Like any growth in life, recovery is not a straight line. Far from it. The journey to freedom from drugs and alcohol can be a messy process and healing more often feels like a circle than a straight path.

Just like recovery from a physical disease or a mental health disorder, ups and downs are common. You may feel full of energy one day and realize your body is healing more slowly than you realized the next. You may have a relapse and require care again. Healing isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, regardless of the condition. Embracing the circle of recovery is a key step in true healing.

Read on to learn about why addiction recovery is not a straight line, and what you can expect despite the differences in each individual’s journey.

The cyclical journey

Anyone would love to hear that addiction recovery is a clear-cut process, with easily measurable steps and a quick and fail-proof solution. Sadly, this is not the case. Addiction recovery is always a battle, and healing takes effort, time and courage. In order to attain long-term abstinence from substances, a serious commitment to change is necessary and must be renewed each day.

Simply put, recovery is the journey of refraining from substance use and reordering your life to support that goal. The best way to attain recovery is through professional addiction rehab and treatment as well as lifestyle changes. With the right support in place and a true desire for sobriety, long-term recovery is possible for any person. That doesn’t mean the road will be smooth, though.

Even for someone who is partaking in professional treatment and has the mental determination, there are bound to be bumps in the road. The addictive properties of many drugs, particularly when used in high doses over a long period of time, will challenge even those who are best set up for success.

Setbacks are OK

Those in addiction science fields understand that setbacks are a likely part of active recovery. While less informed but well-meaning family and friends may regard any relapse in behavior or substance use as a total failure, those who are experienced in substance use disorders recognize that setbacks are a normal part of the process. Hence, the circle of recovery.

While some setbacks are more severe than others, relapse in some form or another is a harsh but true reality. While many are able to avoid a full-fledged return to addiction, it’s not uncommon for individuals to slip back into substance use once, twice or numerous times before getting clean for good. Moreover, relapses can occur in other areas, too. A person may experience a relapse in depression during rehab or struggle with a gambling habit as a replacement behavior.

When it comes to the circle of recovery, setbacks are to be expected. The same lessons may have to be learned several times and that’s OK. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that relapse rates are around 40 to 60 percent for substance use disorders. Relapse does not mean treatment has failed or an individual will never be able to attain full freedom. Relapse means an area of healing that needs to be strengthened.

Maintaining dedication

When a person has come to equate setbacks with failure for his whole life, it can be difficult to untangle the two and find the motivation to continue after a major loss. It can feel like starting from ground zero all over again. The truth is, relapse doesn’t bring you back to square one. Relapse teaches important lessons in self-awareness and can help you identify important spaces to grow to avoid similar triggers in the future. When you experience a setback, try to reframe it as a lesson and discern how you can use it to grow.

Addiction recovery timeline

Recovery isn’t a linear process and should never be treated as one. Finding an addiction recovery timeline and using it to anticipate a streamlined journey will only lead to disappointment and continued substance use.

Rather than offer an addiction recovery timeline, here’s an addiction recovery cycle that provides a more accurate expectation for the journey to recovery. Each step in the process is likely to occur several times. For example, a person will have to make a commitment to enter treatment for the first time. If months later a relapse occurs, that person will have to commit to attending some form of treatment again.

  1. Commitment: the first step in each cycle or mini-cycle of healing is a commitment to change. Recognizing a specific behavior (whether it’s substance use in general, attending parties with drugs, or binge drinking when you’re sad) and aiming to amend your life to change that behavior is the first step in the cycle.
  2. Take action: the next phase is taking action toward the commitment. Even if you don’t know the best next step, you can reach out for help from an addiction specialist, a therapist, your sponsor, a support group or a treatment center. The process of changing your lifestyle to support sobriety all fits under this broad step.
  3. Maintenance: once you’ve accomplished some action towards your goal, maintenance is the active step of preventing relapse back to old behaviors, thoughts and exposure to potential triggers. For example, if your commitment was to get sober, and your action was to partake in treatment, your maintenance will be to attend treatment consistently and apply your learning.
  4. Reassess: this phase of recovery can happen throughout the stages and often happens numerous times. No matter when it takes place, it’s important to process your progress and determine if your treatment regimen is holding up, or if it’s time to meet with your providers and make changes. This step is all about making sustainable change, rather than fleeting success.

Recovery is not a straight line, and each person will likely return to the first step a dozen times in the journey to true and meaningful freedom. Rather than search for an addiction recovery timeline, however, expect to experience a cyclical learning process.

Get help wherever you are in the process

Regardless of where you’re at in your journey to recovery, we’re ready to walk with you. Recovery is not a solitary journey. Take steps toward conquering the circle of recovery when you call (855) 363-7325 or reach out today. Our PHP, IOP and Outpatient clinical services can help you turn the tide in your fight against substance use.

There’s no timeline for recovery. So long as you’re taking each step in stride, fighting through potential triggers and standing back up after potential relapses, you will continue to recover.