No issue causes more contention within communities of recovery than abstinence. Many people believe that if you do not completely abstain from substances, any substances, then you are not in recovery. Some do not. Personally, abstinence serves as the foundation of my recovery established in December of 1987.
What do you believe about abstinence?
Here are a few descriptions of people that all say they are in recovery.
- A 34-year-old woman takes her daily dose of methadone as prescribed. She has been heroin-free and on methadone for the last 4 years.
- A young man, 27 years of age, talks openly about his poly-substance history when drug consumption took over his life. Today, he effectively chairs an All Recovery Meeting and helps many in a collegiate community of recovery. He is mostly abstinent. He openly shares about how on the occasional weekend he climbs a mountain and smokes marijuana – literally a mountaintop experience he describes as spiritual.
- A gentleman, in his mid 60’s, had a 20 bag-per-day heroin habit 35 years ago. He now runs a prominent addiction treatment center. He drinks wine on the weekend.
Would you say any of these folks are in recovery? Or are all of them in recovery?
Does it matter?
Frankly, none of these pathways would work for me. I’ve never taken methadone and don’t see the need to start now. I don’t believe I could use marijuana “recreationally”. So I don’t. When I thruhiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015 I had plenty of opportunities. Today, I don’t believe I could take a single drink of alcohol and survive. So I don’t.
But I can fully support all of these pathways.
Recovery coaches embrace the principle that “you’re in recovery if you say you are”. But it’s a sticking point for many recovery coaches. Remember – alternative practices of recovery do not threaten another one’s recovery. They can co-exist.
It’s imperative that recovery coaches support many pathways of recovery, yet I hear about coaches who believe in only one. Usually, they insist recoverees follow a singular pathway. Most often this refers to abstinence within a 12-Step program. Again, this is my personal pathway.
From the June 1990 AA Grapevine magazine, the editors reprinted this quote titled “Falling Through the Cracks” from Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous Founder (emphasis added).
“. . . Though three hundred thousand did recover in the last twenty-five years, maybe half a million more have walked into our midst, and then out again. No doubt some were too sick to make even a start. Others couldn’t or wouldn’t admit their alcoholism. Still others couldn’t face up to their underlying personality defects. Numbers departed for other reasons. Yet we can’t well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomers themselves. Perhaps a great many didn’t receive the kind and amount of sponsorship they so sorely needed. We didn’t communicate when we might have done so. So we AAs failed them.”
I see a gap that Bill Wilson identified nearly 70 years ago, do you? Maybe recovery coaches are finally stepping into this void.
I also think that young people today are showing us oldtimers new ways that work. They are currently expanding recovery boundaries.
As an aside, it’s my observation, not based on any scientific research, that people are much more defensive of their own pathway of recovery during roughly the first 10 years of recovery. After 10 years, attitudes often soften. Minds become open to alternatives. This certainly rings true for me; therefore I’ve noticed it in others.
No matter what we believe personally, recovery coaches must support multiple pathways of recovery. So… how do we do support other pathways, especially when they go against our intuition? It’s easy.
When we become curious, we suspend our judgment. Here are some useful “tools”… feel free to spin them to suit your situation.
- I don’t know much about that; please tell me.
- I’m curious, how does that help you?
- I wonder how that would work for others… what do you think?
- What’s working well?
- What in your life could go better?
- How do you stay hopeful?
- How can I help you with your recovery today?
- What does recovery look like for you?
The last two might look familiar.
Over the years, I have witnessed many other pathways work for recoverees that would not work for me. This surprised me. I’m grateful my AA sponsor has taught me to remain teachable.
And that’s what makes this work wonder full – seeing people thrive in ways we could not imagine.
In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly. It’s time to write them down.
Phil “Right Click” Valentine