I have been pondering the word “recovery.”
“Recovery” is what we have when we are recovering. It is what we get when we “recover.”
And what does it mean to “recover”?
The readily-available etymological dictionaries don’t really go further than the word “recovery” itself. The earliest usage of the word that I have found comes from the 11th century Old French word “recovrer”, which means to “come back, return; regain health; procure, get again.”
But I can’t help but notice that “recover” is actually a composite of two parts: the word “cover,” introduced by the prefix “re.” “Re” is a prefix that invariably means “again,” while the main word “cover” means to protect and/or conceal.
In the context of recovery from addiction, this is actually a very profound statement.
Today, most people recognize that addiction is not the result of a moral failure, or the abdication of self-control. Rather, it is the result of a subconscious defense mechanism trying to protect a vulnerable part of our psyche from pain. It is one part of ourselves trying to cover over our Achilles heel so that we will not come to harm.
For example, for thousands of years, alcohol has been used as a means of numbing ourselves to pain. It has been used to shield soldiers from the agony of removing bullets, amputating limbs, or suturing wounds. It has been used to drown the anguish and sorrow of loss. It is still used by alcoholics to protect them from deep and faceless psychological threats and fears.
Sex, drugs and gambling are not alcohol, but they perform a similar function — they provide distraction and escape. They protect us and shield us from life experiences that would otherwise overwhelm our capacity to tolerate pain.
Re-covery is when we strip ourselves of one cover, and replace it with another. We recognize that the prior cover is hurting us, and that it no longer serves its purpose. Hopefully, the new cover will not be destructive or detrimental to our lives and those the people that surround us. We surrender the crutch that no longer serves us in favor of something that does.
But the truth is, we should be aspiring to more than just re-covery, and merely replacing one cover with another one.
We should ask: should we have a cover at all?
It’s a frightening world, full of wounded and hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.
So we feel the need for some armor, some cover to protect us.
But we now know that any cover that we embrace will contort our true selves in some way, and will filter both what we take in and what we put it out.
We once thought that our addiction was a good “cover” for our wounds and our voids, that it filtered our the bad stuff, and left us with the good stuff. But we have since come to recognize how shortsighted our views of “bad” and “good” were. We have seen how we grew around our addiction, how we became dependent upon it, and how it left our lives in shambles. We did not and could not foresee at the time that our shield would become our prison.
Are we sure that we’ll do better now? What will our next cover filter and restrain?
We are infinitely complex, and have only begun to discover and explore all that we are, all that we are capable of. Do we really want to stunt our growth with yet another “cover” — as benign as it may seem to us at the moment?
Uncovery is different than recovery.
Uncovery means no more covers. It means that we are done concealing ourselves, hiding from pain, quarantining, and only allowing certain aspects of ourselves to emerge and to be known. Uncovery means that rather than focus on improving the functionality and efficiency of our defenses, we work to become vulnerable, and to resist the temptation to flee to the deceptive safety of any veil or cover that does not permit the unadulterated expression of our full selves.
It means that we are unconvering ourselves, unabashedly, and allowing who we really are to emerge without shame or apology.
I am not one of those who believes that “who we are” is necessarily perfect and without need of correction or repair. I certainly do not believe that my own inner core is populated with butterflies and rainbows; I know that my defects and shortcomings are substantial.
But I’m not longer prepared to conduct my psychological repairs in the dark, hidden from view, fearful of shame and judgment. While the fear of shame and judgment is still strong — and I won’t pretend that I race toward it enthusiastically — I’m tired of all of the facades and narratives, of all of the ways in which I have distorted my reality for the sake of keeping me safe.
I am now committed to a path that is raw and vulnerable. It won’t necessarily be comfortable, and it won’t be pain free, but it will be real, and it will be me.
I’m scarcely in control of anything at all, but I intend it to be a gentle uncovery.
P.S. While I was looking for an awesome graphic to accompany this post, I stumbled across the following link and realized that I was not the first to coin the term “uncovery.” https://smswaby.com/2017/07/13/a-new-definition-of-recovery-uncovery/. Credit is due where credit is due.