Recovery Is Not Linear (So how do you navigate it?)

August 25, 2023
Image of a market drawing. RECOVERY is written in block letters at the top. Below it on the left is the word "Expectations" with a straight arrow drawn below it pointed up to the right. Next to it on the right is the word "Reality" with a messy, zig-zagged arrow looping in all different directions before straightening out up to the right.

As the loved ones of someone with substance use disorder, we so want recovery to be linear. We imagine it to be this straight line angled up, the arrow always moving forward, getting progressively better.

That is the expectation most have about recovery, and it is way off.

It’s not your fault. The world excludes you from understanding addiction and what recovery really is, and your loved one has a dis-ease that wants to hide the truth at all costs.

But it’s important for you to adjust these unreasonable expectations because they’re actually hurting you (and them). Expectations are killers if you have the wrong ones. They hurt you, they hurt your loved one, and they hurt your whole family. They rob you of life.

Accepting that your expectations are off will give you your power back.

So what should you expect from your loved one’s recovery?

The journey of recovery is anything but linear. For starters it’s a journey—not a destination. It’s layered, multifaceted, and complicated. It’s the mind, body, and spirit getting better. It requires a level of both acceptance and surrender that takes most a long time to fully achieve.

At the beginning of your loved one’s recovery journey, they are not accepting; they don’t fully grasp all the things they have to do, because they lack the internal resources to do it. Literally almost all of the things they need on the inside to be able to do the things we’re asking them to do, they don’t yet have.

It’s like if I told you to go run a marathon tomorrow. No coach, no training, no map of the route or even a pair of running shoes. Would you be able to do it?

Now say I gave you the map of the route and the running shoes and some water you could drink along the way…you’d still have a hard time, because unless you’ve been training for a marathon for months, your body doesn’t have the strength or endurance or muscle memory it needs to be able to complete the race.

You lack the internal resources necessary to do the thing I’m asking you to do.

For your loved one to recover, they need resiliency. They need communication skills. Relationship skills. Emotional maturity. Self-worth.

None of these are things we can give to them. It has to come from inside of them, and the way they get it is by stumbling along their own recovery path. By experiencing feeling mad and uncomfortable. By experiencing feeling scared, and by using all the tools they are learning in treatment to help them cope with those feelings instead of returning to use of substances.

It is a constant journey, and it is hard. Returning to use is way easier.

And in fact, relapses are part of recovery. For most people, they relapse at least seven times before sustaining lasting recovery (don’t quote me on this but this average has been my observed experience). It’s far less common for someone to be able to stop completely on their first try.

Recovery is supposed to be messy.

It’s important for you to understand this messiness so you don’t show up pissed off when your loved one’s journey goes exactly the way it’s supposed to. That frustration only adds to the shame your loved one is already feeling.

Which is not to say you can’t feel pissed off. You absolutely can. It isn’t wrong to feel that way, I just don’t want you to dump it on your loved one. Take it somewhere else like our Facebook community, Friends of Tipping Point, where you have my full permission to drop your anger and frustration.

I also encourage you to take our introductory Stop the Chaos training available in the group’s guides so you can experience the messiness of your own recovery first hand. In Video One, I invite you to do a detox—give it a try and see…were you able to complete the detox? Did you return to use of that thing?

Most people struggle to go even one day without their own relapse back into their old behavior. And it’s okay, because recovery isn’t a straight line.

Living is fluid, learning is fluid, and recovery is fluid.

If you’re here and you’re doing it, with all its ups and downs and inbetweens, that’s what matters. I’m so glad you’re here.

Where to go from here.

Tell me, how do you feel about this? Let me know in the comments below.

If you want me to help you personally, I’ve created a way to get 1-1 support as you navigate the messiness that is recovery—your loved one’s and your own. I’m now offering a 4-session coaching package to do just that. Get it here.

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