The Most Important Thing About Your Recovery is Knowing What Recovery is Not

Want to know how to recover well? Begin with what NOT to do.


What is recovery to you? You may define it as quitting: drinking, smoking, drugs. Or not feeling: depressed, anxious or angry. Or not being: compelled to behave in self-destructive ways. Or making amends.

However you define it, your recovery is personal. You may need different things in your recovery than the next person needs. Considering what recovery is not might make you see yourself, and your recovery differently.

How not to recover?

Attending more seminars or the right meetings. Having a bookshelf full of recovery books. Filling your life with activity or being busy, because one of the most important things you will do is think for yourself.

Filling your  life with activity, exercise, shopping, work or other forms of doing instead of getting honest about yourself.

Think that it is just about the drugs, the alcohol, the food, the sex, the depression, the anxiety or the trauma.

How not to recover? Getting everything right.

Getting everything right. Containing your mess or being put together. Fretting that you do not have your shit together. If writers can write “shitty first drafts” then your recovery can and should feel shitty once in a while.

Taking a pill to feel better.

Feeling better every day. Yes you will have days when you feel better and other days when you feel really good, but you will have an equal amount of days where you feel nothing and even days when you feel terrible.

Never feeling sad, gloomy, depressed, moody, anxious or fearful.

Putting an end to the negative voices once and for all. Making life-changing decisions that will make everything better. Making the one decision that will put you on the track to being more successful or together.

Recalling every bad thing that you have ever done to someone or to yourself.

Being hard on yourself. Pointing out your flaws. Putting yourself down. Analyzing all of your thoughts and decisions. Needing to have a bad-ass recovery story.  Comparing yourself to other people and putting down your story.

Always knowing what to do. Always being available, because sometimes the most important word you can say is “No.” Having to respond to others immediately. Needing other people to be happy with you or your decisions.

How not to recover?

Giving grace to other people for their mistakes, but forgetting to cut yourself some slack.

Agonizing. Over. The. Right. Thing. To. Do.

Being perfect. Getting things right. Doing the right things. Thinking right. Being right. Needing the right time. Being in therapy with the right therapist, the right treatment group, or the right curriculum. Knowing what to say when you go to therapy, or participating in a group.

Thinking that recovery begins when you start treatment, instead of giving yourself credit for quitting smoking on your own, or cutting back on drinking before you ever talked to a Counsellor.

Putting off the small things. Having to be ready to make big changes before you start.

Letting things scare you away from making decisions. Allowing excuses to get the best of your time, your energy, your attention. Holding inner debates over whether you have made the right decision. Figuring out all the reasons why you started using or drinking. Understanding why your depression was triggered this time or why your anxiety has returned again because most times, your emotions are a gift.

Doing things on your own: you need your doctor, people who support you, a mental health support team.

How not to recover? Always knowing what to do. Always being available, because sometimes the most important word you can say is “No.”

Thinking that you have got this, because sometimes even being well along in your recovery means that you need to go back to the basics.

Having to figure out your childhood.

Having to hit ‘bottom.’ Waiting until you are ready for things to go right in your life, for you to experience enough success, or enough failure.

Just accepting, because sometimes you need to get angry.

Trying to be an inspiration instead of being inspired.

How not to recover?

Constantly telling yourself that you have nothing to say to other people, that your story sucks, or that you cannot help another person.

Reminding yourself of the negative things that people have said to you, instead of reminding yourself of your reasons to change. Believe that you shouldn’t have any doubts, because even priests and minsters doubt once in a while.

Neglecting yourself, your gifts, what you love to do. Complaining about how life has been so difficult.

Wasting time envying others for how easy their recovery looks, for how far they are along in their life, or for how they have made something of themselves. Keeping your eyes on other people instead of seeing what is special about you and what you bring to the world.

How not to recover?

Needing to take the right medication.

Having to find the right friends, instead of investing time in being your own friend.  Spending more time with your online community (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) than with the people who you can see and talk to. Getting the right recovery app for your phone.

Having to have enough time to get things done the way you want. Having to be in control. Needing to do it like your friend, your uncle, or your parents.

Waiting until you are ready to quit everything: the drinking, the drugs, the smoking, the overeating, the reckless lifestyle. Having to be bad enough to quit.

How not to recover? Having to find the right friends, instead of investing time in being your own friend.

Avoiding people. Being afraid of strangers.

Having the right partner, the right spouse or the right relationship with your kids. Getting down on yourself because your kids have followed in your footsteps and are making the same decisions that you made when you were their age.

Waiting for vacation so you have the time to think or time to do the work. Waiting for vacation to be over before you begin.

Waiting until you get negative medical news before you make changes. Waiting, because when you wait you lose today… and today is all that you have.


If you enjoyed this article, you will want to check out some of my other writing:

Recovery and Why the Best Parts of Your Story are the Sh**y Parts

Do You Hate Yourself for Being Like Your Parents?

In Recovery: Your Destination is Not Your Destiny

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.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by J Stimp

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