It’s a Wonderful Life

Hope is alive and well in recovery, even when it is difficult to see.


Hope is one of the most important characteristics of those in recovery. Those who have suffered from addiction or severe substance use disorder understand, like few others, the despair that sets in as the disease progresses. The beginning of the recovery journey is often marked by a reemergence of hope. Hope is then sustained through recovery efforts over time.

In 2016, a group of colleagues and I published a qualitative research article where we examined how collegiate recovery students experienced hope as they made the transition from addiction to recovery. This group of college students in recovery indicated that they experienced hope in the beginning stage of their recovery in two ways: 1) experiencing hope in a connection to the spiritual and 2) experiencing hope in the eyes of those ahead of them in the process of recovery.

Spiritual principles such as hope, faith, willingness, forgiveness, redemption and service can be powerful ways for people to engage their recovery. Although not everyone’s experience, a connection to the spiritual may be an important way to find hope at the beginning of recovery and also maintain hope over time.

Applicable to almost everyone in recovery, being able to experience and see hope in others who are ahead in the recovery journey is essential. Particularly at the beginning, where hope may be short at hand, having others express their hope in you and seeing how much hope recovery has brought them can make all the difference. To see and experience the hope in others, those in recovery must find a community of others and be willing to reach out for help.

Sometimes, even in a recovery journey, people begin to lose the hope they initially found and worked hard to maintain. This loss of hope not only puts them at risk for a return to use but also for suicidal ideation and even suicide. Many people in their addiction cycle contemplated dying or actually attempted to end their own life. For some, the despair and difficulty of their life were so great they may have attempted to end it several times. Too many of those who we love who have suffered  have ended their own life. The research tells us that those who suffer from severe substance use disorders are at an increased risk to commit suicide over any other vulnerable group. This is particularly true when people suffer from a substance use disorder and also a co-occurring mental health disorder (e.g., anxiety, depression, bi-polar, PTSD, etc.).


One of my favorite movies is the old black-and-white classic It’s a Wonderful Life. I recommend it to you if you haven’t seen it. The main character, George Bailey, is in trouble and attempts suicide by jumping from a bridge into an icy river. His guardian angel, Clarence, saves George and lets him see his life as if he never existed. Through this experience, George comes to realize how his life has positively impacted so many others. In this moment of clarity, Clarence says to George: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

The message I want to give all students in recovery is that hope is alive and well in recovery, even when it is difficult to see. I also want to express how precious your life is and how your life touches so many others for good. Life is worth living, even when it is hard to hold on to or hard to see the light. There is an entire community of others who want to share the hope they have with you. And when you find your hope for the first time or again, you will share that light and hope with those around you who need it. Remember, if you are not around, you leave an awful hole in our heart.

Also, always remember there are those around you who you can always reach out to in order to receive help. These guardian angels of recovery are friends, professionals, family members, recovery community members, sponsors, mentors and so many others who are willing and able to help. In dire straits, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline day, night, 24/7 (1-800-273-8255) and receive help.

May you always remember how precious you are and how precious life is. May hope abide in your life and relationships. And, may we all have the courage to reach out for help when despair presents itself so that we can share the hope we have with one another.

Dr. Thomas G. Kimball serves as the president of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, holds the George C. Miller Family Regents Professor at Texas Tech University and is the director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities. In addition to his responsibilities at Texas Tech, Kimball is the clinical director for MAP Health Management. He has received numerous teaching awards for his courses on families, addiction and recovery. He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles on addiction and recovery and has presented on recovery-related issues across the nation. He is the co-author of the book Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery.

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