The Truth About Recovery
“Recovery” is a word used often in 12-step programs, referring to “the result” of working through the 12 steps. Many 12 steppers will claim that unless you are a member of the program, having worked the steps as they are laid out in the literature, you shouldn’t use the word. You are not in recovery.
The words “clean” and “sober” seem to also have been adopted by recovering individuals, who have apparently decided their definition is the only one that matters.
Let me be clear about the fact that I found my recovery in a 12-step program. The 12 steps changed my life. I will never speak poorly of the actual 12-step process or denounce 12-step recovery programs. There are however, many things about the herd mentality and blind faith in fallible human beings present in these programs that I don’t agree with.
I did agree, once upon a time, but mostly because I was scared to death not to. I believed many things for which I had no evidence or reasoning, because someone said so. Who said so was irrelevant, and whenever I did question ideals, I was usually advised not to, “…try to rewrite the program.” After all, “it [the program] has been working since 1935.” Never mind the fact that because they are anonymous programs, no records are kept providing statistical information about how many people 12-step recovery programs don’t work for. Don’t ask.
It has been my experience that there are many beliefs present in 12-step programs that trickle down from members with “long term sobriety,” who just know things the rest of us don’t. Loyalty to my program of choice has made it difficult for me to voice concern without feeling tremendously guilty for doubting my saving grace.
I tried for years to take what I needed and leave the rest, but have since come to associate many aspects of 12-step herd mentality with Fight Club. It has been my experience that the first rule of 12-step programming is often: Don’t question 12-step programming, even if something doesn’t make sense to you.
After a “strong suggestion” killed my friend, I became increasing disturbed by how often medical advice is passed around the halls/rooms along with the suggestion that people taking certain medications are not “really clean or sober.”
I quickly learned that questioning what “works,” was my ego or disease trying to talk me out of simple, life saving conformity. It was often suggested that perhaps I was just looking for a reason to drink/use. “Just trust the process, and it will work for you.” Just like fairy dust and Santa Claus, however, those who do not trust in the program 100%, may not get results. Sadly, this will be entirely their fault. We may even pity them because they just “can’t get it.”
I no longer believe that noise. I choose to believe there is hope for everyone, and that we are all entitled to our process in recovery, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. I choose to believe this even though it goes against almost everything I learned within my first ten years of programming.
Instead of changing with the times, and possibly reworking, not the twelve steps, but rather the ways in which we approach and handle addiction, based on new information collected over the years, we blame the addicted. In my opinion, that’s a cop out.
Now, to be fair, this is NOT the voice of actual 12-step recovery, this is the voice of some (not all) of its members. This is the voice of “Sit down and shut up. You have nothing to offer as a newcomer.” This is ego, wrapped in a glorious, shiny cape often labeled, “Old-Timer.” This is regurgitated bullshit, “passed down” from generation to generation, without question.
I believe in the powerful message of personal recovery. I’m all for sharing what has worked for me in hopes others like me might be willing to give it a try. What I am not on board with is shaming people who choose not to do things my way. I don’t agree with feeding into, and further perpetuating, stigma and stereotypes that might shame my friends to literal death. What I don’t support is an addict claiming to be doing “the right thing,” while pointing his or her finger at another addict for not.
The idea that once we’ve reached some sort of milestone in sobriety/recovery, we get a pass to judge how other people get and stay sober is absurd to me.
Opioid addiction kills. PERIOD. I don’t need to be an expert on anything to know that. The evidence is death. Every single day, parents are losing their children to opioid overdose. Children are losing their parents. We’re attending the wakes and funerals of our friends’ and loved ones, agreeing they were far too young to die, and apologizing to their families for their losses – OUR losses.
So, when I scroll through social media and read articles suggesting that people who have found a solution that works for them aren’t doing it right, it hits a nerve. The fact that it has been shared over 10,000 on Facebook invokes fear that someone who already feels shame will just give up. Since the article offers no encouragement, other than to write a check to a treatment facility if you’re taking Suboxone, I worry that those who might have a chance at a better life because of this medication will believe that fact-less bullshit and die before they find recovery.
Yes, the suggestion that everyone using Suboxone is abusing it is bullshit.
There are many people following maintenance programs responsibly, under the care of a physician, living productive lives. Perhaps people assume that because more people aren’t speaking out about their successful use of Suboxone, Methadone, and other medications like them, they don’t work.
I mean, really, where are all these success stories? Why aren’t more people screaming from the rooftops that they’re living proof that these medications work?
Here’s a better question… Why would they?
If association with medication assisted recovery is so clearly frowned upon, if most everyone who is choosing to use a medication as prescribed will just be labeled a failure by the “recovery” community – why would they share this information?
They wouldn’t. They don’t. They just head back to work, regain custody of their children, and move on with their lives. You wouldn’t notice though, because they’re no longer popping up in detox, treatment, incarceration, or overdose statistics.
They’re maintaining their recovery.
Recovery has many faces. It may not be complete abstinence, membership in a 12-step program, or belief in God or prayer. Your recovery may involve all sorts of things I can’t personally relate to or understand, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge your efforts or “should” all over you. I don’t get to decide whether you’re “clean,” “sober,” or “doing the right thing.”
There is no right thing.
There’s no right way to find peace, and there’s no wrong way to stay alive.
We don’t all have the same emotional and mental obstacles, and we don’t get to define recovery for others based on our own experiences. What works for me may never work for you, and that’s okay!
Shaming people to death cannot be the solution.
Here’s the truth about Recovery:
No one owns the rights to it. Everyone is entitled to his or her own process, and no one is doing it better than anyone else.
We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and that’s enough.
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.