People in recovery are not fundamentally different from the rest of the world. We grapple with the same questions that unsettle every member of the human race: What does this whole ‘life’ thing mean? Who am I? What is my purpose? What is happiness?
One of the most common misconceptions about recovery is that, in order to qualify, you simply must put down drugs and alcohol. Nothing could be further from the truth. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol is sobriety. Recovery, on the other hand, means recovering who you are.
For most newcomers who walk through the door of a drug rehab center, sobriety is their primary aim. They believe if they can only stop using drugs and alcohol, life will be wonderful. This is the other prevalent misconception about recovery. The term “substance use disorder” implies that the drugs and alcohol themselves are the problem. Unfortunately, that is not the case. At its core, addiction is not a problem specific to drugs and alcohol, it’s a thinking problem. Having a substance use disorder means that your thoughts are dis-ordered and, consequently, you seek drugs and alcohol to create an illusionary sense of order – or to mask over feelings of unmanageability. Newcomers are often dismayed to learn that drug rehab is not a quick fix. Addiction treatment teaches you how to change your thinking but, once you leave, you must continue the strategies you learn. If you fail to execute these strategies by way of consistent action, your thinking will revert to dis-order.
The simple answer to the question of, “what’s next?” is that one must maintain a program of action on his or her recovery pathway of choice. But this answer fails to do justice to the true definition of recovery. It neglects the part of the process where we “recover” the true essence of who we are. It neglects to address those aforementioned questions that unite us as human beings: Who am I? What gives life meaning? What am I here to do?
The founding partners of the Process Recovery Center are passionate about highlighting this forgotten – and essential – part of the recovery journey. Founding member, Justin Etling, together with Executive Director, Nicole White, focus a weekly radio show – broadcast on WSMN 1590 Nashua – on the importance of these questions.
On their most recent show, Nicole posed the question, “how do you take on the responsibilities of life and maintain being in a process of self-development with a full plate?” In other words, how do you avoid getting distracted by everyday life? These distractions can manifest as environmental factors such as marriage, children, and career, but also as internal challenges such as procrastination or self-pity. Nicole inquired, if “the drugs aren’t the major issue in our lives… how are we…staying on this path?” What happens, as Justin pointed out, “when the excitement wears off?”
Nicole and Justin both emphasized the importance of meditation. “It’s the only thing that really is working for me,” Nicole acknowledged. Justin concurred, noting that meditation is as important as eating, sleeping, and breathing. But why?
“We’re supposed to be getting back to the true essence of who we are,” Justin explained. “[Meditation is] a lost tool in our society…For me, today, to maintain that knowing [of ‘I’m okay’], I need to do certain things to stay in a healthy frame of mind, to stay nourished. For me, today, meditation, positive affirmations, mantras, deep breath work sessions…I do a bunch of stuff outside of just the realm of the recovery fellowship. The recovery fellowships teach us to do this: leave here and deepen your spiritual wellbeing…Recovery fellowships…teach people to broaden their minds to other things”.
“At this point, if somebody asked, ‘what’s your hobby?’ – this stuff is my hobby,” Nicole continued. Nicole recounted a conversation during which someone asked, “is your life really that bad that you feel you have to do this stuff all the time?”
“No, no, no,” she answered. “It’s actually the opposite. For me, it’s not that I have all these things wrong with me, it’s really…getting to who I already am. Because life, and all the things that happen, they can block [that]. It’s not because I have all these things wrong with me that I am committed to this work, it’s really just because that light inside of me already exists. I’m just trying to get a better connection with it. It’s a bold notion to believe that true freedom lives in knowing you are already whole and you are already okay. It’s the human mind that wants to force us out of what we already know to be true”.
“It creates more light in you,” Justin agreed, “and it shines light on the rest of your life. Many people live life in a stressful manner, they’re dealing with life. They’re not living and enjoying life…Stress is the greatest cause of all sickness”.
“‘What makes us happy?’ is a deep question for a lot of people as we move along in this process. To me, this is next. Go deeper. Jack Canfield teaches that one hour of spiritual work equals eight hours of physical labor. As you start to do more spiritual work, it can change the whole direction of your life. Recovery is the spiritual expression of who you are. It equates to path, purpose, and happiness. Everyone is different, but you figure that out through spiritual things. The joy is really in the journey”.
A newcomer or stranger to recovery might wonder: “But when does it end? Where is there room for contentment?” Perhaps this a human question. After all, the recovery process puts us on equal footing with the rest of the world. “I think about that from time to time,” Process case manager, Eddie Behenna, mused. “We strive to be grateful for the things we have and separate the needs from the wants. But if we are constantly looking to “better our lives”…are we ever content with the present?”
Meditation is a practice through which one can both honor the present and positively visualize the future. But the trick is to be mindful of the line between spirituality and ego. The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi reads: “For it is by self-forgetting that one finds”.
Process clinician, Jennifer Harrington, puts this abstract concept into perspective:
“When the ego takes over and the practice of self-improvement and search for spirituality become a narcissistic venture, this is too much. Spirituality, in my understanding, is a connection with Universal “oneness,” meaning that there’s a connection and identification with others from a sense of compassion. It’s a grounded-ness and the foundation of gratitude. True spiritual connection is a felt sense: it’s peace, it’s love, it’s connection. When this quest becomes too much, whether in self or someone else, it feels chaotic; it’s anxiety; it’s fear; it’s ego and disconnection. When spirituality and self-improvement are integrated into a practice in one’s life, there’s a flow. You don’t need to talk about the “you” in it”.
So, what’s next? Not just for people in recovery…but for every person who confronts these heavy existential questions? Maybe the answer is simply continued connection. Maybe it’s returning to center – or “the light,” as Nicole calls it – over and over – and rediscovering an awareness of our place in the Universal fabric; a place from which we can better manifest compassion. Perhaps self-improvement and spirituality are not characterized by the pursuit of more…but by the reclamation of what already exists.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Use Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.