Healing•Recovery • 4 minutes to read
If you’ve been on a recovery journey for a while, you know it’s a process. Not just gaining sobriety, but true health and healing takes time. It’s the process of doing life in a new way, and it becomes a way of life that spills over into every area of our lives if we let it.
Recently, another Pure Desire clinician and I were sharing with a couple about the process of recovery and how we retrain the brain to learn new skills for coping with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and emotions. How we do recovery becomes strengthened and sometimes looks different over time. We may not be in the initial phase of counseling, groups, book work, and other work in the way we were the first year or two. But in regard to learning a whole new way of doing things—changing our operating system and then practicing what we have learned—it’s a new learned behavior. It not only takes time, but continued practice of the tools we have learned.
True recovery means we keep growing in identifying our thoughts and feelings, staying in support and connection with others, and retraining the brain. We replace the old “hit” of dopamine with healthier new behaviors that produce positive neurochemicals. And this requires more than just a head knowledge of what recovery means. It is more of an experiential knowledge to truly walk in freedom.
Our client, who has his pilot’s license, said, “That sounds a lot like skill fade.” This is a flight term that essentially means we can lose the ability to do a new skill if we don’t continue to learn and practice. He said he could see some “definite parallels to addiction recovery and relapse potential.” Many skills require us to continue to sharpen what we’re learning and keep practicing the tools, even when we have been using them for a long time.
Following this conversation, he sent us some interesting information about this, including the definition of “skill fade” from the “SKYbrary” (yes, this is a cool name).
“Skill Fade is defined as the decay of ability or adeptness over a period of non-use.” As a pilot, the skills you learn to maneuver an airplane have to be maintained and used in order to keep your proficiency in flying. Unlike riding a bicycle, where the skill stays with us even during non-use, the skill of flying needs to be exercised regularly or the process may become less familiar and more difficult, or even lost, over time.
The ability to remember information is proportional to its frequency of use. In essence, the longer the period of non-use, the greater the probability of decay.
Skill knowledge differs from declarative knowledge because the person is often not consciously aware of, or able to articulate, the skill.
Learning the Skill
Acquisition, or the process of learning a skill, has three characteristic stages.
Cognitive Stage: Cognitive learning has a basis in factual knowledge. The learner is first introduced to a basic skill and then memorizes the steps required to perform the skill. At this stage, as the learner carries out these memorized steps, they are often unaware of progress, or may fixate on a single aspect of their performance. Performing the skill at this stage typically requires all the learner’s attention. Any distraction could cause their performance to deteriorate or cease completely.
Associative Stage: As the practice continues, the learner begins to associate each step in the sequence with likely outcomes. The learner no longer simply performs a series of memorized steps, but is able to assess their progress along the way and make adjustments in the performance. Performing the skill still requires deliberate attention, but the learner is better able to deal with distractions.
Automatic Response Stage: Automaticity is one of the byproducts of practice. As procedures become automatic, less attention is required to carry them out. It is, therefore, possible to do other things simultaneously. At this stage, performance of the skill is rapid and smooth and requires much less deliberate attention. The learner may no longer be able to remember the individual steps in the procedure or explain how to perform the skill. It has simply become “automatic.”
Acquiring and maintaining a skill takes effort.
Experiential Knowledge vs. Head Knowledge
There is a Greek word used in Scripture, epignosis, referring to a “deeper knowledge” in relation to something ethical or divine—when experiential knowledge becomes head knowledge. We may understand that there is freedom offered in Christ for our addictive behavior, but epignosis is experiential knowledge, when we understand it through our experience.
Recovery is a Journey, Not a Destination
In flying, they determined that individuals were better able to retain their skills by keeping in touch with peers, staying aware of new tools and knowledge, and having had a high proficiency to begin with.
I believe these practices apply to many types of recovery journeys.
Oftentimes, people feel overwhelmed by the prospect that sexual addiction recovery can be a 3-5 year process. If we are able to change our mindset and recognize that some of the initial hard work and focus, followed by steady retraining of the brain and restructuring how we do life, this can result in a great amount of healing in the first 3-5 years of recovery. In fact, sobriety and parts of our healing can happen right away. It is a process of renewing the mind in whatever areas we are coping in unhealthy ways and strengthening our relationships with self, God, and others. In this sense, recovery is for everyone and recovery is for life.
The views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not reflect an official position of Pure Desire Ministries, except where expressly stated.