What is This Thing Called Addiction RECOVERY?


This is not a trick question. Nor does it have a “right” answer. However, there is a wise old saying by Yogi Berra that sums it up, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” And with addiction recovery, it is up to each one of us to define where we want “to end up”. To define what recovery means to us…


What’s the Definition of Recovery?

For several years now I have polled folks on what they think the definition of addiction recovery might be –  everyone from PhD Psychologists to those brand new to recovery. And it runs the gamut. One person might simply say, “Complete abstinence,” while another says, “A happy life.”


Even the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery  and a “working definition”. They say recovery is:


“…a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” SAMHSA


But, What are the Components to Successful Recovery?

And dare we describe our recovery as a success? Recently I heard someone speaking of a friend as “sober but not in recovery”. Where I come from (and am going), sober is sober, but I get what they meant. If we are striving for the SAMHSA brain trust’s definition, we can certainly be sober without reaching our “full potential”.


After five years of recovery from an alcohol use disorder, and a questioning mind I have come up with a few things to consider on the road to your recovery. Think of them as highway signs – or better yet GPS walking directions to where you want to go.


Mare’s Recovery GPS:

This picture is deliberately ironic…


You should want it folks. Really want it. And understand that recovery is a lifelong project and avocation.


A long time ago, when I was still drinking, a wise therapist told me, “It is dangerous to not be accountable to anyone or anything.” At the time I thought it was rubbish (see “commitment” above). There are so many times now, when I am grateful for a job that gets me in the shower at 6 AM and the accountability to loved ones I have established… Make sure you have created a life that makes it tough to relapse.

Passionate Involvement

At the tail-end of my active addiction, acquiring alcohol and drinking alcohol took up all my time (when I wasn’t making excuses or passed out on the leopard-print couch in my den…). One of the great joys of recovery is having the time to reignite or develop a new passion for art, writing, hiking, sky-diving – the list, of course, is endless.


Johann Hari says, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” These are words to live by. Especially, if like me you are someone who’s natural state of being is isolation. Sometimes you have to force yourself to get out and join the human race, go to a meeting or have coffee with a friend.


I recently reminded myself to take time to meditate. To get back to a routine of going to church, saying the rosary or just reviewing the day each evening with gratitude.

Attention to Transfer Addictions

Neural pathways have long memories (and long knives). Be careful not to let another addiction sneak in under the radar. Process addictions like sex, gambling, binge eating and gaming can rear their ugly heads when you are most vulnerable. I still battle eating sugar alcoholically every day….

Rigorous Exercise

Put your face in the water and snorkel. Hike a mountain. Go to the gym and sweat. Nuff said…

Forest Bathing

You do not even have to hike to get the benefit of being out in nature. Just find a place in the quiet and listen for birds, the chatter of squirrels… There is something so spiritual about being alone (or quiet with someone) in the vastness of a forest or mountaintop vista. It makes me feel large and small at the same time – a part of the universe, but a teeny, tiny part. Everything clicks. Trust me on this one…

Hope, Gratitude and Positive Thinking

Hope and gratitude leads to positive thinking. And positive thinking will shape how you view the world.  Positive thinking is defined as “a mental attitude in which you expect good and favorable results”. In other words, the more you expect something good to happen, the more often your brain sees the outcome as positive and actually makes it so.


How Do You Define Your Recovery?

There is a natural metaphor to recovery. Recovery is a rocky road, an unmarked trail, the path taken or not taken… And like a trek through uncharted woods, you cannot predict what you will find around the next bend. Even if you have been on the trail before.


The best those of us in recovery from the disease of addiction can do, is to think about where we want to “end up”. What we personally define as success or a life of “full potential”. And then keep our eyes, our minds and our hearts on the prize…



after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.