September is National Recovery Month – But what is recovery really?


When I came across a post from the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling alerting me to the fact that September is “National Recovery Month” I found myself reflecting on the term “recovery” and contemplating what it means to me and what it means to some of the many people I’ve worked with over the last six years……

You see, I hear the word “recovery” on a daily basis in a multitude of sentences like “I just can’t seem to get going in my recovery” or “I can’t seem to sustain my recovery” or “Life is great now I’m in recovery!” and of course “I’m working my recovery”.   I sometimes think to myself that if I were to come to a support site for gambling addiction, having never sought help before, and read all of the forum posts about recovery I might be confused by the different definitions applied to the word.

The way I talk to clients about recovery and the times I’d be likely to do that are pretty consistent.  When someone comes to talk to me for the first time we explore practical, emotional and financial changes that need to take place to improve their situation and these changes form the basis of their recovery plan….If they’re coming to talk to me after a slip or relapse we look at ways in which they may be able to hold on to their motivation in order to sustain their recovery.  On the very happy occasions when an individual wants to check in with me and talk me through their successes we always touch on ways they can retain their recovery focus to avoid deadly “complacency”, the enemy of recovery.  What isn’t consistent however, is what all of these people mean when they talk about recovery because it’s such a very personal thing.

Now, for some of you that statement will make NO sense….you might be thinking “Well, surely you’re either gambling and don’t intend to stop…or you’re not gambling and you’re actively making sure that you don’t gamble in future?”  And for some, that’s accurate….but we all see things from within our own frame of reference through all of our distortions and emotional filters.  That means that some people in the initial stages of making a change (contemplative) may view looking at literature about problem gambling, or writing down a phone number to be kept in a draw, un-phoned, as entering recovery; others would dispute that.  Others may have abstained from gambling for months or even years but they don’t consider themselves to be in recovery because they haven’t accessed therapy or made any major changes but rely on things like self-exclusion and not having control of their finances to stop them from gambling.  This is commonly referred to as “White knuckling it” for obvious reasons!  One thing’s for sure though…….the personal definitions of recovery are as many and varied as the problem gamblers in recovery!

I have to wonder though…….is there ever a time when people are recovered?  And if not…..surely the pursuit of recovery is the very definition of insanity?  I personally believe recovery is an on-going process that requires constant effort and monitoring.   That’s not to say the problem gambler always has to be on high alert…but scheduling in time each month just to “check in” with some form of support and review any tweaks that need to be made to the recovery plan would be a good idea.  As for the argument that pursuing anything that can’t be achieved is a waste of effort….don’t we all pursue the impossible?  Aren’t we all trying to be better in some way?  I know that as a counsellor I work on my personal and professional development on an on-going basis with the knowledge that I’ll never be finished, and that’s ok 🙂

For some the word “recovery” carries a kind of magical power…’s worn like a protective shield that stops them from taking on too much too soon.  For others it can be provided as an explanation of their actions if needed but for many it’s uttered with pride.  Pride of following a path that’s so tough it can feel like trying to swim upstream in treacle……chased by sharks!  No matter the definition those that consider themselves to be in recovery are doing something remarkable and positive and I admire their courage and dedication. has a lot to say about recovery, but my favourite definition is the regaining of, or possibility of regaining, something lost or taken away.” I like this definition because the people I work with have lost a great deal…but it’s the word “possibility” I really love because recovery for many problem gamblers is all about the possibility of living a “normal” life free from gambling.  They want many of the things others take for granted and they want to live without the constant threat of being found out, losing life or liberty or losing their families.

In conclusion, I think that for problem gamblers the pursuit of recovery is synonymous with the pursuit of happiness.  I wish them all well.  🙂

One thought on “September is National Recovery Month – But what is recovery really?”

  1. Love this piece, thank you.
    SAMHSA just announced their working definition of recovery as” a process of change within which a person pursues health and well being, a self directed life and strives to reach their full potential. ” Nothing about clean and sober. Nothing about the steps to take.. Just moving forward, consciously, growing and changing as we go.


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