“Things won’t get better, but they will get different”

“No promises that things will get better, but they will get different” is a quote that I took with me from one of the very first mutual aid meetings I went to early in my recovery journey. At the time, things were still pretty miserable and when I heard those words it didn’t inspire much hope that things were going to improve anytime soon. In truth though, I didn’t need to be sold on things getting better, at the time the only thing I desperately wanted was for somethings to change.

Recovery is often talked about in anecdotal self-reflections that depict the process as full of hope and positivity. While this is often the case, at least it begins to be at some point in the process, it is not the full truth. Recovery is hard, and quite frankly it should be. Advanced and severe substance use disorders, debilitating mental health concerns, and behavioral addictions like disordered eating are chronic diseases that impact multiple systems of the human body, and often even are the root cause of psychosomatic symptoms manifesting. As the comparison is often made, the process of recovery from behavioral health disorders is as challenging and difficult on the individual as those undergoing chemo-therapy, physical rehabilitation, or any other long-term medical treatment that requires continuous aftercare and follow-through supports. I often find myself thinking about recovery as if I were an amputee; my in-patient clinical care was the amputation itself, and the ongoing recovery supports and aftercare was like learning how to walk and live with a prosthetic.

After treatment, which was a grueling (though rewarding in retrospect) process of reflection, disclosure, vulnerability, and uncomfortableness, the next 6 months were as challenging as any process I have to date ever completed. Following a routine; going to meetings; going to class; working the steps; finding a new social circle; working; dealing with cravings; romantic relationships; living by ethical principles – none of these things came naturally, but they did work. Near the end of that first year, that is when the saying about things not getting better, but getting different finally began to make some sense.

I started on the journey of my recovery trying to find a way for things to be different. I knew the life I was living was bringing me nothing but pain, and the only thing that had worked in the past (even though typically only for a short while) was drastic change. I understood things getting different, and could even welcome them. However, that was the root of the problem though. I wanted external things to get different, the approach I had used for most of my adult life. It wasn’t engaging in the recovery process (from medical care to community care) that I could begin to see it wasn’t that things needed to get different, but rather that if I became different – if I could begin to change and transform – that the external wouldn’t get different, it would cease to exist.

Why was that revelation important? For years, my unsuccessful at attempts to make things better, by engaging in a process of making things different, was inherently flawed. I learned through the recovery process that by truly engaging in a self-change process that things would get better, because things were truly different. The issues, both with myself and with the outside world, simply seemed to either not exist and to re-occur as I began living a life of recovery. As I changed and became different, the things in my life became brand new, and as such did not have to become different or better, they were good things from the start. Finally, the focus was not on “fixing” or “changing” but simply living a life of wellness, and all the things that entails.

Recovery is not easy, and it isn’t meant to be. It requires medical care, continuing support in the community, and wrap around services. It is a process in which things don’t get better because they won’t need to – it isn’t about the things. When a life in recovery becomes a reality, good things seem to coexist with oneself. The process of improvement will always continue for me. I know today that despite how challenging it may be that if I can embrace the process of self-improvement, I won’t need to try and change the “things”.

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