by Jami DeLoe
It’s been nearly four years since I took my last drink of alcohol, and since that time I have been to literally hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It’s customary to introduce yourself before you speak at a meeting. I always say, “Hi, I’m Jami and I’m an alcoholic.” Some people introduce themselves differently, but it’s usually something close to that. A handful of times over the years, I have heard people refer to themselves as a “recovered alcoholic.” My first thought is usually that they just don’t get it—no matter how long they have been sober. I’m probably wrong about that in some cases and they may very well stay sober and happy until the day they die. I know that people practice recovery differently, and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Even my husband and I have a different way of approaching the program, and we’re both still sober.
The problem that I have with using the word recovered instead of recovering is that sounds final like it’s done and over and can no longer affect me. I had the chicken pox once: I recovered, and I’ll never chicken pox again. “Recovered” implies that you have been returned to the person you were before, and for me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You see, being a recovering person hasn’t returned me to who I was before alcoholism. It isn’t something that has been completed and no longer affects me. It is something that goes on. Forever. I will always be in recovery, and I’m good with that, for several reasons.
One: I know that I am not cured of alcoholism. I’ve been given a daily reprieve. I have to remain diligent to not return to where I was when I was actively drinking. I know that if I grow complacent, think that I am recovered and that alcohol no longer poses a risk to me, I’m in danger. While I no longer worry day-to-day that I am going to relapse, I am very aware that booze is still out there and if I have even one drink, it’s game on. Recovering, rather than recovered, keeps me on my toes.
Two: Recovering means that I am a work in progress and that I have the luxury of continuing to work on myself. I can strengthen those things about me that are positive, and improve the things that challenge me. Believing that I am still recovering fosters my desire for self-awareness. It keeps me engaged in becoming a better person—not just a sober one.
Three: Recovering rather than recovered keeps me right-sized. As long as I remember that I am not over this alcoholism thing, and that I am no better or worse than every newcomer and old-timer, I don’t run the risk of self-righteousness or self-loathing. Those are two things that plagued me when I was drinking, and recovering keeps me away from them.
Lastly, recovering rather than recovered reminds me that I don’t have all of the answers. I still need help no matter how many days I put between me and my last drink. Not having all the answers makes it more comfortable to ask for help. It’s why I have a sponsor and go to meetings. It’s what keeps me part of a huge fellowship of strong and courageous people.
What it boils down to is that recovering, instead of recovered, is what works for me. It may just be semantics, but it puts me in the right mindset to continue on the path of sobriety and recovery. I find joy and strength and health in the process of recovering.
So, I think I’ll stay right here recovering. Forever.