When we hear the word treatment, we picture going to the doctor, receiving an intervention of some kind and then we’re done. We’re cured. We’ve been treated.
Treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, however, is more complex than that. As anyone who’s been there knows, once you have been discharged back home, or once you have attended your first meeting and put the drugs down, the real work begins. That work is what I is called recovery.
Recovery is many faceted: learning to live life on a daily basis without a substance you had come to depend on; tolerating emotions, thoughts or bodily phenomena that interfere with enjoyment and productivity; developing a viable support network of loving relationships; navigating community resources; advocating for yourself in medical and other treatment settings; learning about pharmaceuticals and their side effects; learning your own symptoms and early warning signs.
Recovery is a full time job with no vacation days, but one which is rewarding and transformative in ways that can not be conceived of at the outset. Recovery is fueled by the determination to heal. Recovery is empowering; the foundation of the recovery process is the belief that recovery is possible.
In the inspirational book Recovery and Wellness by Catana Brown, PhD., OTR, Dr. Patricia Deegan tells her own story of rejecting the psychiatrist’s assessment of her future life with the diagnosis of schizophrenia and formulating instead her own “Survivor’s Mission.” This was the vision that Dr. Deegan, then a teenager, formulated as an alternative to the psychiatrist’s prognosis for her. In this case, the vision and mission were to “become Dr. Deegan” and “transform the mental health system.” To enter into the process of recovery, one must feel there are possibilities for her life other than a life of suffering from a chronic illness. One must have a dream. A dream can be something as simple as a vision of oneself as healthy and happy.
I think of recovery as deep and pervasive self care that includes nothing less than a complete revamping of one’s life, one thing at a time, until everything in it supports your vibrant health and wellbeing. This is a way of living that few of us have been taught or are prepared to do. Yet, when an illness makes itself known by some sort of unravelling of what we consider to be the normal order of things, we are going to need to re-do that order, anyway, in order to survive.
Recovery puts the person with the illness at the center, where they belong. For some, even this is a radical reordering of their life pattern. That’s why, for some, self care itself is a radical act of taking ownership of one’s life and one’s happiness. This can also be the beginning of the end of victimhood. That’s what empowerment is all about, isn’t it?
At the beginning of the recovery process, the person needs significant support in the form of guides, coordinator, helpers, coaches, and in some cases, professionals to start bringing some of those changes and to manage their new life with its newly identified priorities in every facet. Eventually the person themselves will be able to take over many of the coordinating functions. They can become full time creators of their own lives.
“Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred per cent.” – R.D. Laing, Scottish psychologist
The fact is we all manage a chronic condition. It’s called being alive. That’s why I use the recovery model as the foundation for all that I write about living life. Here’s what the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) says about recovery:
- emerges from hope
- is person-driven
- occurs via many pathways
- is holistic
- is supported by peers and allies
- is supported through relationship and social networks
- is culturally-based and influenced
- is supported by addressing trauma
- involves individual, family and community strengths and responsibilities
- is based on respect
Substitute the word health. To my mind these pillars support the life of anyone who is thriving, whether or not they are managing a chronic illness.
Ultimately, recovery is not about illness, but about life. It’s about wellness and healing, not curing and being immune. I love the recovery journey, because of its spiritual pillars: Possibility, empowerment, and vision.
If you are on a journey of recovery, please join me. We’ll learn from and inspire each other. Consider subscribing to my RSS feed to receive the Joy Report in your email inbox. To also receive my newsletter, A Woman’s Journey of Heart and Soul, sign up over there to the right. Welcome and thank you!
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