The celebration of multiple pathways and styles of addiction recovery is a central tenet of the new addiction recovery advocacy movement. And yet if one listens carefully to the diversity of recovery stories rising from this movement, there is a striking and shared central thread that forms the connecting tissue across secular, spiritual, and religious frameworks of recovery; across recovery in diverse populations and cultural contexts; and across the mediums of natural recovery, recovery mutual aid, and professionally-assisted recovery initiation. That central thread is a sustained, irrevocable commitment for personal change.
The forms of expression of that commitment vary widely. In Twelve-Step programs, it is rooted in the paradox of strength (action) rising from acknowledged limitation (powerlessness) and the experience of surrender—a paradox Kurtz and Ketcham characterized as the spirituality of imperfection, e.g., change emerging from the acceptance of one’s Not-Godness. Faith-based recovery programs such as Celebrate Recovery share a similar focus on powerlessness and the need for connection to resources that transcend the self. In secular recovery frameworks such as SMART Recovery or Secular Organizations for Recovery, the recovery commitment is centered quite differently in “self-empowerment and self-reliance” and a chosen “sobriety priority.” In recovery frameworks rising from historically-oppressed populations, one often finds the recovery commitment expressed through a similar assertion of self, as found in Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick’s (1986, p. 166) discussion of Women for Sobriety’s First Statement of Acceptance (“I have a drinking problem but it no longer has me. I am the master of it and I am the master of myself.”). Such assertion is also evident in recovery ministries rising within African American communities, such as the first “act of resistance” (“I will take control of my life”) in Glide’s Africentric framework of addiction recovery (Williams & Laird,1992). Today’s recovery advocates offer a similar challenge to action: “Recovery by any means necessary, under any circumstances. No matter what, don’t pick up!”
Whether through transcendence of self or assertion of self, a forged and sustained commitment to change is at the center of recovery initiation and maintenance across pathways and styles of addiction recovery. But what is the ultimate source of such commitment to recovery? We know that such commitment can come in a lightning strike (what researchers have called quantum change and transformational change) or in a much slower staged process of change, but what are its essential ingredients? Multiple factors can interact to set a detonation point of recovery initiation. These can take the form of push (avoidance) factors and pull (approach factors) or constitute a process more aptly described as drifting out of addiction and into recovery. Push factors include personal identity issues, family and significant other concerns, health concerns, economic concerns, legal troubles, fear of future consequences, and a progressive erosion of positive drug experiences. Pull factors include exposure to positive recovery role models (recovery carriers), recovery-specific family and social support, windows of opportunity for lifestyle change (e.g., relocation, job change), and emergence of new beliefs (e.g. religious conversion).
I have argued in my earlier writings that recovery involves a process of reaching critical mass in a synergy of push (pain) and pull (hope) factors. Pain in the absence of hope within the context of addiction drives only sustained drug use and further self-destruction. Hope in the absence of pain in the context of addiction fuels only belief in one’s ultimate invulnerability and continued drug use and related excessive behaviors. It is in a uniquely personal ratio between pain and hope that one finds the spark of recovery commitment igniting into a sustainable fire. That recovery alchemy can come early or late in one’s addiction career, with such timing profoundly influenced by one’s family and social environment. The future of recovery lies in a greater understanding of how these interior and exterior environments can be influenced to spark and sustain recovery commitment.
The growing varieties of conditions from which such pain-hope synergies can be elicited are revealed in acts of recovery storytelling within diverse private, professional, and public settings. What they reveal is that recovery stability in the short-term can be challenging, but that the odds are stacked toward long-term success. As we develop a deeper understanding of the natural world, it does become clearer that nature (life) will find a way. So will recovery, if given the opportunity.
Of Potential Interest
Kirkpatrick, J. (1986). Turnabout. New York: Bantam Books.
White, W. (2012). The history of Secular Organizations for Sobriety—Save Our Selves: An interview with James Christopher. Posted at and
White, W., & Chaney, R. (1992). Metaphors of Transformation: Feminine and Masculine. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems.
Williams, C. with Laird, R. (1992). No Hiding Place: Empowerment and Recovery for Troubled Communities. New York, NY: Harper San Francisco.

Post Date June 24, 2016 by Bill White


The addiction recovery experience has been sliced and diced in all manner of categories: secular, spiritual, and religious; natural recovery, peer-assisted, and treatment-assisted; and abstinence-based, moderation-based, and medication-assisted, to name just a few. Recovery achieved through any of these frameworks is often referred to as a pathway of recovery. The growing consensus that there are multiple pathways of long-term addiction recovery marks an important public and professional milestone within the alcohol and drug problems arena.
Progress has been made by recovery-focused research scientists on mapping recovery pathways and noting their distinctive and shared qualities. This classification work is important as long as one does not lose sight of the fact that reality is often far messier than such pristine categories would suggest. Or put another way, “the recovery map does not always accurately depict the territory.”
The image of pathways suggests a crossroads with distinct options that call for clear decision-making or voiced guidance from some GPS of addiction recovery. The image conveys that one must choose A, B, or C—with some advocates of each standing at the crossroads claiming they represent the one true path to recovery. There are millions of people living in recovery within these established frameworks of recovery, but there are also innumerable people in long-term recovery who have crafted a style of personal recovery at or beyond the boundaries of these approaches. Their recovery experiences are metaphorically more aptly described as an evolving patchwork, mandala, mosaic, medley, or hodgepodge rather than through the image of the well-marked path. Their recovery experiences are “dynamically evolving” in the sense that critical ingredients are regularly being forged and exchanged without a predetermined map or fixed point of completion. Their recovery experiences are patchworks, mandalas, or mosaics in the sense that this style of recovery may combine unusual and even contradictory elements, the whole of which may resemble no established style of recovery.
MosaicDoes this mean that individuals may combine a potpourri of ideas and approaches to initiate recovery and that these critical ingredients may change over time? Does this mean that people may initiate recovery within one framework of recovery but migrate to another framework to sustain recovery? Does this mean that some people may simultaneously use two or more frameworks of recovery, e.g., co-attendance at 12-Step meetings and SMART Recovery meetings? Does this mean that some people may initiate recovery without addiction treatment, but later seek professional help to enhance their emotional and relational health? Does this mean that the person using needle exchange services today may in the future be sponsoring others in Narcotics Anonymous? Does this mean that people may concurrently or sequentially combine addiction medications with participation in abstinence-based treatment and mutual aid? Does this mean that one’s secular, spiritual, or religious orientation may change, sometimes quite dramatically, over the course of recovery? YES, it means all of these and far more. As my friend Richard Simonelli suggests, these support options are best conveyed, not as a straight line of menu options, but as resources on the perimeter of the circle of our lives—resources that remain available to us if and when we need to draw on them.
Long-term recovery involves a rebirthing and assertive reconstruction of one’s life across multiple zones: physical, cognitive, emotional, relational, and spiritual health—all unfolding and evolving across the stages of life and within one’s unique personal responsibilities and aspirations. Achieving such reconstruction over time and maintaining balance within and across these zones is for some people far closer to improvisational jazz than to playing scored music written by one’s predecessors.
None of us are in a position to judge how others negotiate this process. We can only share what has worked for us and how what has worked for us has changed over time and circumstances. As a healing community and network of professional helpers and recovery researchers map long-term pathways and styles of recovery, we must not forget those whose recovery experiences do not fit within the boxes we have crafted to depict such varieties of recovery experience. Those outliers are also part of the recovery community, and their idiosyncratic stories must also be heard and celebrated. Many find recovery within a well-trod path, while others find recovery on the road less traveled. Still others will find recovery where no one has traveled before. Such differences do not need to be cast into categories of superiority and inferiority. All progressive movements toward and within recovery are cause for celebration–no matter how different the journey from our own.
A shared experience of addiction is a hollowing out of self, with the resulting sense of extreme emptiness, disconnection, and resulting sense of extreme isolation. How people authentically fill that emptiness and forge new social and intimate connections constitutes the essence of a highly variable healing process. Such varieties are indeed a cause for celebration. As the recovery advocacy movement declares: Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances.
Post Date June 3, 2016 by Bill White