Recovery vs. Sobriety

Fall leaves in Michigan
Building Recovery is Progress

by Joshua Hoe

I recently had the following conversation with a friend who is about a year out from when he started his program of recovery:

He started by talking about he has been a failure and he is not sure he is any better off after a year of recovery.

So, I asked him:

Between 2013 + 2014 how many times did you act out?

He thought for a few seconds and said “I am not sure”

I said, “give me your best guess”

He said, “thousands of times”

Okay, so then I asked,

“How many times have you relapsed in the last year”

He responded,


I would say he came a pretty long way myself.

Overwhelming + Often Irrational Shame

How do you get to reducing from 1000 addictive actions down to 5 and not see progress?

I know in the depths of my addiction that I was acting out every day, every week, every month, every year.

My life was more about my addiction than it was about living.

How is that possible?

One thing never changed ever…After I acted out, my life became all about shame.

What I have learned, over a long time and after much struggle, is that shame and guilt is often part of the addictive cycle…and not in a good way.

I know when I was feeling like my friend felt, what I was often doing was telling myself some version of the following things:

“No matter how hard you try, no matter how many meetings you go to, no matter how many calls you make, you will still be alone and broken.”

“Nobody will ever really understand you, you will always be broken”

And then the kicker:

“So, you might as well act out.”

Exactly….how can you argue with logic like that?

Being happy became a trigger – Well, I guess I deserve a reward, better act out.

Being sad became a trigger – See, you will always be broken and alone, better act out.

My whole life became about the acting out…Not about the happiness or the sadness..or the living.

A Strong Program of Recovery Is The Key

One of the few disagreements I have with the official recovery texts is that they prioritize sobriety over recovery.

In fact, they often suggest that recovery is impossible without sobriety.

That is horse-poop.

I am not saying if you are in recovery that sobriety doesn’t matter. I am saying that recovery can be important even if you are struggling with sobriety.

Your program of recovery is a safety net.

Your safety net.

I cannot tell you how many times having a strong program of recovery has stopped a relapse from becoming a spiral into crisis.

I cannot tell you how many times a strong program of recovery has turned a crisis into a soft landing.

Recovery catches you when you fall.

Recovery lets you know that other options exist.

Before I had recovery, I only had myself and I had not other answers. With recovery, I always have a dialog – even when I call nobody…because, I know there are options I used to tell myself did not exist.

And, most important, like in the case of my friend, even if you don’t realize it, most people make progress in recovery…even when they fight it from the start, resent it, or go kicking and screaming.

Because I have a strong program of recovery…I made progress that led me to the capacity to stay sober.

Building Muscle Memory

So, I have talked before about how your brain starts to create a short-cut between your trigger and acting out.

Recovery is practicing for sobriety.

Recovery is building the muscle memory that builds your capacity for different short-cuts.

Going to meetings, calling people, meditating, praying, exercising, whatever your list includes..when you engage in those behaviors you are making a different choice..You are making progress.

You are building positive muscle memory.

You are using your safety net!

How do you feel about your own sobriety? Do you allow yourself to see progress? Do you prioritize your sobriety over recovery? Would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.


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