Every once in awhile a member of one of my drug and alcohol recovery groups will ask why I’ve chosen a profession involving addicts. They know I’m not in recovery myself, and sometimes they get curious as to what the motivation is to work with them. I often share that I’m passionate about watching people change their lives- and when it comes to true recovery, no change is more evident. I share with them that when I first became a therapist I facilitated a group for women in recovery who had lost custody of their young children; and how that experience shaped my understanding of the ugly grasp with which an addiction can take hold of someone. I share how over the last 13 years my clients (both in individual and group sessions) have been my greatest teachers about addiction. And I share with them how I truly enjoy them as people.
Conversely, I’m sometimes asked questions about my job or addiction from various family, friends, and acquaintances who have little to no contact with those walking the line of sobriety. I’m always happy to relate my experiences and to educate anyone about the process of addiction and recovery because I believe it is this knowledge that leads to greater compassion and meaningful solutions. It is my great hope that more and more people will become familiar with the challenges faced by those striving to abstain from all mood altering substances. To that end I thought I would share a small portion of what I have learned about recovery from those who have taught me the most.
If I could summarize all I’ve learned about a true recovery lifestyle in one word it would be ‘humility.’ I’ve had many clients who have been court ordered to services, but until someone is ready (and able) to admit they have a problem, no help will be had. In fact, the first step of the Twelve Steps of AA/NA is admitting powerlessness over the addiction, and admitting life has become unmanageable. This step is incredibly difficult-but also incredibly freeing. This is the step that sets the stage for turning over one’s will and acknowledging the need for something bigger than the “self” to restore sanity and life. It is this step which sets the precedence for the rest of recovery, for humility is key in every aspect along the way.
Throughout treatment and all the following years, one has to admit they don’t “know it all,” and continuously be open to feedback from others about their faults and character defects. To truly make it in recovery, one needs to remain open to learning, and be able to take responsibility for mistakes. And let’s not forget about being able to ask for help when it is needed; to reach out to supports when life is hard, and to be honest about what you’re feeling when you feel it. All of this takes an insane amount of humility and hard work, and serves as a reminder that recovery is so much more than stopping the actual substance. It truly is a lifestyle and an opportunity to live deeper and richer than ever before.
The truth is, I see the need for myself to put into practice everything ever discussed in my groups or individual sessions. And while I absolutely acknowledge my need for a Savior (because I could never in a thousand lifetimes have a righteousness of my own that would merit standing in the presence of a holy God), I know I need to practice daily humility in admitting my faults, weaknesses, and struggles. I need to stay open to what others have to teach me and recognize that I don’t know it all. Without a doubt I need to ask for help way more often than I currently do- and to let myself be truly known by others.
I am so grateful for the years I’ve spent in rooms and around tables learning these hard lessons alongside my clients. At the end of the day, my biggest takeaway from my job is a reminder that I need to continuously practice humility and stay connected in my relationships with family, friends, and most importantly, God. I’ve learned that although I may not be in recovery from substances, I certainly have my share of stuff to work on- and in that way, we’re all in this together.