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Recovery and Individuation

A girl feel safe after recovery

Although newly sober addicts come to drug addiction treatment in a fragile state, it is important to remember that early recovery is also an auspicious time. Positive change can occur in and through a psychological crisis. This means it is important that our clients feel safe and welcomed. This is not to say the consequences of their addiction should be minimized, just that recovery cannot commence if the addict is locked in the stress response.

Carl Jung maintained that “individuation” was the goal of analysis. Individuation can be thought of as a process through which a person becomes her own unique self, the experience of psychological wholeness. Individuation may unfold through the course of one’s life. However, in times of crisis, the process can be accelerated. At Rockland Recovery we believe that the 12 Steps can also hasten individuation.

Jungian psychology understands individuation to occurs through the following three phases: 1) containment/nurturance, 2) adaptation/adjustment, and 3) centering/integration. These three phases can also be used as a lens through which to view recovery. When someone come into recovery, they need nurturance. They need to know that they are cared for. Most addicts need to rebuild their lives from the ground up, which is a reality that is hard to face.

As the addict moves through the first half of the step process he gradually adapts to his circumstances. Completion of the fourth step is felt as a major accomplishment; the addict will often have a strong sense that he is successfully negotiating the intense transformation of recovery. Having acquired a degree of self-knowledge he is better equipped to face life. He is now ready to move on, into the next phase of the journey.

Ideally, the addict will transition into a sober living facility. She will gradually re-enter the stream of life with all its challenges and responsibilities. This phase is all about adaptation and adjustment as she is now expected to balance recovery with the demands of finding a job and paying bills. If she is to be successful, she must join a close-knit recovery community; she must also genuinely embrace her new identity.

In recovery, one acquires a new persona. This is usually an organic process, a consequence of shedding the old addict identity. This transition usually occurs over the latter part of the step process (e.g., making restitution and helping others.) Eventually, the addict discovers that she no longer needs the rigid structure of sober living, that she is ready to return to the “real world.” For many addicts, this is the final phase of recovery, often called “maintenance.” However, stopping here also arrests the movement of individuation. This is because these folks never beak with their recovery persons; they remain part of the recovery collective.

At Rockland Recovery we want our clients to have the resources to reach the final phase of centering and integration. In each phase, the addict loses something, and in this last transition, he must lose his recovery persona, which has been strongly reinforced by the praise and accolades of family, friends, and sponsees. In this phase the addict must look beyond recovery and ask himself, “What is really calling me?” and “What is my heart’s desire?” Often these questions are prompted by what is called “recovery fatigue,” which usually occurs because one has remained in the second phase for too long.

We believe that if clients are brought to a place of understanding around this, they will not fall prey to recovery fatigue. They will leave the treatment center, and later sober living, with the understanding that the 12 Steps are merely a starting point, what Bill W. called a “spiritual kindergarten.” The goal of 12 Step recovery is as much about becoming one’s true self as it is about serving others. This is the deeper reason behind the AA saying, “To thine own self be true.”

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


Take the First Step Toward Recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to request a confidential call to explore treatment options, ask questions, and receive support from experienced professionals. We know taking this first step can be challenging, but it’s a courageous and important part of the recovery journey.

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