In the many 12-step programs newcomers are often consoled by being told, “It can take 3 to five years to get out of the woods.” But later, at the five-year mark, after maintaining abstinence and many meetings and working the steps, many of us realize that it has actually taken that long just to get into the woods. It is there, to continue the woodsy metaphor, that we just begin to recognize the trees as trees and to know the creatures of the “forest” for what they are.
We continue on though and long-term recovery begins to take hold. Gradually there is a sensation of coming out of the woods: the sense that we really have changed, that there is some stability and we are really new people. Of course we are not “fixed” and certainly not perfect, but in double-digit recovery another life begins.
But then recovery continues and we see that after more years it takes yet another turn. There is a noticeable shift in the pace and focus of recovery. This can be baffling to people around us who are “younger” in recovery, and it can also be puzzling to those who have reached a ten-plus year milestone: What does it mean that I go to fewer meetings? Why am I spending more time on other projects than I spend on the program? Is my commitment to a new relationship or a new career good or bad? And what does it mean to be a recovering woman in double-digit sobriety?
That is why I wrote this book and that is what we’ll explore here on this blog. There are surprises after ten and 20 years, and I’ll share my experiences as well as my own questions with you. That is why I called the book; Out of the Woods and in the next post we’ll look at some paradoxes of long-term recovery.