My name is Bryn Gallagher and I am a woman in recovery. Among many things, this means that I have had the privilege of spending the last four and a half years re-aligning myself with the most meaningful parts of my life, without using substances. Before I made my way into recovery, I could show up for certain parts of my life, but rarely was I present and comfortable in my skin. I drank in a way that our culture has unfortunately normalized, especially for high school and college-aged people. I was a blackout drinker from the start and used alcohol as an escape route from my constant discomfort. I held on tightly to people, possessions, and alcohol convinced they were the only solution to the growing emptiness that I felt.

My parents surrounded me with compassion and love and told me repeatedly that I was worthy of joy, fulfilment, and freedom. Still, I always felt like I was missing out on the best parts of life. No matter which milestone I reached, I never felt satisfied. At some point in high school, I developed a belief that two things could “fill” this pit: alcohol and people. Alcohol let me live in a delusional world where I had everything I thought I needed, though very little of it was actually healthy or beneficial. People also comforted me in an unhealthy way. From a young age, I have attached my own worth and security to the acceptance and validation of others.

For me, recovery has not been a one-woman journey. Many mentors and friends have guided me and each of them has shared with me the amazement, joy, pain, and growth that they have felt over the course of their own journeys. What I appreciate most about these people is that many of them approach recovery from different perspectives and with different definitions.  Some have their roots in 12-Step Recovery, while others have found a solution in SMART  Recovery or a devout yoga practice. Some think of recovery and sobriety as synonymous, while others practice harm reduction by continually aiming to use less, and in safer, healthier ways. In the beginning of my recovery journey, I did view sobriety and recovery as interchangeable and was not open to the idea that recovery could be defined in a number of ways. It is thanks to these mentors and the variety of definitions that they use to shape their recovery that my mind began to open. Having continued to sit with these (sometimes uncomfortable) ideas about how to define recovery, it now seems abundantly clear to me that we cannot expect one definition of recovery to be a perfect fit for the tens of millions of people in recovery across the country. With that understanding in mind, a variety of definitions of recovery will now be discussed because, as recovery advocates, it is fundamentally important that we are well-versed in the many definitions of recovery that are in use. This broad base of knowledge will allow each of us to be a more effective advocate.

The concept of recovery is defined in many different ways. Varying definitions continue to be developed by organizations, governmental entities, and renowned dictionaries.

Read Bryn’s full white paper on defining recovery here!