What is recovery?
Treatment is not recovery. Treatment talks about recovery, yes, but what would it look like to mirror recovery to the people we serve? Recovery is openness, a mindset. It is one of positivity, approaching the future optimistically. Recovery is learning versus hiding from our past mistakes, making healthy choices, and stepping into our true selves.
To mirror recovery, we must be flexible and fluid in our agenda. We must recognize that one client is going to be late, that another client may try and hijack the group, and yet another may have relapsed for the third time. Recovery dictates that we remain positive no matter what, but also not ignore unhealthy behavior or live in denial. Disease recurrence is like a tumor that has grown back—some get the disease worse than others.
Clinicians can create optimistic opportunities for clients and themselves. This is more than mere words, this is action; recovery is action. This is everything from hosting speakers so clients may bear witness to the possibility of a sustained life of recovery, to providing service opportunities. This is for the client with 2 weeks in treatment, to the client who is just coming in with 1 day under their belt, sharing how they did not think they could stay and could not imagine sustaining 1 week of sobriety or refraining from cutting themselves. It is building the chain of recovery, link upon link. We create the environment and culture that makes that possible.
Living The Principles of Recovery
Recovery is being mindful and in the moment. As clinicians, we can practice this skill with our clients through meditation. It does not have to be 20 minutes, it does not have to be in a chair, and it does not have to mean completely clearing your mind (If you can, good for you!). But meditation does have to be consistent, intentional, and honest. Exposure to different types of meditation with the understanding that there is no right way can be helpful. Recovery is about finding what works for you.
For meditation, the goal is to practice being still and listening to that quiet voice inside. Still may mean a walking meditation for you, while others sit in a chair. Listening may mean a guided meditation, or quietly tapping into the spirit. Meditation changes day to day and over time. As a clinician, it is about finding the quiet space within that allows for meeting the client where they are today, keeping our expectations grounded, and practicing gratitude.
Recovery is recognizing we only have control over our actions at this moment. It is practicing acceptance. Mirroring this is important for our own health and ultimately translates into our work with clients. Are we accepting that a client may have an aggressive form of substance use disorder? Are we accepting that recurrence does not mean a client does not care or want to try to get better? Are we accepting that policies and procedures can be frustrating, but do not need to command all of our time and energy? Are we able to take a personal inventory and let go of the resentment so that we may be fully present and in the moment for this important work? Mirroring recovery is being willing to say that just for today I will put in the effort and let go of the outcome, choosing to let go of fear and resentment. It is suiting up and showing up.
Recovery is honesty. It is painful to watch people with a chronic, progressive disease often die. We can easily feel lonely, isolated, or overwhelmed, but the more we allow ourselves to be who we are and bring that to our work, the more clients trust the process. This does not mean using clients for our therapeutic benefit, but it does mean we do not have to be perfect. Progress, not perfection, allows for the journey of ourselves and others.
Recovery in the TreatmentSetting
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines 4 major dimensions of recovery (Table). How can we use recovery as a lens of potential to see what is going right and build on that? We must use language that is respectful and fosters growth versus stagnation. Recovery is based on healthy principles, sprinkled with paradoxes. It is not only important to be aware of the principles but to know when and where to use each principle. Recovery is not venting, although that helps sometimes. Mentors can guide you toward growth during hard times so that you can pass what you have learned on to others.
How do we incorporate these ideas into our treatment practices? Each day that a client chooses to show up to treatment, how is that honored? Are we focusing on reprimanding clients when they do not come, or do we take the time to reflect and celebrate the positive choices they have made? Is the environment a place you would want to come to daily? Or is it rushed, hurried, and focused only on what needs to be collected and maintained for our purposes? Let’s face it, it is challenging—the pace is fast, the needs are high, and the demands quite rigorous. Yet, when we take the time to develop a proper environment for recovery, the entire system shifts for both clients and staff alike.
Are our agencies, group rooms, and individual offices a stable and safe space? Are they inviting? Do they feel like home? Budgets, time, staffing—whatever the barrier, we need to take a step back and think about what it may feel like as a client when your life is in shambles, and you have mustered the courage to come in for treatment. Today, at this moment, how can we send the message: “We all struggle in one way or another, you are worth it, and I’ll walk with you. Not above, not below, but by your side.” That’s recovery.
Revisiting Your “Why”
Have you revisited your “why” lately? Why did you come into the field? What was your purpose? Has it changed, developed?
Recovery is a marathon. You do not arrive, you grow ongoingly. Where can you find purpose and growth opportunities today in this amazing, colorful community of individuals in recovery, focusing on just doing the next right thing at this moment?
You do amazing work every day. Pat yourself on the back for all you have done and continue to do. Find gratitude for what is going well and commit to doing your best and then let go of the rest. Above all, remember to keep it simple and be kind to yourself and others as we trudge the road to recovery.
Ms Voegtle is the Director of clinical programming at TryCycle Data Systems, Inc. Ms Dolan is the CEO of Dolan Research International.