Recovery is an excellent word and it is what most people with mental health or addiction issues really want. I believe we can also add goals such as weight loss to this area as well. What does recovery really mean though? And what doesn’t it mean?
For someone standing outside of a recovery looking in at the person “in recovery”, it is often a wish that recovery will make the person all better. It is an assumption by many that recovery has a start date and an end date. I am sorry to say this but it really doesn’t.
The beginning of recovery can begin days, months or even years before help is sought. This contemplation stage is a big one. It is that space in your mind where you begin to consider what you really want from your life and what you are truly willing to do to get there. If your issue is an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex, internet porn, smoking, or any number of things that you use to cope with daily life and its stresses, you will need to contemplate all the changes you will need to make to make recovery possible.
For a moment, I will use my own addiction to alcohol as an example but the same can be said about any addiction.
When I began thinking about giving up drinking, it was a very overwhelming idea and would mean making a lot of changes in my life. It was used to help me cope with my PTSD symptoms, it helped me sleep, it helped my numb myself from triggers, it helped me fit in with a certain group of friends, and it just made being alive bearable. Giving it up was a huge undertaking and looking back? I really wished that I had even known that I had PTSD and had been able to seek help for that first. That said? I did not know so I gave alcohol up first.
Recovery from an addiction is a crazy ride and there really are two distinct groups here that I feel are important to mention. Those without trauma can give their addiction up with a huge amount of effort and dedication but they usually start feeling really great once the initial withdrawals have left them. They become just thrilled with themselves and their lives. They still have a horribly difficult road and sticking to their decision is not at all easy. They just tend to feel better about themselves emotionally.
Trauma survivors on the other hand, go through the same withdrawals but rather than becoming happier emotionally, we tend to crash. All the symptoms that we covered up and coped with by using our addiction suddenly become more and more clear. This makes wanting to restart the addiction even more of a great idea.
When I gave up drinking? I became depressed, anxious, I could not fall asleep and if I did? My nightmares went in to overdrive. My focus that was fuzzy while drinking went right out the window and concentrating on anything was nearly impossible. Quite frankly? Life became unlivable.
So if you have suffered trauma? Please do contemplate giving up your addiction while also setting up extra therapeutic supports for yourself. Leaving the world of addiction is so very worth it when you are also being taught how to take better care of yourself and finding positive ways to deal with your emotional needs.
Back to recovery…
So you finally decide to give up your addiction. This may have taken you a day, a month or more than a year but here you are. Ready to really make some changes in your life. You’ve set up the supports you feel you will need and your heart is in the right place. Hopefully your mind is too. 🙂
You may fail many times before getting it right. Don’t allow those failures to dissuade you. Each failure is only teaching a lesson to you that you didn’t realize you needed to learn first. Failures can help you decide to look for more support, realize you can’t do it alone, ask friends or positive family relations to help you. Maybe you need a doctors help or a program. You might need to make some additional changes in your life before becoming successful as well. A sober set of new friends perhaps. A new hobby to keep you busy. In the end, a failure is only giving you an extra step to climb that you did not know was there before. Keep using those newly learnt steps and climb them to become free.
So now you’ve finally beaten it. You have stopped drinking, lost weight, stopped smoking or conquered any number of other issues out there that are just as important.
Why did you do it? Perhaps now you have a better peace of mind, your family is happier with you and you with them, you may feel happier and discover new opportunities and ways to grow.
If your recovery is from a mental illness, there are many similarities. It is difficultly, you need supports, you will feel as though you’ve failed more often than you thought you would, it is a long journey. It is worth it but that does NOT make it easy.
So what is recovery not? When you are “recovered” or “in recovery”, what does that really mean?
Are we cured? No we are not. We will deal with these issues for the rest of our lives. There will be times where it is very simple for us. Moments in time where we feel as though we can stand up, plant a flag and say “CURED!” only to have a small setback and suddenly feel like we’ve gotten no where at all. This is normal. Try not to let it freak you out too much.
We will never relapse. Right? Recovery does not mean that either. We will try to never relapse but without carefully monitoring ourselves at all times, it is possible to relapse at times. In mental health this is acceptable. People (everyone except ourselves) is usually patient and understands it is not all smooth sailing. With an addiction it is different. Fall off even once and pretty much no one is understanding towards us about it. Don’t allow that attitude to defeat you. It is only another step to help you climb to healing. Just jump back in to your recovery as fast as you can and move on.
We will be symptom free right? Sorry folks. This is not what recovery means either. I am definitely and very happily in recovery. I’ve been alcohol free for 17 years now with the exception of on slip up. I am doing very well on the mental health front too. I definitely need to deal with my food addiction still but I am still in contemplation about that one. I am often asked if therapy will get rid of my PTSD. Sadly no, it won’t. It will help me cope better. It will help me learn ways to take better care of myself and feel a lot better than I did before but there is no cure-all pill for mental illness or addiction. We can improve, we can feel better, we can enjoy life A LOT more, we can do a lot of things including being in somewhat of a remission if we are lucky but we can not ever really let our guard down or stop taking good care of ourselves. Illness and addiction can return .
Recovery will be the end to challenges right? Losing weight will make our life so much better. Treating mental illness will allow us to do everything we always wanted to do. Leaving addiction behind will mean better relationships. These things can happen to a certain degree but assuming life will be perfect when I ______ is unrealistic.
Recovery is hard work and recovery is worth ever minute spent on it. Having a realistic view of what to expect only makes that achievement even better.