April 01, 2023 By Leah Malone

Recovery Is Not Linear


One of the most harmful misconceptions about recovery is that it is a linear process. Not only does this misconception hold individuals back from seeking the support they need to heal, but it also perpetuates a cycle of self-abuse. The truth is recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), trauma, and other mental health disorders is rarely linear. Instead, recovery is messy. However, the messiness is necessary; it allows every woman to walk her unique healing path to find what works for her.

A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) publication explains, “Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks.” Women in recovery can find comfort in knowing that setbacks are often a part of the recovery process. Utilizing treatment and recovery services provided by Grace Recovery can reduce the frequency of these setbacks and, ultimately, help women maintain long-lasting recovery.

Understanding Recovery as a Process

This misconception about recovery being linear most likely developed before there was a proper definition of recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” Recognizing recovery as a process can reduce potential intimidation for those needing healing.

While it may be obvious, no one’s healing journey happens in a straight line. There is no intervention, treatment program, or another approach that can guarantee lasting healing for a person. Similarly, there is no one path an individual can take to ensure lasting sobriety or recovery. Because of this, most treatment facilities utilize an individualized approach to healing and recovery.

The Value of Individualized Treatment

When a facility uses individualized treatment, they tailor their treatment programs to fit a client’s unique needs and recovery goals. Individualized treatment is valuable because every person has different needs that must be met to establish effective healing and experience lasting recovery. It is common for facilities to offer various interventions and treatment approaches to ensure that all needs of clients are met.

For example, consider two women seeking recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). The first woman has a history of trauma and uses alcohol to self-medicate. The second woman has a co-occurring mental health disorder and engages in polysubstance use to self-medicate. Despite both women having SUD, they have various other distinct needs that must be uniquely met during treatment.

Addressing Varying Needs

The treatment plans for both women will likely suggest participating in interventions to replace self-medicating practices. However, the first woman may also be encouraged to participate in trauma-informed therapies. The second woman, on the other hand, will need to utilize a variety of therapies to address her co-occurring disorder. Additionally, this woman will likely require additional support in overcoming the use of multiple substances.

Different Levels of Severity

Individualized treatment plans are also valuable in addressing the severity of a person’s symptoms during treatment. No two people with SUD will share the same symptoms, especially when considering their intensity or severity. Likewise, unique symptoms will need to be addressed and navigated differently during treatment.

Common Setbacks in Recovery

As mentioned in the SAMHSA publication, setbacks are often common in recovery. Setbacks include any hardship that causes an individual to feel “behind” in their recovery efforts. Therefore, preparing for potential setbacks and learning how to navigate them can be highly beneficial to sustaining recovery.

Challenging Emotions

Addiction and mental health disorders often contribute to problematic emotions. While treatment helps individuals learn how to manage their emotions better, challenging emotions do not go away after treatment. Therefore, those in recovery need various healthy coping tools, especially during times of high stress. Social support can also play a valuable role in managing challenging emotions.

Substance Use Cravings

Addiction cravings are another common setback for those in recovery. The NIDA website explains, “The chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process….” Relapse does not mean that treatment has failed, either. Instead, relapse may indicate that additional treatment is needed or treatment must be modified moving forward.

Interpersonal Difficulties

Similar to emotions, interpersonal relationships are bound to present challenges from time to time. Fortunately, treatment can provide individuals with the communication, conflict resolution, and other interpersonal skills necessary for fostering healthy relationships in recovery.

Even with the presence of setbacks, those in recovery are always moving toward growth.

Progress Through Recovery With Goal-Setting

Despite recovery being a non-linear process, individuals can progress through recovery with goal-setting. Setting goals can help individuals not only stay on track but also helps individuals focus on specific goals, each at a time. This can reduce feelings of overwhelm and fuel motivation toward completing goals.

With goal-setting, it is essential to set both short-term and long-term goals. Setting long-term goals can foster a bigger picture for healing to work toward. Additionally, it may be easier to create short-term goals after creating larger ones first.

Individuals can set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals to help them stay on track in their recovery. When or if a goal is missed, it is okay. Be encouraged to place this goal on a list for the following week. Additionally, focus on only a few goals at a time.

Here are some examples of goals to consider at the beginning of your recovery:

  • Practice mindfulness for a few minutes every day
  • Replace online scrolling with reading
  • Journal your daily progress
  • Replace self-medicating practice with physical exercise
  • Attend at least one group therapy group weekly

Unfortunately, it is common for people to consider recovery a linear process. However, healing is never linear; it is meant to be messy. Likewise, setbacks are inevitable from time to time. If you are seeking healing, it can help to know that there are ways to reduce the frequency of setbacks when they surface. Goal-setting is one of the most valuable ways to stay on track. Additionally, treatment can provide the resources and tools you need to achieve lasting healing and recovery. At Grace Recovery, we provide transitional living homes and other treatment services for women in recovery. We strive to provide compassionate, empowering care to all clients. To learn more about our services, call (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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