What is Recovery?


When it began to sink in that drinking wasn’t going to be a part of my life anymore—that I had quit drinking—I was hitting the google search box pretty hard.

I was searching for stories, looking for other people in a similar situation, people for whom drinking was more of a nuisance than a “problem,” more bad habit than true addiction. And no word made me navigate away from someone else’s story quicker than the word recovery.

To be in recovery, in my mind, was grave. It was like 12-step grave. It was outpatient rehab grave. It was wrecking a marriage grave. And it was definitely not me.

It’s true that most stories about someone in recovery from alcoholism contain dramatic details to which I could not relate at all. Vomiting blood, wetting the bed, sex with strangers, DUIs, driving drunk. None of that here!

Therefore, it didn’t seem to me that I was recovering from anything in particular, at least not at first. I thought it was too strong a word to apply to my relief from frequent mild headaches, insomnia, low self-esteem, and the crabby moods I got as the weeks and months off alcohol piled up. 

But then I thought about the very meaning of the word recovery—to find or take back something that had been lost. That resonated for me as I looked back on my own drinking. 

Without alcohol, I was getting a part of myself back, the me I was before I ever drank. I felt a resurgence of creativity. The collage-making impulses I indulged in my teens returned.

Doing nothing became more fun, especially if I had the opportunity to do nothing with my husband or my friends. Simply walking the city streets, window shopping and people watching, regained the luster it once held for me, a night out unto itself. 

As my comfort with the word “recovery” increased, I stopped closing down those stories as soon as I read “recovery.” Instead of focusing on the parts of the author’s experience that were different from mine, I noticed the many parts that were the same. Because even if the volume of booze I had been drinking was different, the way I thought about it was often the same.

I appreciated the many deep and restful night’s sleep I was accumulating and I noticed the cold viruses I seemed to be dodging. My skin took on a glow. Clearly, my anxiety was diminishing without talk therapy or drugs. 

Is my body recovering, healing, responding to this simple treatment of not drinking alcohol? I had to admit that it felt that way. As time goes on, this restoration is noticeable and ongoing. I am feeling better all the time.

And it's not just that I'm emotionally more stable and happy. I feel physically better, too. As my positive feelings and vitality keep compounding, I keep wondering is there is ceiling here? Am I fully recovered yet? 

I keep asking myself how this dramatic feeling of flourishing can even be when I was rarely drinking more than two glasses of wine a day. But my experience suggests that a person might indeed recover from alcohol even if they were never an “alcoholic” or suffered any serious consequences from drinking. 

I worry that people who have struggled more fiercely with alcohol would scoff at the idea that someone like me, who had been drinking pretty moderately, could be in recovery. Is recovery an umbrella that has room under it for me? It’s not like I’m elbowing someone out of recovery who needs to be here more, after all.

I've been public about this, which has caused people say things like, "How's your recovery going?" or even "congratulations on being in recovery!" At first I tried to correct them, to explain the difference between recovery and what has been happening with me. But now I just reply "recovery is great" and "thank you." 

I still don’t really run around describing myself as “in recovery,” but in the privacy of my own thoughts, I’ve come to think of myself that way. Because it helps me take ever-better care of myself.

The way we frame things in our minds shapes our experience in the world. When I think that I’m recovering, I’m more apt to give myself the things I need to keep on not drinking and feeling my very best. 

There are many things in life I have recovered from in one way or another; like most people my history is full of experiences that knocked me down. Getting back up, learning from the past, going forward with the benefit of earned wisdom—that is what recovery means to me now. 

Whether we realize it or not, and whether you’re drinking or not, most of us are recovering one way or another. We might as well do it together and support one another. 

joy manning