By Larry VanderPlaats, LMSW, CAAC
Addiction is a disease. Recovery is a process of spiritual and emotional growth that begins with acquiring abstinence and regaining physical health. It continues with rebuilding a life of mutually trusting relationships with family, friends and community.
Recovery always begins with some form of crisis or an accumulation of crises that eventually collapses our denial system. This brings us to the admission that we have become unable to solve this problem on our own. Addiction is, as Alcoholics Anonymous refers to it; “…cunning, baffling and powerful, without help it is too much for us.”
As a recovering addict myself, the admission of loss of control brings us to the action stage of recovery and the need to take a risk. We must begin trusting others and ask for help. This is difficult for the addict to do because we have been hiding our shame with the delusion that we have been in control of our life. We have been manipulating people, places and things in a self-centered manner to maintain our addiction. Now we must surrender that control.
This simple act of taking a risk and asking for help is the beginning of spiritual and emotional health. The fellowship and kinship that develops, almost immediately, by connecting to others who have a like purpose is very powerful to the addict. We now have a resource to help us deal with cravings, and to assist us in our personal growth and problem solving.
Addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes, so we don’t take this risk just once. We must maintain continual contact with this higher power and manage our addiction with a new method. It is grounded in a belief that life must be lived on life’s terms, one day at a time with direction from others. This is foundational to recovery.
Living this form of a disciplined, daily recovery program does not mean that life will suddenly be wonderful. It does mean peace of mind and serenity in the face of both joy and adversity. The addict will find a new freedom and happiness in relationships. It means that self-seeking will go away. It offers hope, a connection to community and renewed health.
These are not false claims. Recovering addicts will tell the skeptical new comer with conviction in their voice to keep coming back, and it will get better. And it does. You can see the change in their faces and witness it in their daily lives. You can literally observe an addict being restored to sanity. I have seen it countless times as a clinician.
Recovery can be for everyone. All you have to do is be humble and ask for it with honesty, open mindedness and willingness. That work is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Recovery continues with an ongoing reliance on a disciplined program of personal growth and a commitment to help others.
Larry VanderPlaats, LMSW, CAAC, is a licensed master of social work and is also a certified advanced addictions counselor with 29 years of experience treating addictions in both residential and outpatient settings. He currently serves as the Grand Rapids regional director of outpatient services and as the substance abuse service coordinator for Pine Rest’s professional practice group. Pine Rest provides a continuum of addiction services, for more information call 1-866-852-4001.