Progress in Recovery
"We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." Alcoholics Anonymous
When your body is hurt it takes a certain amount of time to heal. Everyday, if you take care of yourself, you get a little healthier. Recovery from addiction also takes a certain amount of time. Depending on the seriousness of the addiction, recovery can take years. This is a bitter disappointment to many recovering addicts, because many of them want to get well overnight or at that very moment they recognize their problem. I call this attitude magical thinking─the idea that our fairy god mother is going to whisk her magic wand and suddenly transform us.
Unfortunately, recovery does not happen overnight. It is a slow, tedious process fraught with many pitfalls. It also includes some pain. However, unlike the pain suffered by the practicing addict, the pain of recovery leads somewhere. It is the pain of growth and it leads to happiness and freedom.
Making changes is a process that goes through various stages. For addicts, the first stage is knowledge or awareness─recognizing their addictive patterns. The next stage is implementing new ways of handling situations. This will happen slowly and require a lot of practice.
First recovering addicts will notice distorted behavior, thoughts, and values in hindsight. Then they will try to correct their mistakes. Later they will start recognizing addictive patterns as they are occurring, but they will still be unable to restrain themselves. Eventually, addicts are able to put a halt to their addictive patterns in mid-stride and finally there will come a time when they see the distorted thoughts and behavior coming on, and find new ways of handling the situation. When this happens a new skill has been learned, a skill which can now be practiced and integrated into the recovering addict's life.
This is the beginning of recovery. The temptation to act out addictively is identified and suppressed. Then a new skill is implemented and the recovering addict becomes stronger. This newfound strength brings on a surge of confidence, which in turn energizes addicts and makes it easier for them to practice even more self-restraint.
In later stages of recovery, non-addictive behavior becomes habitual, and this successful behavior modification contributes to an inner transformation taking place within the recovering addict. Suddenly, there is a wealth of newly acquired self-respect which pushes aside that sense of powerlessness. Fears subside, and a sense of happiness and freedom become readily apparent. It is as if the recovering addict has been reborn.
Changing not only takes time, recovering addicts will also go through this process with one issue after another. Just as they get one addictive behavior under control there will be something new to deal with. Therefore, addicts must be patient with themselves, and look for signs of progress, not perfection.
It is not my intention to discourage recovering addicts by pointing out that getting healthier takes a long time. I just believe it is better to understand how long the process takes, and courageously accept this, than to give up trying because there is no miraculous recovery. Addiction is a powerful and insidious disorder. It springs from childhood trauma that at best can only be transcended, not reversed, and healing takes time. Therefore, I encourage love addicts to be patient with themselves and always remain optimistic.