What is recovery and how do I get it?

Anyone who has struggled with addiction and alcoholism knows how much that hurts. But they also know that if they stop drinking and using, they often feel even worse. All the feelings and fears that they’ve been using drugs to escape from come back, stronger than ever.

Recovery is a path to being clean, sober and happy. If you’re still in active addiction, this may sound impossible, but have faith. Millions of people have walked this path before you.

If you want to get into recovery, here are a few simple suggestions on where to start:

  1. Stop drinking and using—safely. This is scary, but necessary. In order to really experience the benefits of recovery, you need to be clean and sober. Quitting most substances cold turkey is unpleasant, but generally safe. However, I strongly suggest working with a doctor—it’s always a good idea, and can provide a gentler and more supportive detox experience.

    If you’ve been heavily using certain drugs, specifically any benzodiazepines or alcohol, it is really important that you receive a proper medical detox. Detoxing off these on your own can be dangerous or even fatal.
  2. Consider treatment. Inpatient or outpatient treatment programs are a great option if you want to get clean. A typical inpatient program lasts 30-90 days, during which you’ll go through detox, regular therapy, attend twelve-step or other recovery meetings, and live with other people who want to recover. Outpatient treatment means you live at home, but spend several hours a day at the treatment center.

    Treatment can be expensive, but increasingly covered by insurance. It’s a great way to establish a strong support structure during the beginning of your recovery. It means that you don’t have to go through detox on your own, and will have people by your side to help you stick with it. Treatment can also help you learn more about what it means to live a sober life.
  3. Check out a recovery group. If treatment isn’t an option (or even if it is), one of the first things you should do is check out a recovery group. In most places, this means AA or NA, although other twelve-step groups like CA or MA are also popular and international. Refuge Recovery offers a Buddhist-based alternative to twelve-step groups, and is increasingly widespread as well.

    Recovery groups can show you how to find peace and joy, clean. They are free, and offer a concrete program for living a sober life. There will be lots of people there who can help you along the way.

    If you’re wondering how to start going to a recovery group, don’t worry. It’s really simple. You can find a list of local meetings online, or by calling the group’s central office in your city or town. Pick a meeting that’s close to you, and just show up.

    You won’t be the only new person. Everybody feels uncomfortable when they first start going. That’s okay. Just keep showing up regularly. Sooner than you think, you’ll start to feel at home.
  4. Find a spiritual practice. Almost all recovery groups suggest you develop some sort of spiritual practice. It’s a way to feel more connected and at peace with yourself and the universe around you. A spiritual practice can be meditation, prayer, walks in nature—anything that helps you quiet your mind a little and be in your body. It can be religious, or not. The important thing is to pick one you like, and stick with it. Don’t worry about doing it right or perfectly, just do it.

Asking for help and finding a supportive community are common threads here. It’s really hard to get clean by yourself. It’s pretty much impossible to really recover without the love and support of others. 

If you don’t want to go to treatment or go to a recovery group, find a community you do want to be a part of. Do your best to be honest, loving and helpful to others. Reach out for help when you need it. Whether you call them a sponsor, a priest, a therapist or a friend, find someone you trust with your deepest fears and secrets, and share them. The more you open yourself up, the more freedom you’ll find.

Joan Borsten