“Recovery” has Changed, and Here is What You Need to Know About it


This new definition will make you rethink your recovery.


Recovery. It means something different to each person.

It can be physical recovery. Emotional. Spiritual. Social. Financial and economic. Or technological. More likely, it will mean all of these to you.

Websters reflects the many sides of recovery in its definition: recovery is a return to normal, regaining what was lost, an increase in business, or restoring your hard drive. It may be spontaneous, planned or more likely, a little of both.

What does recovery mean to you?

The definition of recovery changed in 2012, but you probably didn’t hear about it. How come? Change is hard and changing the definition of recovery could change how we see the industry of recovery and the 12 Step movement.

Recovery used to mean things like admitting to our powerlessness, confession, a fearless inventory and a commitment to sobriety. It doesn’t mean that anymore.

Recovery is no longer about changing our lives only because of an addiction. It is also for those of us who are recovering our mental health after an illness and for those of us recovering our careers after trauma.

Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. SAMSHA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). 

The definition of recovery changed in 2012, but you probably didn’t hear about it. How come? Change is difficult and changing the definition of recovery could change our perspective on the recovery industry and the 12 Step movement.

How do you know when you are in recovery?

You know you are in recovery if your life begins to show:

  • New energy, being present, hope, a focus on the future, no longer dictated by emotional triggers or turmoil, instead you are learning to make your own decisions, having the support that you need, understanding your illness, and having strategies to cope with your life pressures and demands.

Recovery is the presence of something rather than the absence of something. For example, You begin to engage in healthy relationships, You challenge your anxiety and take responsibility for what you can change, rather than (simply) no longer drinking, being depressed or anxious or facing trauma, or sick. I say “simply,” but I recognize that no longer drinking can take a lifetime of work and commitment, just like any of the other examples that I have listed. We now see that recovery is truly not just about recovery, it is about rediscovery.

Recovery is not just about the drugs. It is not about being in a program, attending a 12-Step or recovery group. It is not just about finding help by attending something or membership in a group. What is recovery about? It is about what is happening in the rest of your life.

12-Step and other recovery groups might be helpful for many people and they can be life-giving. But for many people, they send the message that a person is powerless over drugs or alcohol, defective, without internal resources, in need of a cure. They teach that there is one path to getting clean and that our mental health realities need to wait until we are clean.

Recovery is about seeing things differently. It is forward looking and the result of a new sense of life and energy.

The 10 principles that will help you recover a better life

SAMSHA outlines new principles that may surprise someone who is committed to the 12 steps. The principles are about recovering our lives as opposed to no longer drinking.

  1. Person-driven – it is about you and your needs rather than about what a program, or what other people think you may need. It is self-determined: you make decisions about the person you want to be and the life that you want to live.
  2. Occurs via many pathways – there is not one way to recover, but many ways.
  3. Is holistic – it is about how you think about substances, your health, your relationships, your mind and your future.
  4. Is supported by peers – you need other people who understand what you struggle with.
  5. Is supported through relationships – you can’t do it alone, you need friends and family and coworkers who will walk with you even when they may not get everything you are facing.
  6. Is culturally-based and influenced – it looks different in each culture. You may need cultural or spiritual support that is unique to you and your situation.
  7. Is supported by addressing trauma – you can just never focus on your drinking, your smoking pot, your depression, or your trauma. You need to look at your entire life and plan to address each of your needs. Not every need can be addressed at the same time, but you can, and should consider addressing both your addiction and mental health at the same time. If not, an unaddressed depression may trigger you into a relapse or your over-use of shopping or the internet or pornography may contribute to your mental illness.
  8. Involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility – it is not about your deficits, but instead is about your strengths.
  9. Is based on respect – and assumes that you are a person of worth and dignity.
  10. Emerges from hope – and focused on your future.

Recovery is about four main things:

PURPOSE – You have strengths, a future and a better life that you want to build. Recovery is about what takes the place of alcohol and drugs, rather than just abstaining from the substances. It is about building a new sense of meaning despite a depression that darkens your soul.

You are no longer your illness. And remember, what you focus on grows.

HEALTH – You have relationships and supports that can help you to build a better life. It is about no longer isolating as a result of your mental illness, but building a new life with new connections. You are no longer your illness.

COMMUNITY – You are able to learn how to live the life that you have. You can apply the skills that you already have, and you can gain new skills.

HOME – Your recovery depends on having a home, a family, a place that supports your recovery.

Remember, what you focus on grows. If your attention is on your depression, your trauma, your alcohol, that will grow. Instead, what is happening in the rest of your life? And do you want to change it?

So today, we conclude with a question, “What does recovery mean to you?”

If you enjoyed this article, you will also enjoy How to Change Your Story and Supercharge Your Recovery.

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

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Keep it Real

Photo by Recovery Fair 2010

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