Creating a Recovery Definition
By Patrick Devlin, Co-Founder and Primary Therapist
The first time I went to a 12-step meeting I was 16 years old. I was mostly unwilling to be there and if I had to describe my openness to change at that time I would put it somewhere around 5% open and 95% closed. I don’t remember what the topic was or if any of it made sense. I just remember feeling uncomfortable and weirded out and being guarded in a fake “cool guy” kind of way. I had no desire to go back and made up a story that I had tried 12-step (which was definitely not true) and it wasn’t for me.
The next time I went to a meeting was when I was 19 or 20 years old. My willingness was around 40% closed and 60% open. My struggle with addiction, my self-destructive lifestyle, and mental health issues humbled me to try again even though I still had my erroneous belief that meetings weren’t for me because I had gone before. This time I did try a little more. I went to meetings more often, I read some of the literature, and I even went to an NA campout. But I was still unwilling to get a sponsor and work the steps and I wasn’t willing to branch out to other meetings. I started to backslide and sink further into depression within 3-4 weeks. I began finding a lot of reasons why 12-steps and recovery meetings didn’t work. Some of my go-to reasons were: “I don’t relate to any of the old people in meetings.”, “How does admitting you are powerless help you in any way?” and “why do I have to believe in God to be sober?”. The truth was I hadn’t really tried and I was only looking for reasons why it wasn’t going to help.
Eventually, I went to treatment (a few times) and I finally became willing to really try. I had to unpack a lot of my baggage around recovery meetings. Luckily I was around people that loved me and held me accountable and could see that most of my hang-ups were not real and they encouraged me to go to a lot of different meetings. I ended up finding people I related to and was able to see that there are a lot of people in recovery living in a way that I admired.
The further I got onto my recovery path the more I realized that it took more than a recovery program for me to be the most authentic and healthiest version of myself. For me it also took therapy, meditation, being physically active every day, spending time in the wilderness, reading spiritual books, and having a connected social life. Today my recovery is an amalgamation of working in a recovery program and staying committed to all these things. I’ve learned that in order for me to stay balanced they all have to be in place.
But everyone’s recovery path is different. The things that help me to feel balanced and connected to other people won’t work for everyone, so the point is for everyone to find what is going to work for them. For me going on a trail run would be great for my recovery and for someone else it might be playing guitar or surfing or rock climbing.
My story about my history with 12-step meetings isn’t unique. Everyone who comes to Skyline has their own story. Some of the young men at Skyline may have gone to some sort of recovery meeting for years and others may have never gone and only know about it through its depiction in movies or a family friend. What I learned from my story is that I had experienced less than 1% of what was out there in terms of recovery meetings and had extrapolated that to ALL recovery meetings. AND I was making this determination during a time in my life when I was lost and depressed and not seeing things clearly. There is a term called a negative attribution bias which is when a person sees things through a lens of negativity and doesn’t have much ability to see nuance. This is commonly associated with depression and I would argue that virtually everyone that is coming into recovery meetings for the first handful of times is struggling with some form of depression. Which is all to say that part of the work is taking all of the preconceptions we developed about what recovery means with a huge grain of salt.
This is something we ask all of the young men who come through Skyline to keep in mind. There is a world of recovery programs, activities, and ways you can live your life that you have yet to experience, and most of the judgments you carry were developed when you were in a negative mindset. This is why we are constantly encouraging our clients to try new things and have new experiences. If they aren’t resonating with a certain 12-step fellowship, they can try another or a collegiate recovery meeting or a meditation meeting or recovery yoga, or whatever might be in alignment with their interests.
For every client, we create what we call a recovery definition which isn’t just the absence of substances or self-destructive behaviors. We look at everything from relational health to community to physical health/embodiment, to relationship to technology to name a few. Once we work with our clients to create a recovery definition we hold them accountable to their recovery commitments and offer support and ideas to continue to craft it along the way. Our goal is to help all of our clients find their version of recovery that is going to be something that they can take with them when they leave and isn’t just something that can be achieved while in our program. The goal is to create a lifestyle in which you feel balanced, healthy, connected, and will always be unique to you.