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What is Recovery?

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Rise Up Recovery’s mission is to provide “recovery services that empower people to rise up into a meaningful new life through the development of impactful connections with God, community, and self.” One of the methods Rise Up Recovery uses to achieve this mission is Peer Recovery Support Services. This method is shared by other recovery organizations, such as Bold North Recovery and Refocus Recovery. In this article, I am thinking about what recovery means. After all, it is in the name!

I recognize that recovery has a unique and special meaning to folks in recovery. And those meanings can change from season to season and from person to person. But not everybody has such a personal idea of what recovery is. My goal is to offer a perspective that both an ally, one who supports folks in recovery but is not in recovery themselves, and a recovery peer can understand and appreciate.

As it turns out, there are two main ideas of what recovery is, and they somewhat contradict each other. The first idea, given to us by Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel’s article What is Recovery? is that recovery is a “voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” Let’s call this idea “external” recovery because it’s marked by an external lifestyle. The second idea defines recovery more as a frame of mind, that is, recovery is the desire to be in recovery. Patricia Deegan said in her article Recovery: The Lived Experience of Rehab, “Recovery is the urge, the wrestle, the resurrection.” Let’s call this idea for recovery “internal,” because it’s marked by an internal desire, or urge, to be in recovery.

Let’s think a little bit about each definition for recovery. The external recovery looks at how a person in recovery maintains a lifestyle of voluntary sobriety, personal health, and citizenship. This means that a person has chosen to be sober for a particular amount of time, while also staying healthy and developing their identity in their community. An example of this would be somebody who is healthy and active, participates in sober softball, and has been sober for even just a few weeks. A problem with “external” recovery is that when one relapses, they would not be considered in recovery.

The second idea, the “internal” recovery, is marked by the heart. If a friend relapsed, but still desired to live a life free of addiction, they would still be considered in recovery. Internal recovery is the urge to be in recovery. Because of its focus on the heart, or motivation of a person, it might be a little more difficult to figure out exactly when one enters recovery. But here, length of time is less important. The moment one desires to be free of addiction is the moment that person enters recovery. For example, I could be a LIFE magazine subscriber because I like the idea of reading LIFE, but never actually read LIFE. My subscription membership does not go away if I don’t read the magazine. Of course, the problem with this “internal” recovery idea is that the desire to be in recovery should result in an external lifestyle change.

I am not trying to build a different definition for recovery that sits between “internal” and “external” recovery. That’s a topic I’m not prepared to go into. But there is a beautiful similarity between both ideas of recovery and the Christian faith. When we talk about recovery, we’re specifically talking about recovery from addiction to alcohol and other substances. But we could also talk about recovery from a lifestyle of sin.

When I think about recovery as an internal, or heart issue, I think of 1 John 1:8-9, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Just as the person who desires to be free from addiction must first recognize their addiction, so must we first recognize our own sins before coming to the Lord with our sins. And the Lord forgives us of our sins and makes us righteous! The act of God that makes us righteous after we ask for forgiveness is called justification. This means that our relationship with God, which was twisted due to sin, has been made right. We are seen a holy and righteous in the eyes of God.

But being justified is only part of it. Paul speaks about us becoming a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” And as a new creation with a new life, we are free from sin, and our lifestyle should reflect this. Over time, we can expect the Holy Spirit to work in us, making us more like Christ. This idea is called sanctification. This isn’t to say that a Christian will never sin again. “We all stumble in many ways,” said James, specifically speaking about the words we say. But we should expect our new lives to bear the fruits of the spirit.

In conclusion, recovery happens both internally and externally. Recovery begins with that desire to be free from addiction. Maybe you haven’t been free from addiction for very long, or maybe you still struggle with addiction. The first step in recovery is recognizing the need to be in recovery, and the work of living life comes afterward. And if you relapsed, you are not alone, and you’re still in recovery! Recovery is a process that takes time. Just as sanctification is a process of the Holy Spirit to make us more holy. If you are a believer in Christ and in recovery, recovery and salvation might be one and the same.

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