By: Diane Cameron
You start to hear about the paradoxes of recovery early on: “It’s a selfish program where we learn to think about others.” And “You have to give it away to keep it.” These may just be early signals that ours is a spiritual program and that we are going to be kept on our toes.
There is a particular paradox though that comes as we enter long-term recovery—at about the ten-year mark. That paradox is about pain.
As we mature in recovery there is much less pain. Yes, we still face all the things that every human being does: hurt, loss and disappointment. But truly, we suffer less because we have this amazing toolkit and a bunch of great recovery habits.
But, we know –and remember –that it was pain and crisis that kept us regulars at our twelve-step meetings in the beginning and through our early years. It was daily pain and daily “learning to live from scratch” lessons that kept us “coming back”, and which ensured daily contact with sponsors and other program folks.
So, after ten years many folks in recovery may start to ask, what does it mean now, when life really is getting better, that we seem to drift away from the program?
It’s confusing to others too. What we hear at meetings is, “Where are the people with more than ten years?” The truth is that they are out living their lives. Very often people who have remained sober for a long time have added PTA, Rotary, cycling and skiing or a second family to the lives that were once well filled with four meetings a week, being the coffee-maker and sponsorship.
No, we don’t want to drift away for good, but it is also a blessing that we have strength and skills to be part of a greater community. But there can be some sadness too. The rewards of recovery do kick in after ten years, but those very rewards (friends, jobs, families, school) take us away from the people and practices that made our great recovery in early years. So, what’s a sober woman to do?
In my book, “Out of the Woods” I go into specific detail about how women—and men–in long-term recovery can have a good life that includes ongoing recovery and full participation in the greater community as well. I cover the big questions like: What does service mean after 20 years? And is moving to a new city after 15 years a geographic change or a milestone of good recovery? And, of course, because one of the greatest gifts of long recovery is a new sense of humor, I also write about “lighter” topics as well, like: Learning to dance as a tool of recovery, and how sometimes a new haircut is as important is a new slogan.