On Word Meanings–Recovery

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)


Today’s piece is brought to you by the word recovery, and its sister verb recover.

Many claim the word, or some derivation of it. “I’m in recovery from addiction,” or “I’m recovering from abuse,” we say. It’s an equal opportunity word, one used by the substance abusers, the depressed, the over-eaters, the under-eaters, the sex, the self-loathers, the people pleasers, the happy-plastic material folks, the struggling perfectionist, the over-elevators of theology, the worshipers of the church idol–all addicts alike.

It is a word for the broken; isn’t it? The word is bandied about in twelve step meetings and therapy sessions, sometimes rolls of the tongue with twinge of guilt and sorrow.

But though it may carry a culturally implied sense of shame, the word recovery is a beautiful. It is pregnant with possibility.

As first used in the English language, the word recover, carried with it the notion of regaining consciousness.  It was derived from the Old French “recovrer,” which meant “come back, return, regain health….”

At it’s essence, the word recovery contemplates the following: (a) the subject was once healthy and fully conscious; (b) the subject fell into a thick, sick sleep; and, (c) the subject is finding his way back to full consciousness, to being healthy and awake!

I suppose it’s understandable—recovery might be used to infer shame by some. After all, didn’t we choose to go the way of the addict? Didn’t we choose to elevate our vices—liquor, sex, food, theology (mull that one over for a bit)—over substance (the abiding present God of our waking)? Didn’t we eat the poisoned fruit? Didn’t we self-induce our own comas?


But consider it another way.

Jesus once said the healthy have no need for doctors, for recovery. His house call was for the sick, for those who wanted to return to health. He came recovering sight for the blind, health for the leprous, and life for the dead. He was recovery personified, and he visited it on those small enough to see their need.

I’m owning the word recovery. It’s mine, and it carries no sense of shame or guilt. Instead, I’ll wear it as more specific nomenclature—I am in the company of those whose houses have been visited by the best of doctors, the doctor who need not waste his time with the healthy.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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  • shermo

    I am praying to ALWAYS be recovering…it means I am in process. May I never be done getting healthier (in all areas) until He calls me home.

    • sethhaines

      Truer words have never been spoken.

  • tonia

    Loving this. Timely. I’ve got three brothers in varying stages of recovery/addiction and at times I lose focus. Maybe I mean hope. This was a nice redefining. Thank you for being honest. It just makes the world better.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Tonia. I reckon we all loose focus from time to time. For me, that’s what lead to the need to redefine. You know?

      Peace to you, T.

  • Micah Smith

    Love the study of the word and your conclusion. It’s interesting that you post this because just last week I was in a Bible class where we were looking at the difficulty in understanding grace when coming at it from a legalistic mindset. During the discussion somebody referred to himself as a “recovering legalist” and by the end of class, I think most people had also referred to themselves as “recovering legalist.”

    To tack on a thought that was born from reading your post in context of my recent Bible class experience, shouldn’t all Christians always be in a state of recovery?

    I think the other options are to still wallow in the muck of sin addiction and stay separated from God, or to be the completely holy, sinless twin of Jesus. Option 1 is the state in which we should feel shame, and option 2 – while seemingly ridiculous to even consider – is a state in which we reside when our mindset is such that we think we can at some point reach a place where we can be in the presence of God without needing the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. In other words, if we follow all the rules just right, we can purify ourselves from all sin.

    I can see how shame/guilt can work its way into the connotation of recovery when we define “recovery” as a static end state of perfect mental and physical freedom from the thing(s) from which a person is recovering instead of defining it as a “finding of one’s way back.” If recovery rests in finding the right path, followed by walking the right direction on it, then we gain joy from going generally the right way (I’m sure there will be a bit of lollygagging in there somewhere) instead of shame/guilt from not yet reaching the illusive end of the path. The never-ending challenge of moving in the right direction is a guilt-ridden, futile exercise if a heart-understanding of what God has done through Jesus is not lighting the way. We have arrived simply by taking the journey.

    Paul’s conclusion to his ongoing struggle to sin addiction in Romans 7 is not one of shame for failing to rid himself entirely of it, but “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” and Romans 8. It is joy and freedom not guilt and oppressive weight.

    Considering myself a recovering sinner in the “finding my way back” definition not only frees me from guilt and fills me with joy (ideally), it also makes me properly aware of my state in relation to God (humility), in relation to other Christ-followers (unity as fellow recoverers), and in relation to those outside of Christ (empathy toward those who were where I once was, lost in the dark not yet having found The Way).

    • sethhaines

      Man… I like everything you are saying here. Yes, I think that focus on the sin just leads to shame and guilt. I’m not so sure that was the point of the Gospel message. Focusing on a return to conscious, right living? The awakening? It refocussing some things.

      As for recovering legalists, that is a very real thing. Press your classes deeper into this discussion. And then press them into the discussion of freedom, and how over-exercising freedom can lead to bondage, too. We humans… from one ditch to the next.

  • Heather King

    Yeah. This. Thank you, Mr. Haines.

    • sethhaines

      No… thank you, big.

  • Jacob Brandenburg

    If we do not own recovery, it can never truly be ours to have. It is your word and condition as well as mine. Congratulations!

    • sethhaines

      So true. Thanks, Jacob.

  • Kathy

    Oh here we go Seth. I see your notice of writing in my inbox and I’m not sure I can handle it this evening, but I read it anyway and tears come to the edge. I am one who wants to return to health and small though I may be, praise God I’m not to small for Him to see.

    And Micah’s words – we have arrived simply by making the journey, lollygagging along.

    I needed these words even if I thought I didn’t. Much to mull over as I scrub the dishes that evidence our blessings.

    • sethhaines

      For some reason, I’m just now catching this comment. I hope for your health. Sincerely.

  • pastordt

    Amen to all of this. We are constantly in recovery from something. Ever read Gerald May’s, “Addiction and Grace?” It’s grand (I probably already mentioned it here. . . )

  • Deborah Hudson

    Catching up on this series and enjoyed the comments here. This word, recovery, was something I set out to write about not long ago but the words weren’t fitting right for me and I think it’s because they were meant for you. No shame, the recovering sinners we are. But praise be to God for saving a wretch like me.

    • sethhaines

      No shame, indeed. Thank you so much Deborah.