This is a pretty common idea in recovery–that you are never finished learning. Recovery is a process, and we never fully “recover.” We are only recovering.
Such a perspective is useful in the growth process. If we look at it in such a way that there is always more to learn, then it follows that we will continue to look for opportunities to learn and to grow.
Why is recovery a learning process? Let’s take a look:
1) There is so much to learn – When you first get clean and sober, you don’t know a thing about living in recovery. Anyone who has lived through several years of active addiction or alcoholism is in for a major shock when they first get clean. It really is terrifying, because you have no idea how to act or what to do. That might sound silly, but it’s pretty accurate. I can remember feeling bewildered and confused and wondering what I was going to do with my life if I stayed sober.
Thank God I was in a long term treatment program. I couldn’t even figure out what to eat for breakfast–not to mention how I was going to stay clean and sober for the rest of my life! It was absolutely overwhelming.
I had to re-learn so many things about life, like how to make it through a day of work without using drugs, or how to have real friendships that weren’t based on addictions. I also had to learn how to deal with emotions without self-medicating. Finally, I had to learn how to live a clean and sober life. To put it simply, there is just an awful lot of stuff to learn in recovery…and the process never ends.
2) Learning can also be a building experience. We are learning things in the recovery process all of the time, and then expanding further on that knowledge. For example, we might learn about how talking with a friend in recovery helps us to overcome a trigger or an urge to drink. At first we know this only as a suggestion. Then we do it, and find that it works and that it helps. But then we take it a step further when the applied knowledge becomes second nature, and we do it without having to consciously think or plan it out. In other words, we can “practice” recovery techniques, to the point that they become automatic. This is part of the “building” process in recovery.
3) Levels of awareness – recovery is a learning process because you have to raise your awareness in order to progress. This is necessary before you even make the decision to stop, and then it becomes necessary again when start utilizing a replacement strategy to maintain sobriety.
In addiction, we are simply existing, moving from one high to the next. Then we raise our awareness and step beyond that existence, take a look at our life, and make a decision to change. Once the initial shock of sobriety wears off, we need to raise our awareness even further to achieve the creative life in recovery. We transition from “not using drugs and alcohol” to a more passionate and exciting existence in the creative life. Moving through these levels of awareness is a learning process.
I would go so far as to argue that most (or all) personal growth is learning.
Personal growth is about making changes. We might try something new, and if it works for us, we stick with it. This is learning in action. It’s how we build the creative life in recovery–through a series of learning experiences.