Point of View: September is National Recovery Month

The biggest challenge when talking about recovery is the truth that one size does not fit all. In fact, there may be no more individually specific recovery processes than those surrounding substance misuse. Yet, people still want there to be a definitive cure, a black-and-white clarity for people struggling with the disease to be “all better,” an end date when the disease is eradicated.

Recovery from substance misuse does not work that way. And that can be confusing for everyone involved.

The reality is that recovery starts when an individual engages in a process of change through improving their health and wellness, living a self-directed life and striving to reach full potential. How’s that for a mouthful? It is clearly a process designed to focus on the individual and their struggle with the disease. Recovery is a lifelong process. It doesn’t simply disappear one day after completing a rehab program or taking a medication. Recovery requires vigilance, effort, and an understanding of the disease and its symptoms.

And it absolutely requires celebration.

Every disease in the world celebrates recovery. When you finish cancer treatments, you get to ring that bell. When you get out of surgery you are greeted with flowers and teddy bears and mylar balloons. All too often recovery from an addiction, recovery from substance misuse is met with silence and discomfort.

Celebrating recovery reminds people, and those who support them, that no one is alone in the journey. Celebrating recovery normalizes the process, reduces stigma and makes individuals stronger. Celebrating recovery reminds us that everyone’s journey is different. Celebrating recovery feels good, whether you are celebrating two hours, two days or two decades. Celebrating recovery reminds us that it is possible.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) identifies multiple ways you can help celebrate and support the recovery process. All of us, from celebrities and sports figures to our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members, throughout our lives have experienced peaks and valleys, both big and small. But with strength, support, and hope from the people we love, we are resilient. Here are some of the important components:

• Health — overcoming or managing one’s disease or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.

• Home — having a stable and safe place to live.

• Purpose — conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.

• Community — having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

Yes, this disease can be painful. Friends and family can get hurt. Lives can be turned upside down. In the early stages of recovery, relapse occurs more often than not.

However, the more we celebrate recovery, the more we share our stories, the more we openly recognize the symptoms of the disease, the easier it gets the next time.

Substance misuse is not a moral failing. Substance misuse is not a lack of strength. No one decides to be addicted to a substance. Substance misuse is an organic disease that can impact anyone at any time.

Please recognize the disease for what it is and celebrate those recovery victories every chance you get.

Jay Bechtol is the CEO of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services and a member of the MAPP Steering Committee.

MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) is a local health improvement coalition with the vision of a proactive, resilient and innovative community.