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What Does It Mean to Move Past Your Addiction?

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Yesterday I read yet another article about another celebrity who was in recovery, relapsed, publicly apologized, and is back to rehab. I will not name this person because as a professional who helps people to not only solve their addictions, but fully move past them, I make it a practice not to publicly name a high profile person who is struggling. It’s unethical and in poor taste, yet rehabs make public announcements all the time about the latest celebrity they have being admitted to their rehab. This begs the question, why? Even if we set aside the fact that they are literally breaking privacy laws, why would they want to advertise that a high profile person has been to their rehab multiple times? Don’t you think they would worry that people will think that their treatment doesn’t actually work?

The truth is, no they don’t worry about that at all. The treatment industry along with our government have set it up so no one expects addiction treatment to actually work. People have now accepted that the best they can expect after rehab is a temporary reprieve from drinking or using drugs. And that reprieve is completely contingent on the substance user participating in a “recovery plan” for the rest of their lives. This recovery plan includes total abstinence from all substances, 12 step group meetings, prayer, group therapy, and sometimes, medication.

Once someone gets the addict or alcoholic diagnosis and goes into their first meeting or rehab, there is an expectation that they are forever sick and forever at risk of relapse. Those who take on the alcoholic and addict identity are forever tied to a habit they may have had last week, last year or three or four decades ago. You are seen as either an active addict or a “person in recovery”. Either way you haven’t moved past your addiction; you’ve kept it alive and well in mind; and it’s stayed alive and well in the minds of your loved ones too.

It is estimated that there are 43 million people in the US who once fit the criteria of substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder (aka addiction and alcoholism) but now do not. Yet there are only approximately 2 million people who attend recovery meetings. So what about the other 41 million people? What do they do? It turns these are people who resolved their addiction by abandoning or changing their substance use habit and simply moving on in their lives. While some may consider themselves as recovered addicts/alcoholics, they see it no different than any other behavior they used to do and don’t do anymore. 

Did you ride a bicycle as a kid? I can remember when I got my first 3-speed bike. It was my first bike that wasn’t handed down to me; it was brand new and it was all mine. I rode that bike for hours everyday and it took me places I could never go before on my own. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t love my bike, but about 6 years later I turned 16 and learned to drive. When I started driving, I parked my bike and never looked back.

And that is what it is like to move on from an addiction. You stop using drugs and/or drinking heavily because you see a happier life without it. You realize that using heavily isn’t doing for you what it once did or what you thought it was doing. You realize the benefits of not being intoxicated are greater than the benefits of intoxication. This may seem obvious, but for many people who feel stuck in the revolving door of heavy use, rehab, and recovery, it’s so elusive. They have been given the wrong information and find themselves mired in a world where they will always yearn for riding their bicycle. They have a belief that nothing will be better than how they felt when riding that bicycle — and that belief is reinforced in addiction treatment and 12 step meetings. 

I spent more than 25 years in and around 12 step meetings, and being raised within that culture, I learned that nothing would ever feel as good as being drunk or high. Subsequently I struggled with drugs and alcohol as a teen and young adult, and when I went into recovery, I was told that I had to accept the reality that I could never again feel that great feeling of intoxication — and that nothing else would compare to it, but I had to deny myself of it for the rest of my life, one day at a time. I’m so thankful that I didn’t accept that complete nonsense at face value.

While being drunk and high felt pretty good when I was younger, I have experienced at least a thousand different things that feel a million times better. Just like riding my bicycle, being drunk and high quickly became a faint memory of an interesting time in my life. That behavior didn’t define me then, nor does it define me today, no more than riding my bicycle did all those years ago.

The truth is most people not only resolve their addictions, they fully move past them, and it’s wonderful. 

Michelle Dunbar is the co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family. She is the Executive Director of the Saint Jude Retreat. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use problem, there is an empowering solution that has proven to be three times more effective than addiction treatment and twelve times more effective than 12 step meetings. Go to for more information or call 888-424-2626.

For more information about The Freedom Model go to


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