The Recovery Process (Recovery Capital Required)

The Recovery Process Is Saturated With Grace

If you’re reading this you’re familiar with suffering in one form or another. I know this to be a fact by virtue of your humanity.

Mental illness, personality disorders, alcohol and drug addiction, impulsive self-destructive behaviors, codependency, and the rest of the post-Eden comrades. Am I speaking your language?

You know, the manifold emotional rollercoasters and disorders that plague humanity and cause us complete and total demoralization.

You’re in good company.

Dr. Matthew S. Stanford has dedicated his life to our healing and total recovery.

His goal? To engage the Christian church and educate the global community on mental illness, placing emphasis on the reality that mental disorders are not sin but rather a disturbance in one, many, or all of the facets of human nature: physical, mental, spiritual, and relational.

Admittedly, you may not share his religious sentiments.

Nonetheless if you observe his words concerning the recovery process, you’ll discover a perennial wisdom that cannot be denied.

The following is an excerpt from his book, Grace For The Afflicted.

What Does the Recovery Process Look Like?

This is a simple diagram I use with families to explain the mental health recovery process.

Screenshot 20230111 223426 445 recovery process

The top line is the process for a person struggling with mental illness. The bottom line shows how the family’s relationship with their loved one is affected by the stage of their recovery.

Let’s look at the top line first. At the far left side of the process we have distress. When an individual is in distress they are often delusional and unable to care for themselves.

They may be having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, and often require hospitalization. This is the beginning of the recovery process.

Family members at this point in the process are reduced to little more than caregivers tending to the individual’s basic needs (e.g., food, safety, shelter).

As the afflicted individual begins to receive treatment, their symptoms are lessened and they become stable.

Stability is defined as no longer a danger to self or others, and corporative with some level of treatment.

At this point in the recovery process, the individual is likely living with a family member or in a residential setting with some type of assistance. The family’s relationship has changed from one of caregiver to manager, meaning they are managing their loved one’s treatment.

Without the family’s support (management), it is likely that the individual would not continue with their treatment and deteriorate back into distress.

As the individual continues to improve, they move to the point in the recovery process I call function. Here the individual begins to take an active role in planning and managing their own recovery.

At this point in recovery, both the individual and his family are less concerned about pathology, illness, and symptoms, but instead start to focus more on the individual’s strengths and wellness.

The family’s relationship with their loved one is now that of a partner in their recovery. No longer is the individual fully dependent on another for care but is empowered to get better through the support of others.

At the last stage in the recovery process we find purpose. Here the individual has rediscovered a sense of personal identity separate from their disorder.

The person is beginning to participate in the local community and is striving to build a meaningful and satisfying life.

At this point in the process, the family has regained their familial relationship with the individual. In other words, Mom can be Mom again, not a caregiver or manager.

As I said before, this process takes time and is messy. It is never a steady progression from one stage to the next. There will be setbacks and challenging periods, but recovery is possible.

Understanding where you are in the process, as well as what the family relationship is at any given point, helps define more realistic expectations for you and your loved one.

Understanding The Recovery Process Is Key

Stanford wrote something I think is worth re-reading again and again and again, “Without the family’s support (management), it is likely that the individual would not continue with their treatment and deteriorate back into distress.”

In the recovery world this concept is referred to as “recovery capital.”

Recovery capital is the total resources, or capital, that a person has available to find and maintain their recovery.

William White identified four different types of recovery capital, so the concept is a bit more nuanced and complex than Stanford’s.

Personal recovery capital. This includes an individual’s physical and human capital.

Physical capital is the available resources to fulfil a person’s basic needs, like their health, healthcare, financial resources, clothing, food, safe and habitable shelter, and transportation.

Human capital relates to a person’s abilities, skills, and knowledge, like problem-solving, education and credentials, self-esteem, the ability to navigate challenging situations and achieve goals, interpersonal skills, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life

Family/social recovery capital. These resources relate to intimate relationships with friends and family, relationships with people in recovery, and supportive partners. It also includes the availability of recovery-related social events

Community recovery capital. This includes attitudes, policies, and resources specifically related to helping individuals resolve substance use disorders. Community resources are vast. According to White, they can include:

  • Recovery activism and advocacy aimed at reducing stigma
  • A full range of addiction treatment resources
  • Peer-led support, such as mutual-aid meetings, that seek to meet the diverse needs of the community
  • Recovery Community Organizations
  • Recovery support institutions, educational-based recovery support such as recovery high schools and colleges, recovery housing, and recovery ministries and churches.
  • Visible and diverse local recovery role models
  • Resources to sustain recovery and early intervention programs, like employee assistance programs, and drug courts.

Cultural capital. These resources resonate with individuals cultural and faith-based beliefs, such as resources for Native Americans, and people of the following faiths: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish.

As we transition from a place of distress, stability, function, and purpose let us remember that this journey is only made possible by the community around us. The more recovery capital you have deposited, the richer your sobriety and purpose with be.