Many people talk about recovery without a clear picture of recovery. Certainly it entails abstinence from addiction. Yet recovery is much, much more than this. Recovery is a way of being, seeing, and doing so as to bring joy and fulfillment to our lives.

Some people at AA and NA meetings talk about being in recovery even as they go out during the break to destroy their precious lives with their severe and active nicotine addictions. These people may even look down on someone who is taking a medication for severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings yet is in true recovery from all addictions. Who here is really in recovery? The active addict who is destroying himself, or the person who is abstaining from all self-destructive addictive behaviors and is living a life of love and integrity? We are not in true recovery until we have achieved sobriety from all addictions.

Beyond abstinence, recovery also involves healing and growth. We heal our hearts and minds and repair our lives. We then grow to achieve our full potential to enjoy and contribute to life. What does this lifelong process of transformation look like?

In early recovery, we work to just get sober and stay sober. Some advise getting sober from one addiction at a time, but it is far better to quit all self-destructive addictions either at once or in quick succession. We go to meetings, get treatment, and ask for help. We change our environment and our social network. We go to any lengths to stay clean. We address the stresses that threaten our recovery. We stabilize our lives. We work on managing cravings.

In intermediate middle recovery, we heal and repair both ourselves and our world. We learn how to face and bear pain. We continue to learn basic life skills. This is a time of establishing stable well-being and proper functioning. We learn to face our experience and deal with it instead of seek relief. We begin to see things, especially ourselves,  clearly, without delusion. We develop better judgment, mindful of the consequences of our actions. We shift from contradiction and dishonesty to integrity and honesty. We focus less on taking and more on giving. As shame changes to regret, we begin to transition from self-hatred to self-love. We go from negative and hopeless to grateful and hopeful, from defensive to willing to learn. Unaccountability morphs into accountability. Conflicted disconnection changes to harmonious connection. We transition from the destructive acting out of negative feelings to the constructive resolution of problems. In all these changes, we learn to balance work, love, and play. We develop harmony within ourselves, with others and the world as a whole.

Living is a complex and difficult task. All of these transformations require intentional, patient effort over a lifetime as we learn from our repeated mistakes and learn to manage the uncontrollable.

In later, advanced, or mature recovery, we transition from bearing and minimizing pain to cultivating joy and fulfillment. We do this through loving action. We learn to become fully present to this incredible moment, thereby truly savoring life moment by moment. We also deepen our acceptance of even the most difficult of times. We learn to let go of what we cannot control. We increasingly realize fulfillment in caring for and giving to others. We realize love, peace and joy amidst the storm of life. The pain may be great, but with gratitude and acceptance we learn to bear it all.

Recovery doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it. Fortunately, there are as many ways to work on recovery as there are people. Options include meetings of all types, mentors, therapy, reading, journaling, and daily spiritual practices. Yet several character features exist in everyone’s successful recovery. These character features much be cultivated through spiritual practices such as meditation. They are: commitment, effort, discipline, intentionality, patience, perseverance, faith, hope, support, renunciation, awareness, and interdependence–to name a few of the virtues of character.

From the cultivation of our character we attain peace, joy and love. These are the ultimate fruits of the recovery of a life fully-realized and well-lived.

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