Many years ago I had the privilege of speaking at a local church. The topic was Coram Deo Recovery and the actual message was left to me. What did I want to present, How would I like to present it?

I chose what WAS and what CONTINUES to be one of the most frustrating aspects of what we do. What is our success rate? The question is integral in so many ways. When we think about our success rate, donors want to know, residents and their families want to know, the State of CT wants to know.

Before we can share what our success rate is, we have to first answer the question, “How Do You Measure Success?”  The industry standard is the number of days sober a person in recovery has. How many days have you gone without using your drug of choice? That standard alone has been the end all and be all. AND IT IS NOT A GOOD MEASURE.

What if, instead of days of sobriety, we measured:

  • How long since you last in prison?
  • How long since you were last hospitalized?
  • How long have you been in a stable living environment?
  • How long have you held your current job?
  • How many relationships have been restored since you started this journey of recovery?
  • How many positive things have you done for yourself and your recovery lately?
  • Did you use drugs and alcohol less this year than last year?

The point here is not that sobriety is not important, indeed it is VERY important. The point is there are other factors to consider as well. The mess and chaos those in recovery find themselves in was not created overnight, nor will it disappear overnight. Recovery is a process that can take years to walk out, but along the way it is so important to measure success in all areas and to celebrate the milestones that have been achieved rather than hyperfocusing on only one aspect: sobriety.

This past week, I came across this article from Deni Carise, PhD, a chief science officer for Recovery Centers of America and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

It confirms what I have known for some time now: a standard for success that can only be met by 100% sobriety not only harms people in recovery, essentially erasing any good work with every possible slip-up or relapse, it makes it almost impossible to communicate the effectiveness and life-changing impact that many programs have in people’s lives. As Dr. Carise states:

We must come to realize that having 100% abstinence 6 to 12 months after an individual stops treatment doesn’t truly illustrate the value or benefits of treatment. And sadly, individuals feel like failures for not reaching these milestones.

I’d encourage you to read the entire article and consider for yourself how you think about recovery. We can start being honest about how hard the road of recovery can be while also acknowledging that “better” doesn’t have to mean “perfect”. We can make it to a better place one step at a time.


Read the Article