Here is a letter published in the AA Grapevine, December 1999, Vol. 56 No. 7 from an AA member who expressed confusion over the phrases “recovered” versus “recovering” alcoholic:
At several meetings lately old-timers have been saying they are “recovered alcoholics.” The Big Book states: “It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism” (p. 85). To me, “recovered” means cured, and if I’m cured, I can drink socially and not get drunk. Doesn’t saying we’re “recovered” give us a false sense of security? Is this a lifelong program of recovery or is there a point at which I’m recovered? I’ve talked about this at several meetings, and had lengthy talks with old-timers, and now I’m totally confused. Help!
Farnham, New York
Published in the AA Grapevine, April 2000, Vol. 56 No. 11 were the responses from readers to the question of being a “recovered” alcoholic versus a “recovering” one:
Concerning “recovered” vs. “recovering,” there can be no confusion if we accept the Big Book as our basic text for recovery (p. xi).
The division in AA is deeper, however, than a disagreement over two words. There are in fact two camps in AA today. The first is the message of recovery documented in the Big Book as given us by our founders. The second is the New Age message which began infiltrating our AA rooms several decades ago and has become accepted by many if not most of our members. Its roots originate in treatment centers and rehabs.
In direct contradiction to the Big Book, New Agers tell us we’ll “never recover,” “always be recovering,” and “never get well.” The message from Bill W. and the first one hundred recovered alcoholics (p. xiii) uses the word “recovered” approximately twenty-three times; “recover,” twenty-eight; and “recovering,” only twice, and then in the context of the newcomer.
We never become cured from the physical allergy. Once we take a drink the phenomenon of craving will be triggered. This is what it means to say “we are not cured from alcoholism” (p. 85). But once we become recovered, the mental obsession to drink is removed. The physical allergy is rather a moot point. We now do not have to take that first drink. Being recovered is conditional. We remain recovered by staying in fit spiritual condition (p. 85).
Is part of the difficulty with “recovered vs. recovering” a result of the mixed message I keep hearing? When I was new in AA, they said I was sick, but I could get well if I would apply the AA principles on a daily basis. By doing so, I haven’t had a drink since my first meeting over sixteen-and-a-half years ago. That doesn’t mean I’m cured. It does mean, however, that I can no longer blame my aberrant actions on “alcoholism,” “my disease kicking in,” “my alcoholic mind,” or anything else.
Today, I hear that we are “always sick,” with an emphasis on problems. I’m so glad I got a lot more hope than that at my first few meetings. Sometimes I have to sit and scratch my head when I hear members talking about “continuing recovering” after ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus years of sobriety. Have they never read the Big Book or taken the Steps? Have they not found a Higher Power that will solve their problem?
I believe the process continues for a lifetime; there are no vacations or breaks. I cannot do it alone and found help through God, the group, and good sponsorship. The words of hope I heard still ring loudly for me. I remain thankful that those early members had the courage to speak up for their convictions to help convince me there was a real answer to alcoholism.
Having heard numerous discussions on recovering vs. recovered, I prefer to focus on a different concept: “permanent recovery,” as used in the Big Book. For a vital requirement of this condition, see p. xvii.
I believe I have an obligation to carry the unequivocal message that complete recovery from alcoholism is not only possible, but probable, provided I’m willing to go to any length to achieve it. Now for the big question: when can an AA member claim to be fully recovered? The answer to this question can be found only in the heart, soul, and conscience of the individual, and is based on the quality, not quantity, of one’s sobriety. When one is recovered, one will know it. Ultimately, the great promise of AA for me is permanent recovery from alcoholism, which is contingent upon a constant state of grace being granted by my Higher Power. I can exist in this state of grace on a daily basis, and thus remain “recovered,” as long as I stay surrendered to alcohol and practice the Twelve Steps in all my affairs.
Hudson, New Hampshire
It is my belief, and that of one of the old-timers (forty-plus years) at my home group, that at some point, we recover from the seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. This does not mean we are “cured,” we are never “cured.” The only solution is a daily reprieve, based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. And we must never rest on our laurels. However, at sixteen years, I firmly consider myself recovered. Now, I can continue with the matter of living life, no longer encumbered by the swamp that I came out of. Early on, I was recovering. But through the application of the Steps, use of outside resources when needed, and the persistence taught to me early on by a man who saved my life, I am recovered!
When I introduce myself at a meeting I simply say: “My name is Jim–and I’m an alcoholic.” But when I introduce myself as a speaker, I call myself a “recovered alcoholic.” The difference being, that when I’m speaking I can then readily clarify my position, and lest I forget, it leads me straight to an opportunity to express my gratitude for how God and the principles of AA have brought me from an extremely hopeless state to a place of reasonable comfort and peace.
I prefer the past tense of “recovered alcoholic” for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that alcoholism is what has happened in my life, not what is currently happening. During the past seven years I have had heart bypass surgery, cancer, kidney surgery, and surgical repair of an aneurysm of the aorta. And here again, I recuped in fine style from each surgery–recovered if you will–and I feel great. To imply that I am still recovering from these surgeries, as well as my alcoholism, would seem to indicate there are still problems, and problems just do not exist. Secondly, heaven forbid that I would ever give a newcomer in AA the impression that he or she would normally be experiencing problems recovering from alcoholism after twenty-nine years of not drinking. In our text book, recovered is used quite extensively, starting with the forwards to each edition and throughout all 164 pages. Bill W. wrote, “Utopia, we have it with us here and now.” Utopia, would that be anything less than recovered?
What do you think about “recovered” versus “recovering”? Send us your thoughts.