Long-term addiction recovery has a beginning (or many beginnings), a middle, and an end. Nearly all our national resources allocated to addiction are devoted to the first of these stages, even as efforts of the past 15 years have pushed a vision of support into the mid-life of personal and family recovery. All of these are noble efforts, but they leave unanswered the questions generations have faced in the final chapters of their lives. After living a life in recovery, how does one face death in recovery? Recovery must be managed in this last context or be lost after being hard-earned and so carefully sustained and protected.
There is some attention paid to the addiction vulnerabilities of older adults, but one can find few scientific studies and little experiential knowledge captured within mutual aid literature about the final stages of one’s life as a person in recovery. This is regrettable in that these final stages offer threats to, but opportunities within, the recovery process.
Aging poses all manner of challenges that can destabilize recovery: innumerable indignities, acute and chronic pain from illness and injury, the progressive erosion and loss of functions long taken for granted, disengagement from personally fulfilling roles and activities, the loss of loved ones and other important people, strain as family and friendship are subsequently reconstituted, and even the loss of those who guided one’s own recovery initiation–all combined with a growing awareness of the shortness of time. And for those who enter recovery but who face the threat of a life cut short by addiction-related disease, there is the haunting self-accusation that that one has thrown one’s life away and, given that, the question of whether going out in a blaze of self-destruction is preferable to end-of-life recovery.
It should not be surprising in these contexts that recovery can be weakened to a breaking point. Sadly, the very support structures that played such an important role in early recovery initiation and in recovery maintenance may have eroded by the time a person needs them most during these final chapters of recovery. Even when stability is sustained, the meaning within and beyond recovery may need to redefined during these final chapters of recovery. Read more…