Last week I wrote about my personal definition of recovery. Today I was poking around and found two semi-official defintions over on Buddy T’s site at About.com in a post called Working Definition of Recovery Developed.
SAMHSA & Betty Ford
According to the post the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) spent over a year developing a working definition of recovery.
It’s not a simple definition and the title of the page is SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery from Mental Disorders and/or Substance Use Disorders sort of prepared me. That’s a mouthful!
Buddy T. managed to find the paragraph that provides an overview. It’s:
A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.
If you want to read the whole definition you’ll find it here.
Buddy then compares it to the Betty Ford definition of recovery which includes:
A voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.
All these words make my head swim.
Frankly this makes me uneasy
Neither definition makes abstaining a bottom line, although Ford does include sobriety which might be taken as one. But both definitions make me uneasy.
They make me uneasy because both seem to be trying to include people who are not abstinent but are trying.
Maybe I’m projecting, but I tried to quit smoking for years and years and continued to smoke. Oh, I got more conscious of it all. First I quit throwing butts on the ground, then I learned to make sure my smoke wasn’t blowing over someone. Eventually I began to hide my smoking, not understanding that non-smokers could smell me coming.
But the truth was I didn’t stop smoking until I stopped smoking. That’s when my recovery from nicotine addiction began. I will also say that since I haven’t had a drink since my first meeting, my struggle with tobacco did give me more understanding of people who slip, but until I put the nicotine in all its forms down, that recovery did not begin for me.
I was talking with someone last week who hasn’t decided if he’s alcoholic or not – or if he needs to quit drinking. I suspect he’d love either of these definitions. After all most of experience some change in lifestyle beneficial, and healthy living is a great idea. But sobriety? Well, I remember when I worked very hard trying to prove to I don’t know who my drinking wasn’t a problem. I told that story to my friend and he understood exactly what I was saying.
Of course, what isn’t really clear to me is why these two organizations came up with definitions that left being abstinent in question. In my experience, recovery from addiction to a substance begins when I quit using that substance. That clears the deck so all the good stuff can happen.
Of course again, that absolutist attitude of mine doesn’t address addictions to food or to behaviors like debting and underearning. In all three of those examples, abstaining completely doesn’t work. We’ve got to eat and we’ve got to have some dealings with money. Defining abstinence in these Programs, and programs like CODA and Al-Anon gets squishy.
In her talk yesterday, Anne Seisen Saunders, Roshi, Abbot of the Sweetwater Zen Center talked about the need to not give ourselves any decision opportunities when it comes to making a commitment to meditate. She pointed out that as soon as I give myself any wiggle room about sitting the chances are I won’t. On the other hand, when I make a habit of it, when I’m clear that I’ll sit every day at whatever time for however long I’m much more likely to do it.
Recovery is much the same I think. That’s what our Third Step says… “made a decision…” That attitude seems to work even with programs like Debtors Anonymous. I don’t incur any unsecured debt one day at a time. That’s the same quality of decision I made around alcohol and drugs and eventually nicotine. It seems to be the quality of decision that works.
What do you think? Do definitions of recovery that don’t insist on abstinence as a bottom line make sense to you?
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