When I was working at the Church I was convinced – by people I worked with – that all I had to do, was pick up a phone, find a place to send someone who wanted to go to recovery, and then their lives would be changed and they would go off to happy land.

Unfortunately, almost every time I made that call, the person I made the call for would be back in less than twenty-four hours and I couldn’t figure out why. It took me years to understand the deeper layers of the recovery process and I think I figured it out.


Lots of places demand and depend on you having a belief in God. Even the Narcotics Anonymous propaganda has God listed as a reason that people get sober. There is an expectation that if you are ready to go to recovery, you must also be ready to believe in God and often times people in recovery don’t think about – or don’t know – the trauma that comes with having faith in an entity known as God.

It’s only easy to believe in God if you didn’t grow up being traumatized by the idea of God, and many Indigenous and folks of colour have had that exact experience, so expecting folks to believe in God when they are trying to get clean and sober, can often cause more harm than good.

Strict Rules after a life of freedom

Recovery is hard – there are rules you have to follow, and that’s often because when you follow the path that others have gone it can work – can being the operative word.

People who are coming into recovery off the streets have had freedom for more days than they can count. They’ve been able to go where they want and do what they want, and suddenly they are in this place with a curfew and a set of rules designed to help, but those same rules can also make a person feel claustrophobic and that feeling can be uncomfortable enough to convince people to leave before they are ready.

Gang Ties

Lots of people go to recovery because they choose to, but some go because they are court-ordered. So imagine you’ve left your gang, you go into recovery to get help being sober, and walk in with one of the guys you used to roll with. This can be a huge trigger and can scare people enough to make them choose to go back to the street thinking it’s safer. This is especially true for women who sometimes use recovery as a place to hide from bad partners or Johns.


People go into recovery sometimes just because they are lonely and it’s cold outside. They want a safe place to be and they end up finding someone who understands their struggle, so they build a bond, and then next thing you know, things don’t work out and either or both are back on the streets using again.

Relationships are a huge trigger for folks, and it can cause a lot more harm than good to get into a relationship with someone when you’re not ready.


There are a lot of predators in the recovery house system because, in a lot of places, it’s not regulated. It’s starting to change now and certain cities are making requirements so that people have to follow a certain set of rules, HOWEVER, there are still millions of unregulated illegal recovery homes out there, because politicians often think that recovery homes are better than the street for some people.

Ask your local politicians how many “recovery homes” are run by gangsters who are just trying to collect people’s cheques. They won’t be able to answer either because they don’t know the answer, or because they don’t want people to know that lots of folks use the recovery house programs to make money instead of to help people.

How To Know Where To Go

  • Visit the home before you make a decision to go and ensure that the program meets your needs because if it doesn’t you’re already signing up for failure before you’ve even begun to try and succeed.
  • Do your research. Go to NA meetings and talk to folks who are in recovery, ask them what they think, and if the house they are in is less than a year old, do not bother. 10% of all recovery homes shut down in the first few months of business.
  • Established programs that have been going for more than 10 years with high success rates of people returning to society are what you are looking for, and if you’re -not- looking for that, it will show in your inability to quit using drugs and alcohol.

In order for folks to be successful in recovery, they have to want to be in recovery.

Recovery is a process and it takes time, and the best recovery programs should be based on:

  • Physical health
  • Emotional health
  • Spiritual health
  • Nutrition
  • Medical Support
  • Counselling
  • Therapy (Group and Private Therapy included)

It’s hard for new recovery homes to have all these different parts of healing in practice right away, but this is what you should be looking for.

If they have anything less than what I’ve listed above, walk away. Not all recovery homes are church or God based, but lots of volunteers don’t understand when they are driving people to places, that trauma can be soul deep and it can be really offensive to hear about how “God is going to save your life” when for many people God is a massive trigger to readdiction.

Be patient. I know people who have been to more than 100 programs before it takes. It really does take a true and genuine desire to get clean and lots of people don’t want to do that because it’s kind of uncomfortable that words don’t exist for.

Understand that another person’s addiction is never, about the people trying to help them get clean and sober, it’s about the people who at back and let folks get abused and traumatized.

Trauma is a part of getting clean, – using drugs can help block out a lot of memories, and when you decide to get sober those memories can come back. Make sure you have an anchor, something you can hold onto until the dark moments pass.

A totem of sorts that reminds you of your goals and your purpose, which isn’t to be living on the streets getting high alone all the time.

Folks are suffering out there, if you genuinely want to help them, remember that THEIR recovery journey is about THEM, not you. You have no idea what they’ve been through while falling down the rabbit hole, and you can’t – and do not deserve – to expect, that folks are just going to rip open their hearts and share their trauma.

It took me 37 years to be able to express what was done to me over the better part of 30 years, so how can you expect someone fresh off the streets or a binder, to be able to share secrets they’ve been hiding for probably just as long?

Trauma depends, thrives, and breeds on secrets though. So when you’re ready, if you need someone to help you share your story. I know a ton of local and abroad resources and I can always find more.

Sending all my love,

Devon J Hall

If you have thoughts you’d like to add about this post, please leave a message, and let’s talk about them in the comments below

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3 thoughts on “Recovery: Here’s Why It Doesn’t Work

  1. Love this article. I am a yoga teacher and I tried to volunteer classes at an organisation that helps sex-trade workers recover. They kicked me out after a few classes with the excuse that yoga is too new-age. The associate who had initially hired me for the job quit the organisation and told me I was actually kicked out because I didn’t fit into their agenda of pushing Christianity. That experience was a big eye opener for me.


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