As an addictions specialist, one of the questions I often ask myself is:
WHO is recovery for?
It’s for myself as someone who has a substance use disorder, for my family as they have been affected by it, for my community… and it is also for future generations, as I don’t believe we will ever eradicate addiction as it is.
Let me explain. One of the issues I’ve had with some of the approaches to recovery is that they can be out-dated – and not based on current research and evidence – which harms rather than aids how we approach people who come to us for help. For example, in 12-step rooms, when we use and rely solely on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, do we do this out of respect for tradition or do we do it because it allows people to understand their disease? Some would argue it is both, that the language and some of its lessons are as applicable today as they were in the last century and that there’s no need to reinvent the proverbial wheel. It has helped thousands – millions? – of alcoholics the argument has it; it is perfect as it is.
But is it? I wonder how someone born 20-30 years ago, someone who grew up after the feminist movement revolutionized academic institutions, someone who was born in the age of the Internet, interprets the book. I’ve been to meetings when people have laughed about the infamous “To the Wives” chapter, but many will claim it is still has useful and relevant information – you just have to adapt it to your situation and you’re fine. I know there are Big-Book study groups (and meetings) that help to interpret the text (I ran one earlier in my sobriety) that might be hard to understand for some, and I support that, but at the same time, wouldn’t it be easier if we supplemented that book with many other outstanding readings that are out there? The way it tends to be sometimes, the Big Book is like the Bible, revered and untouchable with its fans getting upset if you ever question its archaic language.
I have no way of knowing intuitively what it’s like to be 25 in the today’s world, but I can’t imagine reading that text and feeling like it’s relatable. And if you don’t treat it seriously, if it’s something you end up just rolling your eyes at and laughing, then how is it going to help? Thankfully, 12-step meetings are attended by various age groups and hopefully, those of us who can’t get behind the traditional approach can find people who are like-minded in theirs and who can steer them toward more current, relevant readings and lessons of recovery.
Another issue with some of the classic models of recovery is its acceptance – or rather lack of acceptance – of substances that relieve symptoms of opioid addiction (Suboxone, Methadone) and that help many recover via that route. Most of us attending 12-step meetings are not doctors and should have no opinion on how someone is managing their sobriety. Not all sobriety equals abstinence. Sometimes, abstinence is impossible, at least for a while. Not everyone is ready – physiologically, psychologically – to recover on those old-school terms that a person quits entirely in order to qualify as someone who’s in recovery. I say that we need to update the idea of Recovery for the new generation – you’re in recovery if you say you are and if you are actively doing things that will help you get healthier. How you get there is via your own individual path, and we cannot sweep everyone’s addiction under the same rug. It doesn’t work that way.
Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash.
Is harm-reduction recovery? Why not? People who adhere to harm reduction model should have a right to attend 12-step meetings, too. After all, the only requirement for membership is a DESIRE to stop drinking/ using. We cannot drive a hard bargain of that’s-how-it-always-was when it comes to people and their substance use disorder because as everything else in this world, our understanding of addiction, too, evolves and changes and we need to be prepared to change along with it. Modern medicine is different from what it was a hundred years ago and so is every technology – why we can’t apply the same open-mind when it comes to addiction baffles me, but we must, otherwise we will lose many people to this disease that’s manageable and can be arrested in a person completely… once the judgement and out-dated rules are removed and re-examined.
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