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Keeping Recovery Fresh

Recovery can become less exciting after many years of going to 12-Step meetings, sponsoring newly recovering persons and working through personal issues. The meetings of 12-Step recovery begin to blend into a long, ongoing drama that doesn’t appeal after twenty years or more. The truth is, after long time recovery, members tend to become complacent. It begins with life becoming busier than it used to be. Families and employment, as well as their homes and bank accounts have become stable. The incentives that make early recovery desperately necessary are no longer part of daily life.

Most have returned to a stable way of living. They marry, if not already so, find education and employment that they can responsibly maintain, have cleared away the legal wreckage that may have been present early on. What is left to recover from?

A great deal is the answer. For many, there are deep-rooted issues in relationships that still require maintenance and healing. A long process has been begun, but there will be new issues for long-timers to work through. As they age, health and end-of-life issues arise. Then there are children moving out of the home and on with their lives, marriages and grandchildren. These become the rewards of a successful, happy and productive family life, something that was usually threatened by the substance abuse that is no longer occurring.

Freshness is found in the 12 Step meetings, as new members continue to appear. There is work to be done in helping others find and enjoy recovery. It doesn’t retire, nor does it stop. New members arrive daily to the meetings and treatment centers around the world. There is always service work to be done. While many feel that newer members need to perform the service work that is important in early years of recovery, there is still room for leadership by those with history in recovery.

Workshops and retreats are beneficial to renewing the spiritual wonder and gratitude that permeate early recovery. The sense of “been there, done that” can be removed with a fresh outlook at old ideas and feelings. Sometimes the most seasoned veterans of recovery can be the most surprised by how much they had forgotten when they participate in these events. A common response is, “Wow! I have slipped away from this stuff! I am so glad to be back on track.”

Life never stands still. Long-timers will still have to live in accordance with Universal laws that may conflict with what they believe and what they would like to have in their lives. Death, divorce, tragic accidents and relapse are still a big part of life, no matter how many meetings attended, no matter how many sponsees are guided through the 12 Steps and no matter how many service commitments a person has completed. Birth, marriage and celebrating a successful, happy life can be as disarming as sad events. The stress of busy life can be as dangerous to recovery at twenty-five or thirty years as it was in the first months of recovery. There is ample evidence that no one is exempt from relapse. Renewal events remove the emotional imbalance that is occurring or the complacency that is set in.

Knowledge, while a powerful resource in many situations, will not serve here. It takes devotion to recovery to stay on the path, moving forward into a future of constant unknowns.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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