It is common conversation in the communities of 12-step recovery that sobriety and recovery are two very different things. To those of us in recovery, it is fairly easy to distinguish one from the other, and the relative quality of life that accompanies both. To the uninformed family member of an addict, however, confusion often arises at the idea that there is some difference between these two concepts. It has been, in my experience, extremely helpful for the families themselves, and the interactions with these families, to provide clarity around this topic, so that they can better understand and support the recovery of their loved one.
Many details that separate recovery from sobriety may be up for dispute when talking with one person in recovery or another, but there are some very clear and widespread differences that are agreed on by virtually all parties in the 12-step recovery community. As I see it, the primary difference between sobriety and recovery is the institution of a program of recovery into one’s life. What does “working a program” look like, one might ask? True recovery is rooted in the implementation of spiritual principles into the everyday affairs individuals in recovery, such as honesty, integrity, humility, and acceptance, to name a few. I have heard stories of individuals who ceased the use of drugs and alcohol but did not do anything to amend the behaviors that accompanied the lifestyle of substance abuse. Things like stealing, lying, and cheating are regularly exhibited by sober individuals, whose lives have changed for the better and are no longer at as great of danger, but these behaviors are arguably just as damaging to the individual as were the substances, and often lead individuals in sobriety back to active addiction. So how does one transition into recovery from sobriety and implement a “program” into their daily lives? Those of us involved in 12-step recovery have found a way to do so by immersing ourselves in these communities and by working the 12-steps. This simple but profound difference between sobriety and recovery manifests a life worth living and an indescribable freedom, never before experienced by most all of the addicts and alcoholics entering recovery.
I believe that it is important to clarify here that sobriety is an amazing accomplishment, even if just for one day, and I do not intend to arraign individuals not involved in 12-step recovery in any way, shape, or form. I do, however, have experience being sober without any program of recovery in my life and the misery experienced by these conditions drove me back to my drug of choice in short order. I hope that this message reaches an individual new to recovery or their family member, so that they can avoid the pitfalls to which I endured in my past. Recovery is an amazing journey that starts with sobriety, so continue growing and engage yourselves in this life-changing process!!
-Colin Tardif