What Is Addiction Recovery Success?
Despite statistics, which would have you believe otherwise, the fact is that an overwhelming majority of treatment centers have terrible records in helping people achieve long-term success. I know this to be true as I have completed numerous treatment protocols and have firsthand knowledge of the staggering rates of relapse by witnessing my fellow patients. One particularly noteworthy example; I was a patient at a very prestigious east coast facility for 3 months in a unit with 30 males. Three of them were sober a year later. I am certain that this particular treatment center does not advertise a 10% success rate. I am also certain that they have no idea of their true rate of success. It follows that this case is not isolated but rather is reflective of the treatment industry as a whole. In actuality 10% may be higher than average because of the prominence of that particular facility.
What Does “Success” Really Mean?
Regardless of the empirical data, one must call into question the meaning of “success” in substance abuse treatment and recovery in general. If you were to defer to the statistics alone you would be led to believe that success is complete abstinence from your drug of choice or in some cases all mind altering substances for some period of time. One year of abstinence seems to be the benchmark, rooted in the premise that a person remaining abstinent for a year has a good chance of remaining abstinent for life. In this line of reasoning success is clear cut. Remain abstinent for a year and you have succeeded. Use during this period and you have failed. Since the vast majority wind up using at some point after treatment, have they all failed? Taken in the traditional context they have. Taking this success premise a step further, no matter how long a person has remained abstinent from their addictive behaviors, or what they may have accomplished in their lives during that time, they are failures if they use. The traditional recovery community supports this assertion. If you relapse, it does not matter what else you may have accomplished during your abstinence; you must now start over discarding all of your life’s lessons, experiences, growth, gains and losses, to take on your new role as a loser. Anyone who has experienced this firsthand knows that it is completely demoralizing.
This definition of addiction recovery success can be so upsetting that it can actually exacerbate what may have been an isolated event into a prolonged relapse. We buy into the failure and step into the shame role, which puts us right on the triangle of personal disempowerment. We become the perpetrator and the victim, and we look to be rescued. We’ve let down ourselves, our loved ones, again. Because we feel so badly that we used, we spiral deeper into our cycle of self destruction. However, in the traditional recovery paradigm, through painstaking work, we can identify our character defects, recommit to powerlessness, and eventually feel better about ourselves. But for how long? Whatever was lurking in our subconscious mind that caused us to relapse is still in there, only masked by our diligent recovery efforts.
The true failure here is buying into the myth that we are losers and need to start from scratch all over again. By way of example, if you were driving across the country and your car broke down 2/3 of the way there; would you have to start the trip again from square one? Of course not; you would evaluate the problem and take appropriate action to get back on the road. You may be a bit behind schedule, but you would resume the trip from the place you broke down. Why is relapse any different? It is different because we have culturally bought into the stigma and the drama that comes with the myth. It serves as a big distraction and is another way we can remain trapped.
The mainstream view of relapse actually creates a big back door, or put another way, an excuse to not look deeper at ourselves.
Rather than look at the real underlying causes, which may be subtle, we are told that we are victims of self-will run riot and otherwise marred with character defects. A popular phrase in recovery states that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result. Why not apply this wisdom beyond drinking or using? Why can’t we see the insanity in missing or glossing over the underlying cause of our relapse and that our relapse is trying to tell us something about ourselves? More specifically, relapse can be seen as an indicator that there is still something out of balance in our lives. Viewed in this light, it can be an amazing gift on our path toward living a life in personal truth; a message from God that there is something in our lives that needs our attention.
If we actually take the approach to go deeper, we will likely find that our relapse was not caused by some glaring character defect, but by ignoring one of those subtle things that has been slowly eating away at us. We would find that our relapse was our wake up call to step more powerfully into who we really are. The more we grow and evolve, the more we must be accountable to our inner voice, and loyal to our personal truth. The clearer we become, the more we must pay attention to and act upon our inner guidance; our intuition. This is the path of true addiction recovery success, self discovery and connection. This is the path of success.
Judging Addiction Recovery Success by the Way You Walk in the World
True empowerment means we take every situation and learn from it. Success is not based on how many times you fall, but how many times you get up and what you learned in the process. Accordingly, it is time to stop gauging success or failure simply by the number of days of abstinence, but by the way you walk in the world.