Wellness Recovery Action Planning and Addiction Recovery: A Survival Tool for All Seasons

Senior Program Manager Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

By Niki A. Miller, MS, CPS, Senior Program Manager
Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

This article is the first in a four-part series that discusses some of the benefits a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) can offer people with addictions, summarizes the components of a plan, and shares examples of ways I have applied them to my recovery.

The first two years of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction were no picnic. It took me three months to be able to read, five months to have a good day, and nearly eight months to have two good days in a row. I listened to every suggestion and tried to take everyone’s advice, even when it was contradictory and regardless of whether it was right for me. I ran around in circles trying to find the silver bullet—that magic ingredient that could guarantee I would never return to active addiction.

For quite a while it appeared that, now that I was clean and sober, my life was getting worse instead of better. I had a series of not-so-wonderful revelations and developed a set of beliefs that went something like this:

 

  • If I relapse, I will die.
  •  Okay, yes—I have another mental health disorder.
  • Could I be addicted to exercise.
  • I have physical and mental health conditions that might require medication.
  • If I relapse, I will die.
  • And, the ever-popular:
    • Son
    • Of a
    • Bitch
    • Everything’s
    • Real

At a family gathering, a cousin (the only one there without addiction or mental health issues) commented that I better find a 12-step meeting for people who can’t stop going to 12-step meetings. I felt the deep sting of shame because the truth was that, despite my profound gratitude for each day of sobriety, I spent a great deal of time in a state of extreme fear. Nevertheless, I made it through those difficult early years. Just as I finally started to achieve some of my educational and professional goals, the unthinkable happened. Eight years into recovery, a life-threatening medical ordeal resulted in multiple surgeries, a series of hospitalizations, and ultimately helped precipitate a severe relapse into drug addiction. The unthinkable part: I didn’t die.

I had no game plan for damage control; I had made no provisions for stumbling, falling, or getting back up; and I was lost. I spent the better part of three years in and out of institutions between periods on the mean streets of some of America’s most dangerous cities. Everyone that had ever loved me was preparing themselves for the news of my imminent demise. When I crawled out of this nightmare and got clean again, a host of psychiatric professionals pronounced me mentally ill beyond repair. They all agreed I was permanently disabled and would never work again, and the best-case scenario for my future was a medication-compliant life in a group home. More than 26 years later, I am still in recovery and have an advanced degree and a fulfilling job. I also own a home, which actually resembles a group home at times because I tend to take in people in need of a leg up in early recovery.

I have come to understand the importance of things I heard over and over again, such as “Failing to plan is planning to fail” and “What works for you may not work for me.” Today, I accept that, ultimately, I am the best arbiter of what I do and do not need to maintain my recovery. Creating a WRAP for my addiction-related recovery needs has been a tremendously helpful tool for operationalizing my truths. I believe it has a vast potential to help others dealing with addiction and is particularly important to consider today as we face the fallout of an opioid epidemic rooted in prescription practices.

WRAP for Addictions is an 80-page guide that unpacks the practical components of this recovery toolkit with step-by-step explanations, worksheets, and questions/prompts that make developing a personal plan a straightforward process. It is completely compatible with 12-step programs, other addiction recovery groups and treatment philosophies, and differing views on the integration of spirituality—from completely secular recovery supports to those rooted in specific cultural and/or faith-based beliefs. It is useful at every stage of recovery and is designed to be a dynamic tool that grows and evolves as we do on our individual recovery paths.

In my 35-year-long addiction recovery journey, I have rarely met a person who is recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction exclusively. Research affirms this and tells us at least two-thirds of men and women seeking treatment at publicly funded substance use disorder facilities report a history of childhood sexual or physical abuse and that the majority of women with drug addictions are victims of past or current intimate partner violence. It also tells us that co-occurring mental health disorders among people in addiction recovery are more the rule than the exception, with depressive disorders among men and trauma-related disorders among women most prevalent, respectively.

The idea that people develop or recover from behavioral health problems in discrete silos is, of course, absurd. People tend to enter recovery through different doors, navigate different systems of care, develop unique recovery identities, and interact with various communities of recovery.

This four-part series aims to support the transmigration of recovery management strategies across addiction and mental health recovery communities. The next two articles in this series will focus on the six sections of the plan outlined in WRAP for Addictions, as well as concrete examples of how they can be applied to specific situations and issues relevant to addiction recovery. The final article will discuss some advantages of incorporating WRAP into addiction recovery support activities and opportunities for doing so.

Do you use WRAP to support your recovery from addiction? Have you used it in tandem with other recovery models or programs? How does your WRAP support your recovery goals? Comment on Facebook or email us at newsletter@wrapandrecoverybooks.com.

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