For the month of September, Legacy recognizes National Recovery Month.
By Susie Loredo, LMSW
Recovery Month is the perfect time to talk about building a life you don’t want to relapse from. Everyone has their own definition of a good life, but there are some basics that everyone working toward recovery should consider. SAMHSA’s definition of recovery includes 4 components: Health, Home, Purpose, and Community. Having a stable and safe place to live is an obvious crucial need that many struggle to find. Good health involves managing our conditions, and making healthy choices that support our physical and emotional well-being. Participating in society and conducting meaningful daily activities give us a sense of purpose. Having relationships and social networks provide support, friendship, love, community, and connection. It is the combination of the 4 components that provide the most reliable foundation for recovery. An interesting scientific experiment illustrates this point.
Early addiction research studies placed a rat alone in a small cage and then offered it a choice between water and heroin-laced water. A vast majority of the rats drank the heroin-water until they became addicted and overdosed. Researchers concluded that the chemical “hooks” of the drug caused the rats to be addicted. Later, Professor Bruce Alexander wondered whether the isolation of the rats was a factor in their drug use. Alexander designed what he dubbed “Rat Park”, a vastly larger cage with 20 rats, plenty of food, entertainment, and room to mate and raise babies. The choice of water and heroin-water was also offered, and none of the rats in Rat Park chose the heroin-water. Even rats that had previously been addicted alone in a cage, ignored heroin in Rat Park. With connection and social stimulation, drug use disappeared. Addiction is about the cage.
The same is true with people. Chronic isolation and disconnection cause us to look for relief. We find temporary comfort in drugs or behaviors as an escape from difficult emotions, which becomes a substitute for a full life. What if you could build a full life with purpose and connection to people you love, with a home and good health. What would that look like for you?