The paradox of free choice. It’s an age-old debate and I don’t presume that this post will cover nearly all the angles, but here are my thoughts, anyway, as choice applies to recovery.
We come into recovery learning that the sense of being able to choose has been all but eroded in active addiction. In the later stages, after all, we are for all intents and purposes powerless. This knowledge helps us surrender, and ask for guidance. Interesting that we did, somehow, manage to exercise choice in coming to whatever form of ‘treatment’ we’re engaged with (for most).
In early recovery we are advised to walk the tried-and-tested route, to not trust our impaired brains to make decisions that are in our best interests. Many walk this path, but others, feeling disempowered, rebel at the indignity of the suggestion. This is not a failure of the person, as we are sometimes led to believe, but a shortfall of the recovery system. It can be rigid.
I believe that in recovery, the freedom to choose can be gently reintroduced in a culture of self-directed healing. It has benefits – people optimise their sense of autonomy by being able to exercise choice over the services and support that will best fit their recovery and building of resilience.
Choosing empowers people. That’s why the advice (this is what you must do to get well) that serves so well in initiating recovery, can be toned down after some months in favour of encouraging people to make decisions, build on strengths and regain control over their lives.
What works in early recovery doesn’t always work later on. The trick is to be flexible, understand that paths are different, and to not let people fall through the cracks just because they don’t fit the system.