Wounded Healers: Are You ‘Doing’ Recovery?

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By Tim Stein

Meditation from Gifts of Recovery.

Sobriety is about what you don’t do. Recovery is about what you do.
–Therapy lesson

Some people think of sobriety and recovery as the same thing. This is simply not true. Sobriety is about what we do not do. We do not drink, or gamble, or look at porn, or take drugs, or whatever our addictive behaviors may be. We can successfully stay sober and still our lives can be in chaos. Unlike sobriety, recovery is about what we do: acknowledging our mistakes, making amends, balancing family and work life, meditating, connecting with and trusting our higher power. Sobriety rarely resolves chaos. Recovery always does.

When have I focused on “not doing” and ignored the “doing” part? When has my life been in chaos even though I was successfully sober? What gifts await me as I actively ‘do’ recovery?

As therapists working with addicts, we see and hear the mistakes that lead our clients to relapse, chaos, and the traumatization of themselves and others. We are very good at recognizing these mistakes when they come up in session, highlighting them for our clients, and guiding/supporting our clients to make different choices. And their mistakes can (if we listen to our own advice) remind us of the mistakes we have made in the past and ways that we can avoid these mistakes in the present. Our sobriety stays strong as we help our clients to find and maintain their own.

Most of us have also seen the client that makes the serious mistake of stopping their work at this point. They mistakenly assume that sobriety is the endpoint. These ‘dry drunks’ continue to experience and create chaos in their lives and relationships. Equally disturbing, they continue to bring chaos into the lives of those close to them. They have learned what not to do. They failed to embrace the work of learning what to do. They have sobriety but not recovery.

It is a good idea for us wounded healers to occasionally check in on our recovery work and how it is going. After all, a recovery program with holes impacts not only us, our loved ones, and our friends but also our clients and co-workers. Hopefully, we find that our recovery program continues to be solid and strong. However, admitting when our recovery program is inconsistent and lacking is equally important. Without this admission, we cannot get ourselves back on track.

Checking our recovery program is an exploration of actions as opposed to a sobriety check, which is often more about our boundaries. Here are some questions to guide a recovery program check. (This is not an exhaustive list by any means. It is simply a start.)

  • Am I following agreements even when they are difficult or uncomfortable?
  • Am I being rigorously honest (not brutally honest)?
  • Do I have a recovery routine that is appropriate for me at this time?
  • Am I asking for guidance from trusted individuals in my recovery community?
  • Am I holding moderation in all things? This would include work, TV, devices, play, relationships, food, exercise, etc.
  • Am I actively engaged in self-care? This would include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, peeing when I need to pee, taking appropriate breaks during work hours, etc.
  • Am I sensitive and empathetic of others? This would include our partners, immediate family, friends, co-workers, clients, strangers we encounter in public, strangers we feel wronged by (i.e. mentally wishing someone a safe journey as opposed to dropping into road rage), etc.
  • In my interactions with others, am I appropriately supportive and assertive?
  • Am I balancing time with others and solitude for myself?
  • Am I appropriately embracing all forms of intimacy (non-sexual, intellectual, proximal, recreational, spiritual, emotional, and sexual)?
  • Am I present with my emotional experience? Do I share my emotional experience appropriately given the situation I am in and the people I am interacting with?
  • Am I allowing others to be imperfect? Am I appropriately gracious and understanding when others make amends?
  • When I am imperfect, do I hold myself accountable, learn from my mistakes, and give myself appropriate grace?
  • Am I understanding when my partner’s fear and/or trauma about my behaviors comes up (past, present, future, addictive, or otherwise)?
  • Am I owning my sobriety and recovery experience while honoring the sobriety and recovery experiences of others, including my clients?
  • Do I have an appropriate balance between holding a vision for the future and trusting my higher power and the process?
  • Am I showing myself to be trustworthy?

Recovery is not about perfection. We will fall short at times. Recovery allows for imperfection while striving to be better. As wounded healers, when we walk the walk, we benefit not only ourselves and those close to us but also those we interact with professionally.