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What Is Long-Term Recovery?

“My name is Steve, and I’m a person in long-term recovery.”

If you’ve ever seen The Anonymous People, or spent time around recovery circles, you’ve heard someone say this. But what does it mean? Obviously, it means abstinence from drugs and alcohol for an extended period of time. But if recovery was as simple as putting down the substances we couldn’t stop using, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, it is hard. Every day, people lose their lives to addiction—whether from overdose, disease from years of abusing the body with chemicals and hard living, or simply accidents when intoxicated, it happens too often. Still others manage to stay sober for a period of time—weeks, months, or even years—only to slip up and relapse, descending even deeper into the depths of addiction. Sadly, not everyone is successful when it comes to recovery. What’s the difference between these people and those who claim to be in long-term recovery?

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What's the Difference?

The difference between recovery and abstinence is that abstinence is a single change—putting down the drugs and alcohol. Everything else remains the same, and if you have any experience with addiction, you’ll know there is always more going on than just some excessive chemical use. There are usually a whole host of underlying problems. On the other hand, recovery changes everything. The people I’ve seen go from hopeless drug and alcohol addiction to leading happy and successful lives in recovery (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them over the years), change nearly everything about themselves and their lives.

Addiction is often discussed as a disease that affects mind, body, and spirit, and my experience shows that to be true. I’ll take it a step further, and say that a complete solution (meaning long-term recovery), addresses problems of mind, body and spirit. Any underlying mental health issues need to be treated. Sometimes it’s simple—leading a healthy lifestyle makes them clear up. Other times, it takes counseling and treatment with medications. The right solution depends on the person.

Healing the body is usually the most straightforward step. In active addiction, we tend not to be the healthiest people, but recovery is the perfect chance to change all that. Eating the right food, getting enough rest, and being physically active work wonders in people’s lives. I’ve seen people in recovery get into the best shape of their lives—and be that much happier for it. The same goes here as well—medical treatment should be taken advantage of when needed.

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Spiritual Healing

The spiritual piece of the puzzle is trickier. Does being spiritually fit mean we need to go to church and start talking to people about God? Definitely not. Of course, religion is an important part of life for many people, and spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, and a relationship with a higher power are common to many in successful long-term recovery. But some people are turned off by this, and that’s fine too. Sometimes, a spiritual solution can be as simple as being a part of something greater than yourself—like a recovery community, a group of people working toward the same goal who influence each other in positive ways. We tend to take the direction of the people around us, so we might as well break away from any negative influences. One of the hardest parts of my own recovery was breaking free of the unhealthy relationships in my life. At the time, it felt like I was abandoning my friends. But looking back now, there’s nothing I would trade for what I’ve been given—the gift of long-term recovery.