Abstinent and recovering. These two words appear to have the same meaning but they differ substantially when looked at over a long period of time. Abstinence may measure the same as recovery in a urine sample or blood test but the intention, expectations and the long-term durability of the two paths to “legally defined sobriety” are qualitatively quit different.
The abstinent addict is looking for a quick-fix for their problem where the person living in recovery seeks, desires and expects to find a new way of living without the need for any substances (crutches) in their lives. Abstinence may cure back problems (getting your license back, job back, family back) but it does not address the underlying causes of needing a mind-altering substance in the first place. A person seeking true recovery recognizes the truth about themselves, that is, that there was some kind of problem that existed prior to seeking out drugs or alcohol initially.
For the person who was uncomfortable in their own skin to start with, not drinking or drugging does not treat their bigger malady (anxiety, frustration, guilt or despair). The individual who is merely abstinent must go on to face these obstacles long after obtaining their short term goals or getting their stuff back. In short, abstinence is not drinking and feeling bad about it. Recovery is not drinking and felling good about it.
There are a series of “simple to grasp” slogans used within recovery groups designed to get the newcomer through the next day/week/month or whatever short-term goal that particular program has. In all fairness to any counselor/teacher/sponsor these psychological tricks and tips are essential in the first few months of any kind of recovery and there is no practical way around them. The danger for the person in recovery comes when they continue to rely on these “band-aids” permanently and fail to heal the wound.
The limitations and weaknesses of abstinence typically do not show up until sometime later-on in the recovery process, when the now sober mind starts to realize that only a few things get better while most “life challenges” go on. They begin to recognize that most of the slogans they heard were simply not true or were gross exaggerations. One such slogan is; “just don’t drink, go to meetings and life will get better”. Your parole officer might think your life is better but he is looking at the situation from the perspective of a baby-sitter who is responsible for cleaning up your mess. The reality is that if you can’t sleep at night because of worries and fears, your life may in fact get worse and the 4 horseman of the Apocalypse may even move in with you. Peace of mind is a precious commodity to the soul living a sober life. Drugs and alcohol may have been a “rock” comfort-wise, but life without them may prove to be the “hard place” for the person who was caught in the middle and must now choose one side or the other. Now where does he or she find refuge?
A person taught to say the serenity prayer in his or her treatment program is in a better position than someone not familiar with the importance of peace of mind. Serenity is the deluxe edition of sobriety, which includes peace of mind, acceptance and a starting point for meditation. Without serenity, sobriety may not be worth having. True sobriety rides on the coat-tails of serenity. The next time you can’t sleep at night try asking yourself if sobriety is of any help in this particular situation.
Where humility has teaching power, serenity has healing power. That is the power to instill peace of mind. Just because someone was powerless over their drinking or drugging does not mean they have to be powerless over their recovery.