Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Language of Recovery

A lot of our patients and their families wonder why we recommend that all of our patients get help from professional therapists and attend "12-step" meetings.

Learning to get into recovery and stay in recovery is just like learning a whole new language. Those who actively use drugs and alcohol are accustomed to their old ways; they know where to go, how to use, who to hang out with, etc. Using is a way of life--a dysfunctional culture--that no longer fits with a life of recovery. It calls for a complete change.

Recovery is a new world. There are new people to meet, new places to visit and a whole new language of different words and expressions. There are even new ways to view the world. Recovering addicts begin to think about living "one day at a time," honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. They think about "accepting the things that we can't change, and changing the things that we can."

If you want to learn Spanish, it will not be very helpful to sit at home or to go about your usual activities and hope that you just might pick it up. You could read some books on your own, but that wouldn't be very effective either. The smartest thing to do is to hire a teacher who knows the language and knows how to teach it. Even better: join a group class, where there are other students learning at the same time.

Just like a language teacher, an addiction therapist has already mastered the language of recovery and how to teach it. The therapist knows how and why it all works. S/He can teach you the material in proper succession and how to build on the knowledge you already have. A therapist can even see some of the bad habits (like denial or rationalization) that you may be developing and can't see in yourself. Of course, the therapist also motivates and offers encouragement for progress with the new language.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are free, 12-step support groups for people practicing the recovery language. Like a mixed-level language course, there are some who have been practicing for many years and are very proficient. There are also others who are new and just starting. As you listen to the others in the group, you pick up on new ideas and new ways to stay in recovery. You will also have fun as the recovery process becomes more real and natural for you. Just like a language group, recovering people get together and practice their recovery in 12-step support groups. Some find it helpful to get together for an hour every day (especially in the beginning) while others only go a couple of times per week.

So, if you are just starting out on your recovery, take advantage of two things. One, get a teacher (therapist) who can dramatically speed up your learning/recovery. Two, join a 12-step support group and have some fun being around other people who love their new way of life. Remember that this new language is very much like any other language--it becomes second nature--and any chance of going back to that old, using life becomes very unlikely.

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