What recovery means to me

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

Image of the blog post "What recovery means to me" on Tikvah Lake Recovery

In a word, recovery means to me: everything.

In two words: my life. Adding another word to that: living my life.

Then in a sentence: having two children born in recovery and being able to give them unconditional love and my all in every way.

In another sentence: being in a unique and privileged position to help others who are presently still suffering with their mental health including addictions.

This is because as someone who has been where they are now in some manner – and been fortunate enough to have been given the grace to have found a way out – I can reach them in a way that someone cannot who’s not been there. This is similar for anyone who’s in recovery now.

This is due to connection, which is one of the aspects behind many mental health problems including addictions. Many people struggling today say they feel disconnected, alienated and isolated. They feel lonely in the sense they can feel alone even in a crowded room of friends.

I think this is another huge incentive to get into recovery: that you can not only get your life back and have a life beyond your wildest dreams, but that you can help others too.

This is important as it gives meaning. When we have meaning in our life we know happiness.

As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) wrote in his bestselling book Man’s Search For Meaning. “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy’. Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”

What is recovery?

If you look up the dictionary definition it’s something like: “the process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty; the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

This is what recovery is then – to recover something we once had. But then my own experience – which comes from working at recovery in a disciplined manner since January 2002 one day at a time – is that we gain something so much more.

It is something that we never would have got without finding recovery. For me it rings true as Dante wrote in his narrative poem The Divine Comedy more than 500 years ago: the only way to paradise is through hell.

The first thing I remember when I discovered recovery was hope. That was substantial, because until then I had felt increasingly utterly confused and hopeless.

A party animal gone wrong

My story ended up with me reaching blackout usually a few times a week for around a decade. With what I clearly see now as a major lack of self-awareness and self-love also came anxiety and other burgeoning mental health problems.

In 2001 I had what I call my rock-bottom year. It was hideous and I ended up sleeping on friend’s sofas until they kicked me out, in an entirely dysfunctional on-off relationship, unemployable and eventually without any sense of self or hope. 

I’d given up on pretty much everything, even giving up on giving up. I’d reached the jumping-off point.

At that time I had no inkling whatsoever that any of this could be anything to do with me. I just thought I was a party animal who was getting extremely unlucky – and that bad luck started to involve hospitals and the police.

Thankfully I had a friend who’d been in recovery from drink and drug addiction who steered me in the right direction at the right time and just in time. In January 2002 I started the 12 Steps recovery program.

Now with some wisdom that I’ve earned from many years of successful continual recovery I am fortunate enough to have a mentor who’s been a psychotherapist for 25 years. He’s also 35 years free from drink and drugs and an anxiety disorder that saw him trapped in his home for years.

As he helps me I also help others. All of this I still think is momentous.

As addiction and other mental health issues nearly always get progressively worse so too recovery gets progressively better. I start every single day with immense gratitude for this.

How is recovery in the beginning?

Everyone takes their own journey of course. So recovery can be very different.

But one thing I’ve seen that’s quite normal at the start of recovery is that people often want to know how recovery is going to work. I asked exactly that: what is it that will help me here?

I recall someone who’d been in recovery for some years saying: “Don’t worry about that as the important thing is just to get well at first. Or you’ll stay in a dark, dismal and dangerous place.”

He went on to say that I needed to think of it as if I was getting rescued from a plane crash, and the plane was just about to explode. He quite rightly said that I wouldn’t be asking questions such as: how are you going to get me out of this mess; how exactly will that work; are you completely sure…?

He was right. The essential thing was to get out of the wreck and get as far away as possible as swiftly as possible.

Focus on the hope that rises when someone is there to help you out. The most important thing of all to know is that: recovery works if you work at it.

Later I gained an understanding of how it works. But only because I wanted to out of my own interest.

But the fact is I could still know this new life of recovery without even understanding why it works. No one really needs to understand the intricacies.

At the start, recovery might seem strange as the mental and emotional fog lifts. There may be many new emotions if the recovery is from an addiction that has been trying to push these down or totally numb them.

This is why recovery is not something that can be done alone. Recovery needs guidance from someone who knows about it.

One other thing I recall in early recovery is feeling the smile muscles in my face actually start to work again…

What are the key characteristics for recovery?

To my mind recovery is about taking the journey inside ourselves to deal with why we are drinking or drugging excessively, why we feel anxiety and depression or whatever is the dis-ease inside us. This might seem, to put it mildly, a daunting prospect.

It’s one reason why people talk about people needing a rock bottom, or that emotionally breaking down can be a waking up. Although it’s not requisite it certainly does push some people to a strong recovery when they are finally sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

I think to have the best chance of the most swift, successful and enduring recovery is to have the following essential qualities:

  • Humility.
  • Open-mindedness.
  • Honesty.
  • Courage.
  • Dedication and desire.
  • Self-discipline.

If somebody doesn’t think they have some or any of these, that’s not unusual. The fact is that nobody comes bouncing happily into recovery. Most often, people feel desperate, crushed and with little confidence or self-esteem.

But it’s this pain that brings them to recovery by getting their attention. It is the “gift of desperation”.

These positive qualities or character traits are in all of us. But frequently people coming into recovery will need some help and encouragement to realize it.

Recovery will then build them up so that any adversity can be faced.

But how does recovery work? 

It works because it is no use just putting down the drink or drugs without gaining an understanding of why the drink and drugs.

Addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté says for example that everyone he’s ever seen with an addiction was suffering from trauma. The addiction was their way of trying to deal with the overwhelming pain caused by the trauma. 

So in recovery we all at some point need to know, as Dr Maté says: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.” 

So events or situations in life that have shaped someone can be looked at. This often means going back to childhood days – and it includes trauma, toxic shame and a failure of love.

More often than not there are also reasons for such as anxiety or depression or other mental health problems. By shining a light on them and then doing basic daily recovery maintenance – such as starting every day with meditation and connecting every week with others in recovery – these debilitating conditions will go away and stay away.

Even if they do threaten to come back, then you’ve got them in your sights and you can learn recovery tools to keep them at bay. Then that leaves more time and energy for doing helpful and enjoyable things in life.

Soon the right path for you becomes increasingly more clear and easier to go along.

Recovery is life-transforming and life-saving

There are many major benefits to recovery. Some of these are not only life-transforming but they are life-saving.

Some positive aspects of recovery that you can experience in the first few weeks are:

  • A growing feeling of hope.
  • A sense of freedom that builds.
  • Increasingly less mood swings.
  • The ability to live in the now.
  • Some peace of mind.
  • More energy.
  • More time.
  • A mind that functions more efficiently and rationally.
  • Better sleep.
  • Physical benefits such as to the heart and liver.
  • Better complexion, hair and general looks.
  • More money (by beating an addiction and/or having more time and energy and a better state of mind for work).
  • A gaining of self-love and self-esteem.
  • Self-confidence will grow.
  • Spiritual growth.
  • Relationships and overall connection with other people will improve.
  • Less drama in life.
  • Life will open up again to let in new and more varied experiences, such as rekindling or starting a new hobby.

Many people come into recovery because they’re desperate to stop drinking or taking drugs or they have just had enough of feeling depressed or anxious or suffering in some way. Many also come because they are quite simply terrified and have run out of ideas of what else they can do.

Without a doubt it takes great courage to ask for help. But the results can be astounding for someone and all those around who love them.

We have seen this in a great many people who thought there was no chance for them or someone they cared about. Our team of experts has great experience in helping people with all types of mental illness and addiction, including behavioral addictions.

We always listen carefully before offering effective proven personalized treatment options. Our stunning natural setting beside a beautiful peaceful lake in our luxury house is ideal for recovery.

We’d love to help you or someone you care about get into recovery. Contact us for a confidential chat today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment