Recovery: The value of which I, and many others, work towards that guides us to mental wellness and brighter days.
Recovery is a complex, beautiful, annoying, difficult and rewarding journey that is defined differently by each person who embarks on its marvelous process.
While unique to each individual, recovery does have some commonalities.
1. Recovery is not a linear process. It’d be freakin’ amazing if it was (and I would be totally down for that) but it is not, and so moving forward in recovery requires recognizing the journey will have its rough spots. Some days are better than others, and some times are worse to bear. Recovery is more like a jagged high and low mountain range.
2. A relapse and a lapse are two different things. If I lapse in my recovery from self-harm, it means “Oh shoot, I made a mistake and that sucks but I’m going to stick back to recovery and continue moving forwards.” A relapse, however, is depicted more as “Well, damn, here I go all over again. Screw it; I might as well keep on self-harming!”
3. Relapses and lapses are a part of recovery. Remember, recovery is not a linear process. A person may go through setbacks before they nail being the awesome captain of their ship, able to steer (almost) flawlessly around threatening rocks and getting through the eye of the storm with their crew intact–and setbacks are okay because that’s how we learn.
These are essentially the basics of recovery. And, because I’m the one writing this article, let me share with you my experiences thus far about this matter.
I still am unclear on how I define my own recovery. It’s a difficult question to answer succinctly with purpose and accuracy. Yet, I suppose for me that may be the right depiction for the start of my recovery. It was murky and unclear and filled with unknowns and lack of expectations.
I know recovery to me means living with the obsessive compulsive disorder. In case you didn’t already know, I live with OCD on self-harm and suicide obsessions. The quick version of this is that I deal with intrusive thoughts about hurting myself and depressive thoughts of hurting myself. The OCD and the secondary depression enjoy singing carols of my utter doom in my mind, is really what I’m saying here (and yes, that’s a joke. Feel free to laugh. Humor is a good coping strategy).
Particularly, my recovery is about living with the OCD. I repeat that because it is important to me. Living with the OCD means that I take back my life and do all that I want to achieve, while also, yes, acknowledging the presence of the OCD and how it affects my life.
It means stepping away from identifying as the OCD and stepping away from the glorified pseudo comfort the OCD and depression can give me.
It means sometimes when I just want to curl into the fetal position and not move for several hours, a part of me makes myself get up and go open up that textbook to read instead. Or, if I do lay in that fetal position, I bring some tunes along with me so it’s not as lonely.
This part of my recovery definition is essential and also overwhelming. Living with the OCD means I have to live with the OCD. It means I don’t get to act out on compulsions of scratching myself. Which is wonderful, of course, don’t get me wrong, but when the struggles peak for me, a part of me just wants nothing more than to hurt myself.
Except, I’ve learned that that compulsion is a lie. That rather than it taking away the thoughts, it just makes them come back tenfold. And somehow, this knowledge makes the situation feel worse.
My recovery journey began around March 2015. After my second hospitalization let out, I finally got a psychiatrist and began taking a different round of medications.
I wore a rubber band on my sleeve because my therapist mentioned it could be used as a visual deterrent from my self-harm. It was a reminder that I would see before I acted on my thoughts, and would serve as a barrier for me to consider my next choice of action. I would write, “Stay Safe,” on my wrists in pen because that phrase gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside and I knew I could use it as a prevention tactic from scratching myself.
I remember the moment I realized I had begun the journey of recovery. I was walking about in McCormack and was thinking about sitting on a ledge when I found a part of my internal self cringing as I thought, “But, what does that mean?” It was then that I knew both my psychiatrist and therapist would be displeased to find out (when I inevitably told them) that I had gone outside to sit on a ledge in a suicidal state of mind rather than coping positively and effectively by any other number of actions. It was my capability of weighing that future predicament that I hadn’t been able to muster within myself for four months.
Speaking of that duration of time, I lasted nearly four months before I relapsed with self-harm at the end of June and beginning of July. On July 2nd 2015 I began my current recovery milestone. My goal is to make it to a year clean. I’m holding myself to that (I will mention that I did lapse once during this current stint) and may set myself to looser standards after I make it past a year. But for now, that is my main motivation, the time it’s been since I last self-harmed and how I could make it all those days and can make it many more days from now, too.
Additionally, I’m still in the process of coming to terms with my recovery being a jagged mountain range. A part of my journey involves feeling the two different parts of me at the same time. I can be proud of myself for not acting on my thoughts, and I can also be extremely enraged that I’m not acting on those same thoughts. Sometimes a part of me doesn’t want to be self-harm free. Sometimes I consider acting on those thoughts of suicide again.
Yet as of right now, I know my true values don’t align with the OCD. I know that I cannot act on both the suicidal thoughts and be alive to tell my story. Life just doesn’t work that way. I know the OCD is filled to the brim with bullshit and lies that just aren’t any reflection of reality. Despite knowing this, it doesn’t make the venom in its words hurt any less. And it doesn’t make my pain any less real.
Still, however, recovery is possible. Maybe the OCD will change topics one day. Maybe I’ll wrestle better with its claws and sharp teeth, and maybe I’ll learn to dance with it more than I am struggling against it. For now, that part of the story hasn’t been written. I tend to think I’m still a novice at my own mental health experience, having been through the desperation and recovery within the same year.
I’m not sure where my mind has plans to take me, but I know much more now that if I don’t like where it’s going I can change the map, and if I want to head in its direction, that choice is up to me as well. I like to remind myself that I have choices and that I have options. Recovery is my stepping stone to a better day that’s ahead. Recovery is the lighthouse through which the beams are peeking through the storm clouds. Recovery is sharing my story and bringing meaning and purpose into my life where a year ago I struggled to find them. Recovery is that beautiful, annoying, bittersweet, amazing journey that I both hate that I’m already on and love that I am on it so soon. Recovery is unique and special to each of us.
May you look forwards to the brighter day coming your way. Stay safe.
My second article for the Mass Media, all about recovery. =] Written back on March 29th and 30th 2016.