate the recovery process. What we can do is share our experiences, roadblocks, and successes. We can share what has worked for us through time.

Over the years the community of those in recovery along with the convolution of professional service workers and researchers have outlined distinct pathways of addiction recovery. Although there are established styles, we cannot forget the multitude of people initiating and achieving recovery whose practicalities are outside of the box of these classifications that have been constructed. All stories of recovery must be celebrated whether it's found within a well hiked path, a road less traveled, or a road that no one has traveled before.

Recovery is Unique to Each Person Initiating or Achieving It.
Recovery is Unique to Each Person Initiating or Achieving It.

Celebrating Recovery Differences

The opposite of addiction is connection, and what comes with the addiction experience is an extreme sense of disconnection; it's lonely, isolated, and empty. Filling that emptiness, contriving connectedness, and re-building life represents the heart and soul of a remarkably fluctuating healing and growth process. How people get there is unique to themselves.

The differences and varieties of means that people initiate and achieve long-term recovery all need to be celebrated. There is no recovery path, approach, method, or style that is superior to the other. The true path to recovery is whatever is working for you at the time, by any means under any circumstances. All advancing actions with regard to recovery should be applauded, no matter how different the journey from our own.

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