On the morning of September 15th, 2013 (unbeknownst to me), I awoke to the first day of my recovery. I was desperate and determined to leave behind my pattern of self-medicating mental illness symptoms through chaotic substance use. But despite my desire, I didn’t know how or where to start.
A close family member had found their recovery path years earlier. When I called for help, they supported me in the way they had been supported by others; I was taken to the hospital for psychiatric stabilization, then to a residential treatment program. While in treatment, I struggled with the concepts they taught. I didn’t identify as “an addict,” that didn’t resonate—I was just a person who struggled with it all. I began to shut down. After a few days, I left. I knew I needed help, but this was not the right fit for me. This approach had worked for my family member and countless others, but it wasn’t clicking for me.
For many years, my recovery looked like sprints of attempts at being abstinent and an active member of a 12-step fellowship, only to have a recurrence of use and feel like a failure. But it wasn’t until many failed attempts at that pathway of recovery that I was given the opportunity to explore what recovery means to me.
There are no right or wrong ways to enter into recovery or pathways of recovery. I was completely unaware that my pathway into recovery was not a permanent assignment, that I could choose a different path.
There are MULTIPLE PATHWAYS.
People in or seeking recovery may choose their recovery path based on a variety of factors:
- Personal, cultural, spiritual/religious values
- The nature of their relationship with substances or other behaviors
- Personality and preference
- What has worked for them before / what has not worked for them before
“Recovery is an individualized, intentional, dynamic, and relational process involving sustained efforts to improve wellness,” (Ashford et al., 2019). Every humxn being has the ability and right to a self-directed life, including defining recovery for themselves.
I am wholeheartedly grateful for my dynamic recovery journey. I am grateful for someone in my life introducing me to their version of recovery and for the gift of braving my own path. Today, my recovery pathway includes a combination of clinical therapy, pharmacotherapy, yoga, horseback riding, exploring nature with my dogs, journaling, meditation, advocacy work, social support from my friends in recovery, and healthy boundaries in supportive relationships with my loved ones.
~ Michelle R, Senior Peer Recovery Support Specialist
A Few of Our Many Pathways
At WEconnect, we believe that people are in recovery if and when they say they are, no matter what path they take. Here are some stories of how our colleagues found their pathways.
All-Recovery Meetings: All Paths, All Recovery
As the third generation in recovery, my own path began in Al-Anon where I knew I was in the wrong room. It was not long after my Dad began his recovery when I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting while in college in 1979. The rooms of AA became my off-and-on for many years, and was the only path of recovery available at the time. After Hurricane Hugo devastated my city in ’89, I began taking recovery seriously. The next year, I attended my first NA meeting in addition to AA and found my home. I marked my recovery date as 11/4/1994: my 34th birthday, the turning point of my life.
As I worked on my codependency, I attended CoDA meetings in addition to NA for a period of time. When I began working with others as a peer support specialist for mental health and co-occurring disorders, I attended my first National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) meeting in 2015. NAMI has two types of meetings: peer-to-peer and family-to-family, and I have found support for myself and others in both meetings.
In 2014, I discovered all-recovery meetings (ARM). The inclusiveness of all paths of recovery in a safe and friendly environment appeals to me and many others. Our local recovery community organization, FAVOR Grand Strand, has in-person all-recovery meetings, but I have found a comfortable community online with the Zoom meetings of WEconnect. My recovery today consists of attending NA and ARM meetings digitally several times a week, sponsoring others and doing service work in NA, plus a strong support network of others around the world.
~ Dave P, Peer Recovery Support Specialist
Natural Recovery: One Year at a Time
Identifying as an alcoholic or an addict by the Big Book’s terms is not my truth. I am someone who struggled to get sober. And I am someone whose life has been greatly improved because I did. (And while abstinence outside of the Fellowship of AA was the right path for me, I absolutely support all other pathways in recovery!)
I’d been to a handful of AA and NA meetings growing up (when things got particularly intense) so when I went cold turkey for the first time, that felt like the logical route to take. I wanted to work the steps, to be part of that community. But I couldn’t honestly or wholeheartedly take that first step: “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” My substance use existed in a gray area—not the black-and-white definition in 12-step literature. And I refused to identify as powerless. Rather than finding my people in those rooms, I came to feel like an outsider at meetings. That sense of otherness, and a number of other reasons contributed to me not remaining sober the first time.
Several months later, I woke up after a particularly rough night and decided to try again. This time around, I set myself the task of staying sober for one year, with the goal of finally giving up cigarettes in that timeframe. If I didn’t like sobriety, I could go back to drinking after September 5th. If I did, I’d do another year and decide again on the following September 5th. As an overachiever, this goal pushed me; and instead of needing to make the decision one day at a time, I was able to decide one year at a time and otherwise focus on other things.
For those first few months of my sobriety, I went to work and to therapy, but otherwise stayed home. I talked to my roommates. I threw myself into improving my coding skills and building websites, which eventually led to a second career that I love. I had been unhappy with so many aspects of my life but complacent. The emotional rollercoaster of getting sober and facing everything I’d been running from was brutal, but in that process I saw how unhappy I’d been and all the things I needed to change or to tackle head-on.
Recently, another September 5th came and went and for the fourth time, I decided to spend the next year sober. And honestly, with how happy I am with my life now, I expect to be making the same decision for many more to come.
~ Marina S, Marketing Designer & Front End Developer
Harm Reduction: It Works!
A few years ago, I made the very difficult and deeply personal decision to leave the 12-step community. It was a heartbreaking decision due to the many years of friendships and support I received from my peers. On top of that heartbreak was an immense fear born out of a narrative that I would very quickly end up with a syringe in my arm if I were ever to leave the safety of those rooms.
Over the years, I’ve used meditation as a tool for my life—so I leaned on the Buddhist recovery pathway of Recovery Dharma as a way to transition out of the 12-step meetings. Eventually, my struggles to accept the rigidity of an abstinence-based approach (which even Recovery Dharma promotes) left me again seeking what was the next phase of my personal journey.
After hearing about a brand-new meeting taking place in neighboring Massachusetts on my favorite podcast Narcotica, I went with a friend to attend it for the first time. Two minutes into my first Harm Reduction Works meeting, I knew that I had finally found my new “recovery tribe.”
Harm Reduction Works is a scripted mutual aid support group for folx practicing or interested in learning about harm reduction for any reason. The philosophies of this movement have been hugely beneficial to my self-care journey; I have received great joy from hosting a weekly meeting (now on Zoom) since October 2019. We’ve had participants from all over the world share the ways in which the philosophy of harm reduction has improved the quality of their lives and modeled wellness in their communities.
Harm Reduction Works has restored my sense of community and allowed me the space to grow in my recovery process in a way that suits my needs. The format includes guest speakers telling their “Harm Reduction Origin Stories” through videos, podcasts, and articles that feature content that inspires meaningful dialogue around harm reduction. For more information about Harm Reduction Works, go to harmreduction.works.
~ Meghan H, Peer Recovery Support Specialist
12-Step: Peace & Serenity
I’ve been on Methadone, Suboxone, and Trexan. I’ve been Narcanned twice. I’ve lost multiple friends, a boyfriend, and a husband to accidental drug poisonings. I have had huge shotgun blasts of trauma throughout my life created by drugs and alcohol. And yet, I find myself grateful to be who I am.
I’ve been abstinent from all drugs and alcohol since December 28, 2011. And while my life since finding recovery hasn’t been without suffering—as no life ever is—I have found peace and serenity, a life full of service and purpose. I have found that life in a 12-step program-based recovery. It works for me; but as even AA admits, it doesn’t have a monopoly on recovery.
What I think is the most important message to people struggling with substance use disorder is: stay alive. I want you to stay alive. No judgement if you are abstinent, semi-abstinent, using, not currently interested in a life in recovery, whatever. Give yourself the option of a future.
~ Janet V, Technical Product Manager
Finding Your Own Path
Recovery is not one set path; there’s no “right way” of recovery, only what works best for you.
There are myriad ways to enter into recovery and multiple pathways of recovery.
Some of those pathways are:
- Abstinence-based recovery
- Harm reduction/moderation-based recovery
- Mutual aid groups
- Clinical Therapy - Inpatient, Outpatient, Talk Therapy
- Pharmacotherapy - Taking medication, Medication-Assisted Recovery/Treatment (MAR/T)
- Recovery Supports
- Spontaneous or natural recovery
- Any combination of these, and many more supportive practices whose usefulness may change over time.
Remember that recovery is dynamic: it is constantly changing. What worked for you before might not work for you now, and what works for you now might not always in the future. As you evolve and grow as a person, so will your needs. It’s a normal and natural part of the process for your recovery routines to reflect those changes over time. Our Peer Recovery Support Specialists and the entire WEconnect team support your right to define your own recovery and discover your unique pathway of recovery. Blaze your own path, and walk it with courage.