Why Discovery is a Better Word Than Recovery

By Juliet Elisabeth 08/04/16

The problem with recovery is it’s an action that has a beginning and an end. Discovery, however, is a lifelong process. 

Why Discovery is a Better Word Than Recovery
via author

Recovery is defined as returning to a normal state of health or getting back what was once lost. Logically, taking away a person’s drug may leave you with the same person who started taking drugs in the first place, unless they have changed their relationship and thoughts about using drugs and wanting to quit. This process of change is more like Discovery, not a Recovery. Ending addiction involves learning how to deal with life without drugs and alcohol taking over your life.

I remember watching Maury Povich’s “Scared Straight” segments on TV after school as a teenager, where I first discovered how using drugs and drinking can ruin your life. They put the teenage girls in orange jumpsuits while real prison inmates hurled negative slurs at them, insisted they were not tough, they were babies, they were losers. Young egos were being smashed to pieces and no one questioned the method used. It never occurred to them that bad behavior is often the result of feeling powerless and trying to regain control.

Maia Szalavitz once wrote: Adopting an addict identity is especially problematic for young people whose identities are not yet fully formed. Doing so may make what may well be a transient problem into a longterm one, by teaching them that addiction is inevitably chronic and relapsing. This is why people in constant states of discovery are going to be at an advantage to people in constant states of recovery.

Fellow blogger Laura Silverman (founder of The Sobriety Collective) does not drink. On a Facebook post over the 4th of July weekend at a friend’s wedding, Silverman explained she ordered a “ginger beer” and was accidentally handed a “bourbon-laced cocktail” that she immediately recognized as being alcoholic. Her thought process showcases the action of discovery: How one thought can lead to a better thought and a better outcome:

I then proceeded to freak out. Part of me liked it. Part of me thought it would be so easy to have another sip and another. But the bigger part of me, the 96.7% part of me, immediately gave it back, demanded what I asked for, told her I was in recovery and how the hell did she hear "The Mule" when I asked her for a ginger beer!?

Silverman’s abject anger and then resolve to demand a nonalcoholic beverage is the essence of discovering new ways to deal with problems. Discovering new ways to cope; isn’t that the essence of “recovery” in a nutshell?

In my comment to her post I commended her for proving she’s not totally powerless; she discovered this through putting her thoughts into action just like a scientist discovers a new way to solve a problem through experimentation.

I’m in my mid-thirties now and have discovered my identity is constantly shifting and evolving. I used to hate olives and anchovies, now I love them. The first year after I stopped attending AA (to run a Secular Organizations for Recovery meeting) I could not talk to 12-step friends of mine without arguing. Now, many of them are supportive of harm reduction locally. Partially because we are witnessing our state of Ohio go through a massive heroin crisis where one community reported 19 overdoses in one day.

More families have learned through experience the “tough love” approach has backfired on their children, which leads them to search for alternatives to traditional treatment.

Consider the case of harm reduction advocate Ellen Sousares (not her real name) whose son “suffered near fatal overdoses in dark stairwells and public restrooms as he cycled between rehabs, jail and the streets.” Counselors warned of her enabling her son, who after a year in jail went back to using heroin. During that year, however, Sousares discovered harm reduction and was able to better help her son:

Handing my son naloxone didn't prevent him from shooting heroin that night, nor did it result in an overdose reversal, but its effect was powerful nonetheless. He began to trust that I was no longer judging, but trying to understand and show him support. He talked with me more openly about his experiences than he ever had in the past.

Within a week he asked for help, sincerely—and on his own terms. He chose to pursue medication-assisted treatment, which has saved his life.

The fact that a mainstream magazine like Woman’s Day would publish Sousares’ story means more families are going to discover what harm reduction is and how naloxone and medically assisted treatment is not enabling, it’s the humane thing to do. Personally, even I’ve discovered that the near-decade I spent struggling with 12-step meetings was not a complete waste of time. Although since 2012 I’ve adapted a harm reduction approach to my drinking, thanks to the HAMS program, today I am seeing increasing attention to important issues discussed in AA:

Whether it is before, during, or after a meeting when inappropriate or possibly predatory behavior is seen, who's responsibility is it to say something? Aren't we all responsible to the newcomer? Aren't we all equally responsible for male and female newcomers regardless of sexual orientation, sexual preference, the color of their skin, their religious or political affiliations? - Leslie E. 

A "Live and Let Live" attitude works in many situations, but a woman coming through our doors, devastated by alcohol, should be free to give her whole self to recovery rather than having to devote a large part of her time and attention to warding off sexual harassment. - Jody K.

The problem with recovery is it’s an action that has a beginning and an end and should not be a lifelong process. Discovery, however, is a lifelong process. We never stop learning. Eventually, we have to stop recovering.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.