In the world of addiction, there are two terms used to discuss the self-work one must do: Sobriety and Recovery. Sobriety speaks to the abstinence of the act of using substances. Generally, this is the first goal of substance abuse treatment, and an essential one. Substances cloud our minds, affecting our judgement, our emotions and our perspective. Use prevents us from holding employment, maintaining relationships and caring for our basic needs. Cessation of use is integral to regulating all systems of the body, allowing our brains to return to higher levels of functioning, preparing us to manage life post-addiction. However, sobriety, by itself, is not the only work of treatment. To stop at abstinence is to neglect addressing the reasons behind why our use began in the first place.
Recovery is the lifestyle we build to maintain our sobriety. In recovery, we investigate the circumstances behind our use, discover the contributors to our pain and create space in which to experience and honor, fully, the depths of the dark places we avoided in addiction. We work to discover the parts of ourselves we can appreciate and to accept the parts we don’t yet love. When we are living in recovery, we intentionally create connection so that the inevitable ups and downs of our lives are witnessed, held tenderly or celebrated by people who love us, so that we don’t do life alone. We tell on ourselves in meetings, in therapy or to family members with whom we have rebuilt the trust our addiction destroyed, so that we do not, in our shame, return to dark nights of the soul with drink and drug in hand. In recovery, we embrace authentic experience of being fully human, feeling joy, pain, boredom, complacency, victory and defeat in turn, and often simultaneously.
In short, sobriety is a choice we make daily, and recovery is the action through which we actively live out that choice. While we must choose both sobriety and recovery daily, we can have sobriety without living in recovery. Sobriety is short lived when it is not followed by intentionally building a life in recovery which sustains us as we face life on life’s terms.