The 5 Stages of Recovery

Finding the road to recovery

Finding your way to recovery isn’t always a very straight forward path. For some, it becomes a clear and rational next step when they admit they have a problem.  Yet for others, denial and refusal to admit they have an addiction to something such as drugs, food, or alcohol can make finding the road to recovery a much longer journey. There are 5 main stages of recovery. I am going to break down these stages and dedicate a post for each stage so we can take an in-depth look at them. First, though, I want to do a brief overview of the recovery process and what it looks like.

I’ve said it before accountability is key

I truly believe that unless you can admit to yourself that there is a problem, then finding recovery won’t begin.  Most of us live in denial about many of our feelings and issues. We cope with the stresses of life, and bury our heads to the consequences of coping.

I know for myself realizing I had a problem wasn’t easy. Likewise, I’m fairly sure that deep down I knew my behavior towards food and eating wasn’t exactly right. Yet I was happy, even if deeply frustrated at the same time, to believe that it was a physical problem. If I ate less, exercised more then surely I would eventually overcome it. 

Denial is the biggest way to stall recovery!  I believe this is why accountability is the key to any recovery program. You can’t start down the road to recovery if you won’t admit to yourself something is wrong. 

The 5 Stages of Recovery

As I said before, there are 5 main stages of recovery. Sometimes they are referred to as early, middle, and late stages.  This is the cycle that happens when you become aware that you do have a problem.

So the 5 stages of recovery are as follows: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. Let’s break them down real quick.

Pre Contemplation:

This is that stage that we kind of just talked about. Most people in this stage are subconsciously aware that they have a substance abuse problem but they are in denial.  They don’t want to talk about it. You will see a lot of defensive actions or mannerisms take place in this stage. 


So in this stage, the addict has admitted or is openly aware they have a problem.  They think about courses of action, programs, and a life free of addiction. There are quite a bit of emotions attached to this stage. Excitement, hope, fear, shame, and guilt. An addict can stay in this stage for months before they take the plunge to go to the next step.


In this stage the addict has committed. Setting a concrete course of action. That could include a rehab facility or a program. A focus on an addiction-free life.


This is where the planning and preparation come together! Addicts at this point start using tools and new coping strategies to build confidence and create an addiction-free life.  This stage is truly the foundation to a successful road to recovery


In this stage, the person in recovery learns and uses the tools and coping skills they have learned to face any triggers towards their addiction.  Building support systems in their life to maintain sobriety

stop living life on autopilot

Facing life in Recovery 

I think one of the scariest things about deciding to recover and heal from addiction is how much it changes the life you know now.  The ways you’ve coped, the things you’ve placed blame on to rationalize your own choices and actions.  

 They say the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem right? I agree 100% with this. What they don’t tell you is that admitting you have a problem is so hard. Not because saying “yeah ok I’m addicted to doing this” is hard, but because you have to face all the ways doing those things have impacted your life. How they have hurt you and the ones around you.

Once you turn to the 5 stages of recovery, it becomes an entirely new way of life for you.  Everything changes. People you once talked to every day are oftentimes no longer around. Either they are still using, or they are resentful of the choices you made to get sober. Sometimes it’s just as simple as knowing that having those people in your life leads you down a path that is no longer open for you.

The good news is, as you begin to live a life of recovery, you end up developing new relationships and supportive friendships that further you down the path. You learn to enjoy new things, and put past shames and regrets to rest. 

What holds us back from recovery

I think it’s a multitude of things all stemming from emotional and mental places. Fear, guilt, and shame are probably on the top of the list. 

For me, it was facing the fear that the reason I needed to eat to feel good, to put on weight as an armor of protection around me, wasn’t necessary.  I was, and am afraid, that if I let go of that addiction, that coping mechanism in my life, then perhaps I would find that deep down I really am worthless.  I know that doesn’t make sense right?  Yet in my mind, it’s crystal clear. I ate to give myself a physical reason to keep people from getting too close. To keep them from hurting me. If I’m fat, then I had a reason for being rejected and feeling different and unlovable.

The Bottom Line

All of us that face some sort of addiction, know the feelings of shame and guilt. We know what it’s like to live a life feeling like trash. To be controlled by emotions and our obsession with what we are addicted to.  Furthermore making true connections with other people, especially people who we see as better than us, is almost impossible.

These things can make a person feel unworthy of wanting to heal. Unworthy of being anything but broken. Most importantly it can make us feel unworthy of a life free of addiction.

Nothing can be further from the truth. We may be damaged, we may FEEL broken, but we are not. The less we label ourselves, the less chance we have at that label becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Remember if you are considering recovery for substance abuse, seeking help is always a positive move. SAMHSA is a National Helpline that you can reach out to find resources in your area for help with moving forward with recovery.  As always please remember we are in this together. You are NEVER Alone. Until next time my friends!

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Tired of battling low self-esteem, zero self-worth, and an emotional eating addiction, Amber created Amberable to share her journey with those who may be struggling. Hoping to empower, inspire and heal others like herself