I just celebrated a six-year anniversary. An anniversary marking six years of being free of the addiction that created so much havoc and dis-ease in my life. Six years abstinent of the chemical hooks that promised me brighter days, and led me to darker corridors.
While yes, I am proud. I do take a moment to honor where I was, and where I am now. How impossible it felt then, how real it is now. While that may be true; The marking of time passing, the keeping of clean time and the celebrating of anniversaries is, in the end, pointless at best. Potentially even harmful for the stigma as a while.
Let me take a minute to explain.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well isn’t that the whole point? To maintain clean time and achieve abstinence? ” And I could answer, “Is it?”
Is the point of recovery to collect chips, amass clean time and stay abstinent as long as we can? Is that the point?
I think that we have to start looking at recovery starting much sooner, then the day an addict stops using or an alcoholic takes their last drink. The decision to get clean, the moving from denial to acceptance about the intensity of our use I would argue is just as much of the process of recovery.
A large group of recovered addicts and alcoholics share anecdotes of terrible, life-changing events that wake them up, that move them. Referred to in some recovery cultures as “rock bottom”, it usually is an unforseen and traumatic consequence to their use that nearly forces them to stop using. In those instances, those catalytic consequences produce change. Aren’t they a part of your recovery?
The timeline of our recovery, so strongly persuaded my societal standards, is in my opinion much to short and limited. I think that it’s time we start to acknowledge that recovery is happening for everyone in their own time. Those recovering more slowly than others, those shadowed by chronic relapses and those who oscillate slowly from denial to acceptance; They are all in recovery. Even if they haven’t stopped using.
It’s equally important to note that the keeping of clean time can be potentially dangerous. What if we acknowledge that keeping clean time, perpetuates this competitive, comparative society that we are in?
The whole concept of clean time is one that has the capacity to really compound the guilt and shame found so prominently in active use. What if we started to look at recovery individually, like we do with everything else on our path? Would that potentially allow in for some more grace and compassion?
This is not to dismiss, discount or discredit the monumental achievement that is finding and maintaining abstinence. What a hard road it is to commit to being and maintaining sobriety. Those who manage, deserve to celebrate the life that they have regained, and the progress made.
My suggestion is that in our conversations about substance use, we begin to explore our culture around clean time. What if our culture focused instead on the individual crowning achievement that is each step in the recovery journey?