Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

If you’re reading this on the day I wrote it, April 2, 2019, today marks five years of sobriety from alcohol. I also count this as my sobriety date from pornography, although it technically was a few days earlier. If you would have ever told me I’d go five years without either of my nearly life-long addictions, I’d have said it could only happen once I was put in the ground.

I won’t be attending AA to pick up my five-year chip. I believe I took from the program what I could in about six months of attending meetings. One of the things that I questioned at the time, and question even further now with so much sober time behind me, is if their belief that alcoholism is an ongoing disease and people never truly “heal” or completely “recover” is accurate for every addict.

I have no question in my mind that I was addicted to pornography and alcohol. They were my go-to vices when I needed to curb anxiety and stress for two decades. Despite negative consequences and a desire to stop, I didn’t until the law intervened. For me, being told I’d be thrown in jail (first on bail, then on probation) was the incentive I needed to quit.

I’ll admit, the cravings for porn were strong that first year and the cravings for alcohol were just as strong for around three years. Today though, unless I’m writing for this blog or giving an interview on a podcast, thoughts about using are not there. It’s just not a part of my everyday thinking anymore.

I think it’s healthier for me not to attend multiple meetings per week where discussions of alcohol and pornography are the focus. I appreciate the newcomers who are on the verge of falling back into that world of addiction, but I’ve met so many people with long-term sobriety who didn’t take the 12-Step route to know it can be another road to success.

I spent years (and continue to attend) in therapy, learning what happened in my life to contribute to the addictions starting. I have also spent years carefully crafting a new life where my routines are different, my motivations are different and I dutifully pay attention to my mental health.

So, am I still a recovering addict? According to most of the messaging, yes. I’ll never actually “recover”. Can one be an addict yet not actively participate in their addiction, nor having cravings? I’m not sure. Someone who played professional baseball from 1970 to 1984 is not still a baseball player. Someone who stopped smoking in 1997 is not still a smoker. Someone who spent their single life as a womanizer, but remains devoted in marriage is not still a philanderer. So why am I still an alcoholic and a porn addict?

I think the answer for most is, “It’s safer to consider my addiction as an active, living thing instead of a behavior of the past. I’m just one bad choice away from being back there.”

I understand that line of thinking, but aren’t I just one bad choice away from being a heroin user or starting a gambling addiction? We’re all just one bad choice away from ruining our lives, addict or not.

I believe addiction is a disease. It’s been proven by science. But science has also proven there are many diseases that people recover fully from. Is it possible addiction is one of those diseases?

I’m not completely there yet, but I have a feeling at some point, there is going to be an evolution in my mindset from “recovering” to “recovered” and I’m not worried about it being the slippery slope that returns me to the addictions. While I hopefully will always educate and inform about the dangers of addiction, I think the personal danger can dissipate to nearly nothing over time for many people.

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. We love to label things in our society and we also tend to catastrophize for the worst-case scenario. When I was in rehab, the program was geared the same toward me, who needed only one trip each for alcohol and porn, as it was the person who had been 12 times and never been successful. I realistically probably didn’t need the same level of care that they did.

If constant self-monitoring and keeping your addiction top-of-mind, even after a decade, is what you need to stay sober, then please, fight the daily fight. I don’t want anything I say to dissuade you from continuing on with a program that works for you. I’ll never say that I wasn’t “really” addicted because I don’t need to white-knuckle it day-to-day anymore.

I also think it’s OK if you’re not struggling day-to-day. I don’t think it minimizes your battle and I don’t think you have to apologize for a recovery that the mainstream doesn’t acknowledge. I think it’s actually the place that most addicts strive to arrive at. I’m here, and I’m grateful.

3 thoughts on “Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

  1. It’s important that those in the throes of addiction know that freedom from it CAN be achieved through discipline; that they, like you and me, can “grow out” of our obsession and one day leave it behind for good. Help is available. Recovery don’t come easy but it CAN become a reality. It’s not an empty hope to hang on to.

  2. First, congrats on 5 years! Big milestone and I know it took a lot of work and self reflection to get there. Good for you.

    I asked my husband for his thoughts on this post, and it was an interesting discussion. We landed in a place where we think addiction compares most to diabetes. Someone who is diabetic is always going to be diabetic. Without daily medications, diet control, exercise whatever, they will relapse. It is chronic as is addiction. They’re never really cured. They’re just treating it and keeping it at bay.

    There is something different about the brain of an addict and how it’s wired. I’m sure you have done this research so you know that the reward system is off. And even if you’re not active in your addiction your brain will think the way it always has. For example last week my husband and I went out to dinner. I ordered a glass of wine. The waiter offered me a 6 oz and a 9 oz option. I chose 6. My husband shook his head and said that he would never have been able to order a 6 oz glass if a 9 oz was available. For me, I knew I only wanted 6. But his addict brain could not comprehend that. And he’s got almost 7 years sober. So I guess that’s the difference from my perspective.

    In terms of language, I agree that it’s a bit of semantics. I have heard the phrase “I’m in long term recovery”. I like that because it says that you’ve got some time behind you but you’re aware that it’s always with you. My husbands therapist used to say, the monkey is in the cage but the circus is always in town. Lots of funny sayings from AA folks.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Always very good food for thought.

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