Addiction Doctor had a must-read post recently about understanding recovery and its relationship to other problems. (Or, more accurately, their absence.) We often refer to some of this a recovery literacy:
Recently I had a conversation with a colleague who asked for a recommendation for a therapist for one of his patients with addiction who was having family problems. I responded by asking how vigorous of a recovery program she was working?… My colleague doesn’t see the difference between being in recovery from an illness and working an addiction recovery program.
Recovery, as the word is used in 12-step fellowships, means a great deal more than going to meetings and not using. It involves work and so is most spoken of as “working a recovery program.”
He goes on to discuss the “not god-ness” of AA:
The first thing that generally happens is that the person stops trusting the thinking that got them into trouble. They start to uncenter themselves as the driving force in their life and start opening up to others. They start to gain friends and fellows whom they trust and with whom they gain trust by being honest on a consistent basis. They have many methods to deal with day to day feelings and start to trust the universe that things will work out now that they aren’t running the show. They stop being afraid of things and can face their challenges honestly.
Most of those benefits are spiritual. There is a calm that comes with acceptance of how the world works. When we are running the show, there’s a constant fear that we’ll mess up or that someone will figure out that we can’t do it. We’re alone and isolated, spending our energy to erect and maintain a false self that we present to the world. When we are working a recovery program, we can relax, because we aren’t running the show. We don’t have to be afraid of others or the universe. It doesn’t mean that we’ll get our way or that everything will work out well, just that we’ll stop making things worse. We find that the world isn’t nearly so scary when we aren’t at the wheel.
Finally, he describes the neurobiology of recovery (emphasis mine):
There are neurobiological benefits as well, especially for the person with addiction. When we are running the show and feeling isolated or afraid of being found out, we actually lose dopamine receptors. We feel less of our brain’s own dopamine. Working a recovery program literally makes us feel better. That’s why people in recovery don’t use drugs or compulsive behaviors; not because it’s wrong, but because they don’t need to. In addition, studies have shown a lot of other health benefits of a spiritual life from less brain loss with age to lower blood pressure.