A vintage illustration of the holiday season’s end depicts a wizened old man alongside a diapered baby. These are classic representations of the year almost gone and the new year aborning: Out with the old, in with the new.

Painful memories can make the holidays a time of despair, but we shouldn’t allow the past to hold us back. On the occasion of the New Year, we have an opportunity to take stock of our lives and ponder the lifestyle changes which can lead to the self-improvement we seek. We can also begin to repair our relationships with others. Since love is based on positive shared experience, the greatest gift we can provide to our loved ones during this or any year are happy new memories of our time together.

Those on the recovery journey have unique opportunities for positive change. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer provided a startling example. 30-year-old Racquel Fetzer began drinking at age 12 and didn’t start treatment until she was an adult, while serving time for a bank robbery. Now a licensed recovery specialist in Philadelphia, Racquel embraced the spirit of this past holiday season with her family. Celebration is no longer on hold; her presents are no longer sold for drug money. Racquel’s evolution into a dependable and reliable person allowed her family to relax and enjoy their time with her once again. The rewards of their fellowship boosted her motivation to maintain her sober lifestyle. A virtuous cycle has begun.

During this dangerous age of opioid addiction, recovery provides others with the same potentially life-saving opportunity to turn the corner. Like most accomplishments, however, renewal is a group effort that takes time. As another insightful Philly Inquirer article by the same author explains:

There is, however, a crucial difference with that last class, mainly heroin and prescription pain pills: Relapse can be fatal. Even the best treatment can promise no more than to lower that most serious risk.

“There is no magic bullet. Part of the problem is that treatment has marketed itself as being ‘the fixer.’ And families think you send someone away to get fixed,” said Beverly J. Haberle, who has guided desperate parents for decades.

Haberle is executive director of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, the regional affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. She is by no means negative about treatment.

She suggests thinking about it – no matter what type or how long it lasts – as “providing a stabilizing opportunity.” It offers a timeout to begin the years of work, supported by a full team of friends, family, and employers, that is necessary for a sustained recovery.

An op-ed, coincidentally by another Pennsylvanian, local drug & alcohol commissioner Jack Carroll (no relation), described the “myths” of opioid addiction. One myth he decried was, “If a person relapses their chances of reaching sustained recovery are slim.” Here is Mr. Carroll’s helpful rebuttal to this misconception:

Due to the chronic nature of the disease, a return to drug use is a common and frustrating part of addiction treatment and recovery. But it is not a failure, and it does not mean a person is doomed to spending the rest of his or her life in active addiction.

The key is how a person responds to a relapse, or symptom recurrence. As with other health disorders, a symptom recurrence should serve as a trigger for renewed intervention, treatment and recovery support [emphasis added].

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has pointed out that relapse rates for drug addiction are about the same as relapse rates for diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components.

In my home, an embroidered sign hanging near our bathroom mirror states, “Each Day is a New Beginning,” with a flower underlining the hopeful message of recovery. May the New Year hold the promise of renewal for you and your family.