The Recovery Zone System (TM)

An integral part of the second edition of The Recovery Book is the Recovery Zone System(TM). We are now putting the finishing touches on it, and want to share it. A brief explanation is below. 

(UPDATE February 2015: Here is a pdf copy of the The-Recovery-Zone-System chart, including references to the relevant book chapters.)

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The Recovery Zone System (TM)

Over many years of treating alcoholics and addicts, Dr. Al saw that two issues were messing up recovery for many people:

  • One, people in early recovery often had no idea how much time and energy they would have to focus on recovery activities.
  • Two, people with many years of recovery sometimes lost their focus on these activities as the years passed.

Both of these situations, he saw, all too often led to a downward spiral that put people at high risk of relapse. So he developed the Recovery Zone System. The Recovery Zone System(TM) is a simple structural framework, a road map for the rest of your life in recovery. It gives you clear guidelines on when and how you should address the various areas of your life -- treatment, support fellowship activities, relationships, education, career, finances, travel, hobbies, recreation, and health -- now that you are in recovery and looking to put your life back on track. It helps you to know when you are ready to move forward in each of those areas. And it helps you to see when you might need to move backward for a bit, in order to avoid a relapse. The Recovery Zone System(TM) greatly strengthens the concept of “living in recovery.” 

The Recovery Zone System(TM) divides your life in recovery into three distinct zones: 
  • The Red Zone: Stop. Activate your recovery. For your first eighteen months or more of recovery, you need to focus first and foremost on saving your life. Nothing else is as important. Nothing.
  • The Yellow Zone: Proceed with caution. Build your life. Once you have a solid eighteen months or more of sobriety, you will move into the Yellow Zone, where you can put your energy into building (or rebuilding) the life you deserve and making your existence more fulfilling.
  • The Green Zone: Go. Celebrate your life. After you have a few solid years of sobriety behind you, and you have rebuilt your life, you will move into the Green Zone. Then it will be time to celebrate your life. You will focus on what you can do to live as long as you can, and also how you can help others find the gift of recovery. 

As you progress in your life in recovery, you will naturally move from one zone to the next, from Red to Yellow to Green, as you build your new life. When you are in early recovery, in the Red Zone, you’ll focus almost exclusively on the activities that will save your life: detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment, getting involved in a 12-step fellowship. It is not the time, for example, to worry about going back to college or quitting smoking. When you move into the Yellow Zone, you can start to put some energy into building the life you deserve and making your existence more fulfilling. In the Yellow Zone, you can find a new job, start a new relationship, find a challenging new exercise routine, or go back to school, among other things. Eventually you will make it to the Green Zone, where you can celebrate your life, and also pass the gift of recovery on to others. By the time you get to the Green Zone, life is pretty darn good. That’s where you’ll find that complete and wonderful life of serenity, honesty, and peace that you were promised. 

In every Recovery Zone, at all times, however, you will be at some risk of relapse. Once you have a few years of sobriety behind you, the risk will usually be pretty small. But sometimes, often when you least expect it, you may be at a very high risk of relapse. And relapses can be devastating: you can end up right back in the world of addiction and not get out of there for years.  

To head off those potential relapses, you can use the Recovery Zone System(TM) to regularly take stock of your life. We call this a Recovery Zone ReCheck. 

Once a month (or more often if you like), use the Recovery Zone System(TM) chart to take a look at where you are and how your life is going. This will help you to see when changes in your life are coming up -- relationships, work, health, medication and other areas – that could put added stress on you and trigger a relapse, or otherwise upset your recovery. These changes can be anything from a seemingly simple dental procedure to a looming divorce. (Good events, too, can rock your world, like getting a raise or moving to a new town.)

When you see such road blocks ahead, what do you do? You move back a zone or two, and you stay there for a while. You brush up on the guidelines of that earlier zone, re-commit to sobriety, and re-focus your thoughts and actions on recovery. You revert to your earlier recovery activities, such as going to daily meetings instead of once a month, or reworking some steps. And you think about what else you can do to avoid a relapse, given the current events. All of this will help you to recall everything that you have learned about recovery and triggers over the years, and will help you to avoid a relapse – long before it is a real risk. (We also suggest you don’t rely on memory alone – re-read the chapters in the zone you are moving back to.) 

The Recovery Zone System (TM)

The Recovery Zone System (TM)




2 Responses to The Recovery Zone System (TM)

  1. We will be introducing the zone system into the House of St. Francis, Oxford Houses and other facilities in Ghana. I expect them to be a big hit and of much use.

    Dan O’Laughlin
    Recovery Africa