You Are In Recovery If You Say You Are

One of the most radical notions CCAR adopted in our early years is “you are in recovery if you say you are”. It is one of CCAR’s five foundational principles. Yet, this idea still spurs disbelief, contempt and even ridicule. Let me relay how CCAR embraced this; hopefully I can counter the most common disagreements.

Back in 1999, as Associate Director, I was part of the early formation of CCAR. People from the recovery community met about once a month (on a Saturday) for a full day of organizational planning. Over several months and under the leadership of Executive Director Bob Savage and the skilled facilitation of Jim Wuelfing, CCAR developed a vision, a mission and organizational guidelines.

We held many discussions about CCAR membership; often they were tabled to the next session. There were stout opinions expressed by passionate people. However, the membership topic paled in comparison to another one – the definition of recovery. We were called the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, so it was imperative that we come to some common ground on how we defined recovery.

We argued about abstinence. We fought about medication. Methadone debates flared. We threw marijuana maintenance on the table. We fired questions across the room. What about family members? What about allies? Jim used all his considerable facilitation skills to keep the room manageable.

The turning point came when someone introduced Tradition 3 from Alcoholics Anonymous.

“The only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking.”

Who determines if an AA member has a desire? The person. Someone from the planning group then offered.

“So… you’re in recovery if you say you are.”

Silence settled over the room. We thought about it. There was no more argument. We had found our answer. It’s up to the individual. This was the beginning of a CCAR fundamental concept that the individual is the best resource on their recovery. We had yet to put it into those words. That would come years later.

At the time, we also discussed the idea that people are allowed to “work their own program” within 12 Step programs. People had flexibility within the 12 Step structure. CCAR carried the flexibility to a larger construct – the desire to embrace all forms of recovery. We described it as a large tent that could encompass us all. Again, we planted a seed for another powerful principle – multiple pathways of recovery. This has served CCAR well over the years.

Not everyone agrees. Some people think that allowing an individual to determine their own recovery status is dangerous. Reading through some volatile comments on social media, I detected narrow mindedness. If a person did not adhere to a specific demarcation of recovery, if they do not abide by the rules of their club, then they are not in recovery and therefore invite devastation. In essence, people with this mindset exile those who believe differently.

I am not in alignment with that idea. I believe I cannot define another person’s recovery. I know what works for me. I am not sure that what works for me would work for someone else. I may observe a person’s behavior and say to myself – I wouldn’t do that. In my role as a coach, I can share my observance and offer suggestions. I am curious. I offer encouragement. I ask questions.

“How’s that working for you?”

And does it really matter if recovery is not precisely defined? Recovery is not threatened by anything. It stands alone.

I have come to believe that recovery is not black and white. Recovery often takes root and thrives in the gray area. I discovered the wonder of the gray area while facilitating a workshop many years ago titled “12 Steps and Religion – Adversaries, Strangers or Friends?” There were some men with decades of time in Alcoholics Anonymous and two women who claimed decades of recovery as well. The eyes of the women beamed with spiritual light. They ran a ministry for the addicted and homeless out of their church. They oozed care, compassion and hope. The led lives of service. Yet the old-timers from AA said these women were not in recovery because they did not attend meetings. I got to practice my facilitation skills for that discussion.

But my eyes were opened. I had to take a look at my own narrow mind. I believed there was only one path, one way, one pathway – the one I was on. And through introspection, my self-built walls collapsed. Recovery was so much more expansive than I thought. Perhaps, being somewhat new in recovery (12 years), I protected and defended the program that saved me, Alcoholics Anonymous. I realize today I operated out of fear. I was afraid any pathway other than AA was a threat to me; when in reality, it was not. As I mature in my recovery, my fear of other pathways abates. Today, I am supportive, and curious, about any pathway that helps people recover.

I believe, to the very depth of my soul, that you are in recovery if you say you are.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

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 all that time alone with my Creator, 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 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 a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.

23 thoughts on “You Are In Recovery If You Say You Are”

  1. Well said. Agree that this is the most controversial principle in the RC curriculum. When participants come to recognize that their personal recovery is not only not threatened by embracing multiple other pathways but deepened by the freedom of allowing another individual choice, I often find this to be the turning point in their enlightenment. It is here that they grow the most and feel most empowered and excited to work with others in support of their recovery – whatever that looks like. ~ Lori Drescher, CARC, RCP, Rochester, NY

  2. You are so right on with this blog. “You are in recovery when you say you are” is so very profound. I am a person in long term recovery and a part of 12 step recovery and recognize it is my pathway and I am “comfortable” with that. I am not threatened by someone else’s pathway just as they should not be threatened by mine. We get to celebrate “RECOVERY” not the “pathway”.

  3. Good, Phil. Very good.
    I must admit that I was a “nightmare” in my RCA (about five years ago) when I first heard this belief, I could not get pass my own understanding of MY experience. NOW that we are RCA Trainers and have hosted about 10 Academys, we have found that one of the most challenging topics for the Coaches is this one. My husband, VonZell was more accepting of this idea from the beginning and help me to really see that I needed a paradigm shift in my thinking, and my mind definitely needed opened. AN OPEN MIND – not a bad concept. Now this very experience helps me to help others!

  4. Agreed! I need to define what recovery means for me and then do my best to show up in alignment with that. That’s my journey of recovery. I learned in AA that it’s not my business what others think of me. Well it’s not my business to define someone else’s recovery journey. When I learned this idea in CCAR training, I felt so relieved and my coaching clients are always surprised ( and also relieved) when I share this idea.

  5. Thank you Phil for sharing your insight as to what recovery means to you & how words can be interpreted in as many ways as there are people. I Have found The 12 Traditions of AA a really excellent source of clarification for many different situations that have come up for me. I am grateful to have them as my guidelines for living life with understanding & compassion. Thanks for sharing your story & for the reminder that each of us gets to choose our path.

  6. Right Click, I love it! On my journey into recovery, I have learned that my bout with drinking was situational, although heavy, it was situational and even though my goal is not abstinence anymore, I am still in recovery from life :)! I think of the 12 steps as my “magical 12 steps to living.” I am a coach and I absolutely love exploring recovery pathways and I have tried many pathways of recovery including SMART, WRAP, several 12 step venues (AA, DRA, EA, Alanon), individual and group therapy, Dance Movement Therapy, Reiki, school, engaging in life, Students For Recovery, and probably other pathways that I cannot think of right now. I no longer work AA, but I do work Alanon and instead of having a “sobriety date” I have a “recovery date.” AA taught me how to live and Alanon teaches me how to stay in my lane. Today, I can find peace within the storm and I know how to handle things that used to baffle me. I tell my story to peers and I let them know what worked/works for me and then I say “now, let’s find your path.” Being a coach is, like, the best job ever!, for me. Thanx for your post, Right Click, I thoroughly enjoyed reading and responding!

  7. Since my first Experience with CCAR in 2014, my definition of recovery has been challenged and expanded with each exposure. Most recently at a CCAR “Ethical Considerations” course, my previously dim view of MAT was dramatically changed by a 21 year old “green kid” (I’m 59) with 9 months sobriety (i’m sober 13 years) when he explained to me how he segregates the MAT portion of his clients treatment to 15% of their recovery and focuses the remaining 85% to “how’s the rest of your life going? Job?, relationships? Housing? etc.” That may have been the most valuable, unintended take-away i’ve received from CCAR.
    Kudos to you and your team for broadening the definition of Recovery.

  8. As a relentless CCAR and recovery advocate I fully support the statement, “you are in recovery if you say you are’. What strikes me is that any debate of that statement can continue to support the stigma associated with addiction. Take for example those fighting or recovering from a cancer diagnosis. Modern medicine and healing use approaches well beyond typical medical treatment to support cancer recovery. Approaches like Reiki, spirituality, meditation and positive thinking are commonplace. People with stage 4 cancer are known to recover. Imagine telling someone fighting or recovering from cancer that they are not fighting or in recovery regardless of how they are approaching their illness.

  9. Phil –
    Taking the Recovery Coach class with you was one of the best experiences of my life & where as I always enjoy the posts you put out – this time Reiki Girl’s comment was EXACTLY what I needed to read!!

    I have struggled with “where do I belong” on the recovery chain for a very long time. I have spent years beating myself up over not knowing where I fit. I have gotten several certifications for Integrative Nutrition, Yoga & Recovery coach & am currently working towards yoga therapist … and all the while never gave myself the credit for how far I have come. Thanks to 12 step programs & the recovery community I have learned I dont have to fit – I just have to be who I am, do the next right thing & trust my higher power. If faith is bigger than fear – everything will be ok.

    Hi – I am Jackie, a person in recovery. I am my own qualifier. I consider my recovery date to be September 14, 2015 – when I surrendered & found help in the rooms.

    Peace, Love & Gratitude <3

  10. Cheryl Martinson

    This a a wonderful attitude, and many more people could be helped if this kind of open-mindedness and forward thinking was the norm.

  11. Emerita Ramirez

    I am a person in long term recovery 24 years. I transitioned from clinical approach 19 years all modalities and as of 3 1/2 years ago became CRPA and now Family Peer Advocate and I can’t explain the experiences I am witnessing and living with this approach. Recovery Rebirth is my motto. Thank you for all you guys do.

  12. “ People are in recovery when they say they are” means that anyone can decide if and when and why they are in recovery , no matter what they are using or acting like. But saying you’re in recovery is really the first step in getting the help you need.

    1. That is a fantastic way to put it. Saying you are in recovery exposes the desire to improve and change. That desire is fundamental and indeed entirely aligned with Tradition 3 of AA “The only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking.” With that desire, as you say, you are in recovery. Period. Thanks

  13. Greg Schrumpf

    My heroin addiction started in early 1970’s. Now that I look back my entrance into recovery (when I realized that I had a problem) was 10-15 years later. It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s, after a good 10 years in jails and drug programs (the old ones!) that I found holistic healing. During a 3 day Shamanic retreat that included Holotropic Breathwork I was able to unload decades worth of painful experiences that started when I was a kid. I lived the following 20 years in relative cooperation with the world I relapsed about 10 years ago and am coming up on 9 years clean and sober. I am and will always be in recovery, I am still learning how to better live in harmony with humanity. I am so grateful to be on this side of that road that words are hard to find. Alan Watts said that “God plays peek-a-boo!” When you least expect it he just shows up! I am glad to be around when he does.

  14. This idea , once again empowers the person to manifest their commitment to their recovery by saying it first. I AM IN RECOVERY BECAUSE I SAID I AM. There is power in those words and as one continues to say this a shift happens in one’s mind or heart. And it’s only natural that it starts to tug at one’s core. Which starts the belief process that one is indeed in recovery. There might be many who will always disagree with this. Which might show their lack of understanding. But it truly gives the person in recovery the space and guidance that one needs in the beginning in order to move forward and be in a position and space to embrace the more demanding pathways to recovery. The empowerment that is granted to our brothers and sisters in the beginning will propel one to want to finally get this right. Thank u for ur information and inspiration.

    1. looking forward to sharing my experience strength and hope. Also I’m looking forward to active listening to better help the client.

      1. Michael Yochim

        My sponsor “Chet” , God Rest His Soul with over 40 years sober before leaving this world would say… Mike -when it comes to recovery WHAT WORKS FOR ME MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU!

  15. I always thought there was only one way my way. I than saw how my life was drowning until I heard about AA and giving back what was so freely given to me. I’m now in recovery because I do the work.

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