10 things i've learned about recovery and hope
My experience? Recovery is about action -- taking little steps each day. Take your meds. Go to your therapy. Call someone and talk. Follow a suggestion. These little steps matter. They add up. They'll start to help you feel good. They will create steady, actual change. They will get you through the tough days. Daily action helped me. It still does.
Recovery and hope is about believing you truly can have a better life -- that things will improve if you do the work of substance abuse recovery and mental illness care. Life won't be perfect -- but you won't be merely existing; you'll be living. Believe you can build a good life for yourself -- defined as what it means to you. In my experience, if you believe this, your hope and your recovery will grow.
I found that action, hope, and recovery all work together. Say you don't have much hope at first. You can still take action. Let action support you while your hope gets traction. You can even borrow hope -- anyone can give you hope while you're growing your own. When I was at my lowest, a stranger gave me some of her own hope, arising from her own past experience, which was like mine. When she talked about her own hope in the aftermath, it gave me something to grab onto. I could relate — I could understand her — and I felt she could understand me. This gave me a chance. It gave me the courage to start the little action steps. That's why I find that hope, action, and recovery all work together.
In my view, recovery and hope come faster -- and are stronger -- if you view them practically. When I just merely wished for my recovery and hope to get stronger, not much happened. Just thinking doesn't help much, I found, in my experience. But when I also did some practical action steps each day -- when I did the concrete work -- I noticed results. I felt results. It felt good. I enjoyed the work -- the results -- of unlearning bad habits and learning new, healthy ones.
I learned hope and recovery happen when you're connected to other people. Instead of isolation, which I had slipped into, I tried inclusion and reaching out. I was told to get suggestions about what to do, from trusted people, and to actually follow those suggestions. This was absolutely scary -- I had to leave my secrecy; I had to face the stigma I feared so much. Maybe worse, I had to show others all the vulnerabilities I didn’t ever want to show. Actually talk out loud about what was going on in my feelings and my thoughts? Share them with another person? Trust someone that much? It was a leap of faith. But it worked. Still does. Now I deeply enjoy it -- I have connections with other people. I now I can even be useful to other people. I can be that trusted person to them. I'm present. I relate with compassion and kindness. All of this is due to the core suggestion that I received: Don't try this alone; do it with others. And all of this has strengthened my hope and recovery.
Some things are scary to do, and some things are just plain hard. The toughest thing I learned in my hope and recovery is that you have to forgive yourself and give yourself some compassion. I did not even know what this meant. Self-forgiveness? Self-compassion? I was lost in self-hatred, self-made fear, and even self-made stigma and self-pity. I could not grasp self-forgiveness and self-compassion and self-love at first. It just didn’t compute for a long time. In my experience, you have to work hard here, and honestly, with a great doctor or therapist. It was scary. It felt way too emotional at first. But it was worth it, by far. Without this, I would not have survived. This is what hope and recovery does: It gives you a chance for self-forgiveness and self-compassion. And with that, I've found, you can then be truly useful to others, especially the people you care about — and who care about you — the most.
In my experience, hope and recovery are not likely if you go it alone. This means more than just talking and sharing and relating. Surviving a co-occurring disorder -- mental illness plus substance abuse -- is a team effort. One of my actions was to go from isolation and shame to actually talking to people then taking yet another step — actually build real relationships with people — and groups of people. Call it building a little community, a little team, a board of directors —- call it whatever you want. This helped me -- and it helped them, too. These talks and calls are a joy of recovery. And it further strengthens you when, down the road, others ask you to help them, by being on their teams. There is something about giving others hope that strengthens your own hope and recovery like nothing else.
Hope and recovery will give you a better life, but not a perfect life. Life will still have ups and downs, bad days, tedious days, stressful days, all of it. Hope and recovery do not provide guarantees. It is day by day. But hope, along with new good habits, a team, and new skills -- these are all tools to help you maintain your recovery each day.
I have found it best to think of hope and recovery as a work in progress -- not some destination of perfection. I keep my focus on little action steps each day, with the goal of never finishing my hope and recovery. It’s a little like living the same day over and over, one day at a time. Each day, I just want to do my action, and, when new things pop up, good or bad, I want to stay balanced, and be useful and helpful, and then, the next day I just want to do those things again. I don't want it to be over. I don't want it to be perfect. Instead, here’s what I want it to be: I want it to be real, and I want it to feel true and genuine, and I want it to be lasting. In my experience, the best way to do this is focus not on achieving perfection, but rather on doing the basics each day. That has worked well for my hope and recovery.
In my experience, hope and recovery grow stronger each time you find someone else you can truly relate to. When you shift from isolation to inclusion, and when you go from silence and shame to really talking and listening and sharing with others whom you can trust, my experience is that you will find people you can deeply relate to -- and who can deeply relate to you. This idea scared me very much. I did not want to relate to anyone deeply like that. I did not think it was possible. But this is what turned out to be what really gives me hope in my recovery. When I dared to ask people to relate to me with my illness, the real me, and I dared to relate to them, I slowly started to build tendrils of connection and hope, which started to patch together into a quilt — a mosaic — of support and inclusion and access to good treatment, which is the foundation of my recovery. And for that reason it turned out to be the thing that saved my life.