Addiction recovery basics: recovered or recovering?

In the 12 step rooms of programs like A.A., addiction recovery basics dictate that we break the cycle of denial and call ourselves alcoholics or addicts. But is it healthy to continue to identify and reinforce this type of self-definition after years of sobriety? We ask questions about the assumptions of addiction recovery basics here.

minute read

A state of mind

One thing that bothers me about 12 step groups is the focus that the group-mind puts on the state of “being an addict”.

1. First, there is the introduction.  My name is Lee, and I am an addict/alcoholic.
2. Then there is the literature. People can get really self-righteous about the “program of recovery”, quoting passages about once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  If you identify as being “in recovery”, you can find quotes ad infinitum to support your point of view.
3. Finally, there are the sayings:
– Some of us are sicker than others
– We’re all here because we’re not all there
– Sobriety is a journey, not a destination

What bothers me about this state of mind is that it is a perpetual cycle of putting yourself down.  When you believe and reinforce these beliefs by repeating phrases out loud, the brain reinforces the neural pathways to strengthen the beliefs.  And we end up living in a state of addiction, or at least being reminded of it, most of the time.

Am I an addict?

Well, yes.  But do I need to reinforce this identity?  Do I need to hold on to the past?  Does my ego need such deflating that I put myself into a category of “hopelessly lost”.  No, no and no.

Are you recovered?

I don’t believe that I need to reinforce an alcoholic-addict identity because I believe that I am RECOVERED from the illness of body and mind.  Although recovery from drug addiction, alcoholism or behavioral addictions (food, sex, internet, gambling) is a process…I believe that there is an endpoint.  A point when you need to move on from the identity of being an alcoholic, and moving on to being an ex-problem drinker.  A point when you say that it’s no longer healthy to keep holding on to the past, and work towards a new identity.


What do you think? Are you recovered or recovering? Do you have to identify with your past in order to move forward and develop a deeper understanding of life with your fellows and with the big G-O-D?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I believe this is amazing! I have always believed in the fact that one day I would no linger be an addict! I believe that strengthens the addicts ambition to overcome addiction! Good outlook! Thank you for sharing I am making an outline for my plan to overcome my addiction. This helps a lot!

  2. Hello Corrina. Some people can linger in the past for decades after they stop using drugs or drinking. I can totally relate with what you’re saying. You might want to figure out what you’re willing to accept and set some boundaries. Living in the past is not a principle of the 12 step program but can be a distortion of the work people do through the 12 steps.

  3. I have started going to an Al non meeting with my fiance. One thing that bothers me is that they are always bringing up the past. I have told my fiance You have been sober longer then you where drinking. When is it time to leave the past behind you and move on with your life. Bringing up past relationships and what went wrong over and over again. When do they free them selves of the past and enjoy their lives now. It is very hard to be in a healthy relationship when he continues to look into his past. Now, I am feeling like I am the one that needs help. Sorry for rambling.

  4. I absolutely agree with this, and it has been my philosophy in the nearly 3 years that I have been in recovery. I did not do all of this work to sit around and badmouth myself and stay stuck. I think that empowerment is not only more attractive, but essential to long-term recovery. The ego deflation may be useful at first, but it is no way to live. Once one gets a proper perspective on things, it is important to have some pride, confidence, and autonomy. That is recovery in the truest sense of the word.

  5. I absolutely agree with this and am so glad to see it in print. I don’t like going to meetings often because I hear people go on and on about what was and it infuriates me to call myself an addict or some other embarrasing name. If I go to a meeting I go to talk about spirituality and recovery, I like to hear about spiritual principles, how to live in this world. I am not interested in listening to or supporting someone who goes on and on about the problems, I want to know how to live a spiritual life and in a healthy way. I go to hear a spiritual message so many times it just causes more problems when people just go on about the problem when I think what we need to know more about is how to live a spiritual life. I am so glad to hear sommeone say this because many times I wonder why I bother going at all. It is very frustrating. So glad to see this in print.

  6. When first abstaining from addiction that had ruled your life in every aspect does make one insecure and doubt themselves. In regards to understanding life with (G-O-D), one can overcome the insecurity and self doubt with the help of the higher power.

    AA teaches one to believe in a higher power because addicts can not do it on their own. This is so true-why do addicts quit numerous times to only eventually start using again? They thought they could do it on their own.

  7. I have no issue with AA in general and believe it has saved many a person and is a great community of sober people. But, I do also believe that a person at some point may be passed that episode in their life and no longer need think of themselves as an addict or alcoholic. AND, I do have issues with the notion that you have a disease and that you cannot recover, because it is a self perpetuating circumstance. Now, AA doesn’t make any money off of anyone, it’s just the stand they take. But many many 12-step based rehabs sure do seem to benefit from the notion. There are plenty of people who go to rehab 2-3-4… 8-9-10… times. One thing they say in AA is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” So, isn’t going to rehab over and over and expecting a different result perhaps just as insane? What they will tell you, of course, in the rehab, is that you didn’t work your steps right. So… it’s just something to ponder. But — anyway, whether you believe you have a disease or not – the 12 steps have a lot of worth.

  8. I don’t think that you have to define yourself always as a sick person. I believe that it’s good to keep your past in mind in order not to repeat it again. Just because you have/ had a addiction doesn’t define you as a broken person. Your a very strong person for making a change to better your life.

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more! To define yourself as a disease, an allergy or anything else that is derogatory goes against every metaphysical principle that I know. If someone is fat and trying to losing weight, they don’ go around saying, “I am fat”. Likewise, if you are want prosperity, you don’t go around telling yourself “I am poor”. Defining yourself as an alcoholic is nowhere in their Big Book and it is not part of their 12 steps! Step One doesn’t say introduce yourself at a meeting as an alcoholic. It is not a matter of denial at all, but a matter of self-definition.

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