Summary: First stage recovery is about fitting in; next stage recovery is about becoming your true self.
What is meant by “first stage” recovery? First stage recovery is about overcoming addictions and becoming a functional, responsible member of society. Besides attainment of a degree of serenity, the overall goal, as described in AA literature, is to make you of maximum service to others and to society in general. As the AA literature says, recovery focuses on changing the self to meet (external) conditions. First stage recovery is focused chiefly on adaptation to external conditions. First stage recovery is about becoming a well-adjusted social functionary, or ‘member of society’. Thus, to a significant extent, first stage recovery is focused on “fitting in” to society.
There is nothing wrong with this. The human development literature teaches that one of the major life tasks of each human being is to become a reasonably healthy, functional member of society. And further, that this life task does in fact hinge, to a large degree, on fitting in. However, most of this literature also goes on to say that completing this major life task is not all there is to becoming a fully developed, mature human being. There is a second major life task: becoming, and fulfilling, your real, authentic self.
There is a potential for major problems for recovering persons who have been in first stage recovery for a number of years. Staying “stuck” in first stage recovery can eventually lead to asking the eternal question: Is that all there is? It is quite possible to be of “maximum service to others” and still be profoundly unhappy and unfulfilled. And those negative feelings are not necessarily because you need to do another “Fourth Step.” Those powerful negative feelings may be arising because, while you were so busy becoming of maximum service to OTHERS, you completely forgot about YOU. What about YOU? What about YOUR needs? This is the point where Next Stage recovery becomes paramount.
However, the AA Big Book does not address this issue. Neither does any other official recovery literature that I’m aware of. Official recovery literature stops at first stage recovery. Next stage recovery must be addressed using sources other than official recovery literature.
While first stage recovery is focused, to a significant degree, on the development of an externally-focused social identity, next stage (long-term) recovery is focused more on the expression and fulfillment of the essential, authentic Self (a developmental process technically known as individuation). First stage recovery is more attuned to the need for change based on the external world. Next stage recovery is more attuned to the movements and needs of the inner world.
Next stage recovery is a time of introspection and self-exploration. It’s a time for answering questions like: Who am I, really? Who would I be, if I were really, really real? What is my authentic personality really like? Am I living the life that I really want or need, or am I living someone else’s life? Does my career really suit me? Are my relationships healthy and affirming for me? Am I making the kind of money I really need? And, what do I need to do about all of this during this next major phase of my life?