‘Building the science of recovery – what I have learned goes far beyond our studies (Part 2)’ by Alexandre Laudet

IMG_2882In my previous blog, I summarized a few highlights of the research on recovery I have conducted with my collaborators. Our ultimate goal is to give a voice to people in recovery to inform policy and service development. However, I would be remiss in not mentioning what I have personally learned from people in recovery because it’s probably the most meaningful aspect of this endeavor for me.

Not surprisingly given my line of work, I have encountered numerous people in recovery. Today, most of my friends and some of my colleagues are individuals in recovery – the latter too often undercover for fear it would bias how their science is received… (a sad commentary on our field and how society regards this disease…)

I have enormous respect and even awe for people who’ve managed to conquer addiction. Interestingly, many usually don’t stop there. They go on to do extraordinary things, professionally and otherwise, that mere ‘normies’, as those of us not in recovery are called, rarely endeavor to accomplish.

Perhaps it’s the sense they wasted so much time whilst in addiction, or the belief that they have to give back because they got a second chance at life.

It occurred to me some time back that society at large has much to learn from people in recovery. Every person in recovery I know, some quite famous, other regular folks, has surmounted extraordinary odds to turn their life around. Even given wealth and family support, addiction kicks your butt and recovery requires that you keep getting up, on your own steam. No one can stand up for you in the long run.

 Although the term recovery literally means, ‘to get back’, many people in recovery have nothing in their past they want to get back – they are building something different and better, from scratch, at 25, 30 or even 40 years old.

Even for people from a privileged background, addiction took away formative years where the basics of being an adult and functioning in society are normally acquired, things like balancing a checkbook, being on time somewhere, and not telling people to go F—k off the minute you don’t get your way. There’s a lot to learn, very fast and people entering recovery don’t know what they don’t know so there are many challenges ahead, especially early on.

Yet most people, once determined to ‘not use no matter what’ and more importantly, to ‘get recovery’ (which goes far beyond not drinking and drugging), nothing can stop them. Once in recovery, that determination endures and propels them to do great things.

For those of us normies who tend to be easily discouraged and turn our attention to something else when we don’t get immediate results, this sheer determination seems superhuman. Recovery isn’t for the faint of heart. Observing that has shown me the importance of perseverance and courage – defined as doing something in spite of the fear.

Then there’s gratitude. We take a lot for granted, especially in the Western world.  People in recovery often lost a lot to addiction – years of course, but also their health, contact with family, kids and friends – and many had lost hope.

In recovery, as the light at the end of the tunnel gets closer and brighter (granted, the light is a moving target), the heart opens and gratitude comes in. That leads to all sorts of values and practices that we could all use. Things like compassion and the desire to help others. The desire to do the ‘right thing’ in every situation.

Now don’t get me wrong. People in recovery aren’t saints. Any of them will tell you that. I have at times been used and I have been hurt by a few of my friends and/or colleagues in recovery. I have also been used and hurt by numerous people who are not in recovery. That is part of life if you live long enough.

Finally, going hand in hand with gratitude, there’s joy. Child-like joy and awe at everyday things we tend take for granted – things like having today, being alive, sunsets and rainbows, loved ones. A pure joy that is often quiet but very profound, and radiates into behavior and kindness of heart. A special light radiating from within.

So indeed, I have learned more from my friends in recovery than from anyone else and for that I am grateful and amazed. And that’s a huge part of why I do this work. I am determined to do anything I can to stir more people to the recovery experience and to a life ‘beyond their wildest dreams.’ Everyone deserves it.

Alexandre Laudet, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. You can follow her on Twitter as @AlexandreLaudet