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Recovery from Addiction


Ioana Arbone & Alireza Jamshidi

The concept of “recovery” has been used in the area of mental health to mean people’s experience of “themselves as recovering a new sense of self and of purpose within and beyond the limits of the disability.”1 In other words, recovery is a personal and subjective experience, and does not require complete absence of symptoms.2

In the addiction field, recovery has been notoriously difficult to define.2 However, recovery in addiction is generally seen as involving an abstinence, sobriety, and absence of drug dependence.

In this article, two stories of recovery from addiction and mental health will be recounted. Both individuals in this story have struggled with mental health and addiction issues. These individuals will be kept anonymous and will be given two aliases: John and Johanna.

For both John and Johanna, recovery came as a realization that the life they were living was not their ideal life. For Johanna, this realization happened as she was given a form, which declares the individual as either a danger to themselves or to others, or incapable of caring for their needs. This gives police the right to bring the person to the hospital. John said he just decided, at one point, to stop using drugs, since he had enough of them. For both of them, recovery came after hitting their rock bottom.

For Johanna, recovery from drug abuse means being back to the way you were. It means being happy. It also means having the necessary skills to deal with difficult emotions, such as anxiety and depression.

However, the road to recovery was not a simple one. Johanna had to cut ties with many friends that were using substances. John had to learn again how to function in society.

Family played an important role in their recovery. Johanna remembers when her brother encouraged her to go to treatment. She also remembers how her family made her feel loved. This love played a positive role for her.

Willpower was important for John. He said he decided to stop using drugs and once he made up his mind, that was it. Their two stories exemplify William White’s idea of “recovery capital.”3 By “recovery capital,” it is meant the resources that one can draw upon to sustain recovery from addiction. Within the notion of “recovery capital,” it is possible to differentiate between personal recovery capital (e.g., willpower), family/social recovery capital (e.g., family and friends), and community recovery (e.g., counsellors available in the community). Indeed, for both Johanna and John, these three resources made a difference.

Looking back, Johanna says that she would tell her younger self that she is loved and to remember that her family is there for her. John also mentioned his family, particularly how they are still worried that he is not completely recovered. John is certain he has recovered and has made up his mind.

We must remember that recovery is a personal journey. All recovery journeys are different. These two recovery stories are just two examples. As it was shown in this article, recovery is possible.

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1. Deegan P. Recovery: The Lived Experience of Rehabilitation. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal,1998,11, 11-19.

2. Best D. Addiction Recovery: A Movement for Social Change and Personal Growth in the UK. Charlesworth Press, Richmond House. 2012

3. White, W. & Cloud, W. Recovery capital: A primer for addictions professionals. Counselor, 2008, 9(5), 22-27.  

Article featured in Elemental Issue 2: Depression