Long-Term Recovery: After many years of recovery, years of working the steps, working with sponsors, doing service and being assisted by “outside help”—therapy, spiritual direction and recovery conferences—I had the experience of coming “Out of the Woods.”
It actually felt like that. Other’s have described this as “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” or as feeling that the wild swings of the recovery pendulum had slowed to graceful arcs. Whatever the metaphor, we know that recovery changes over time. It changes in the first two years, then in the next three years and then a subtle but significant change happens after ten years.
The period of coming out of the woods is a big accomplishment but surprisingly this is not an easy stage. But it’s important to remember that it is in fact a stage. With stabilization of recovery can also come a sense of distance from the urgency and crisis feeling of early recovery. We wonder if we’re bad or wrong. People in the rooms may ask, “Where are all the old timers”? When we hear that we might doubt ourselves.
The newcomer might be surprised to learn that we “Old Timers” still have problems and struggles. We still continue to learn about ourselves with each year. A changed life brings changed issues. But the good news is that we are also able to see the things that happen to us with just a tiny bit more perspective. By the time we reach double-digit recovery most of us have had at least one or two experiences of something we were sure wasn’t supposed to happen. And in many cases we have the experience of finding that these turn out to be spiritual lessons or stepping-stones to something really great.
Most of us in “double-digit” recovery discover that the 12 steps and a program of recovery are part of a good life but that even these do not protect us from illness, job troubles, problems with kids and family, all manner of loss. Real life happens to us. In fact life can hit harder-simply because we are older—we do keep aging as our recovery continues. That’s something many of us had not anticipated. That is a kind of denial common to most people in and out of the rooms. We also know that not having painkillers—the chemical or the human kind– leaves us a bit more raw so we have to use recovery tools more diligently.
What people in long term recovery do have however is a set of skills and a richness of sober experience to fall back on. We are able to recognize our patterns; we are able to cut through our defenses sooner; and we learn not to fight the inevitable. In some ways life gets easier but in other ways it gets harder. If we have learned in recovery to face reality and accept what life brings sooner, we are then able to surrender when we see the wall coming instead of waiting, as we did in the past, to slam into it.
Long recovery gives us a good toolkit and we keep on building.
Diane Cameron is a writer and teacher and speaker about recovery and personal growth. She writes about long-term recovery on her blog at: www.Womeninrecovery.blogspot.com