Among the many things I enjoy about my Peer Support Specialist training — and there’s so much — I most appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this idea of recovery and how I can enhance my own experience of it.
Recovery is a relatively new notion for me. Of course I’ve always sought to “get better” and I understood I had to do some work to get there, but in many ways I approached it as something that would happen to me, instead of something I would create for myself. “Getting better” was a passive achievement; “recovery” is an intentional series of actions and mindsets, the success of which hinges on my conscious awareness of myself and my condition. In recovery, I’m in charge. I determine what recovery looks like to me, how to get there, and how to maintain wellness. Recovery, as I’ve learned more explicitly in PSS training, is about personal choice and responsibility. It’s about taking back control of whatever areas of your life you’re capable of managing, and refusing to passively let life and illness act upon you anymore. In recovery, I make the choice to no longer be a victim and, instead, exert my own power over the direction in which my life is going. That doesn’t mean there aren’t setbacks or relapses, but accept them as part of the process of recovery and learn from them as I continue to progress. I set and honor my boundaries. I decide my best and most effective way of living. I direct the pacing and quality of my personal progress.
What resounds with me most pleasingly about this act of recovery in which I’m becoming more well-versed in PSS training is that the first and most vital step is isolating and focusing on an individual’s strengths, rather than their limitations. I can speak confidently of only my personal experience of living with a mental health condition, and I know I’ve wasted years and years dwelling on the things I’ve perceived myself unable to do or achieve because of the particular pathology of my illness. If an area of my life crumbled or became fraught, I blamed the bipolar — and that may have been a fair assessment, but the failure and sense of being somehow mentally and emotionally handicapped were all I saw. I rarely, if ever, gave much attention to my strengths. I wasn’t even sure I had any at all. And I suffered all the more because of it. Such an outlook becomes a prison, a life sentence. As such, I often felt stuck. Nowhere to turn. No way out.
But now that I’m feeling a bit better and immersing myself in activities that renew and enrich me — all of me, the self with bipolar and the greater, fuller aspects of my identity — I feel better able to touch what is good and strong within me and more genuinely appreciate those qualities. Our discussions throughout the PSS training thus far have prompted me to examine and inventory my oft-ignored strengths, and if you’ll excuse the indulgence, I’d like to list here what I’ve discovered thus far:
* I am a deeply empathic and caring person.
* I have a strong desire to reach out to and help others.
* I am resilient — I may go down, but I won’t stay out forever.
* I am willing to push myself through uncomfortable situations for a cause I care about.
* I have a strong sense of social justice.
* When I find something I love and/or feel passionately about, I am dedicated, determined, and ambitious.
* I’m a pretty good writer.
* I’m extremely self-aware and unafraid of serious, reflective introspection.
* I love to learn and am fully open to taking in new experiences and ideas with a curious and thoughtful mind.
* I can admit my wrongs and weaknesses.
* I am honest, sometimes too much so.
* I strive to be more mindful in all I do and continually seek better, more effective ways of coping.
* I keep trying to get life right.
* I value all life and consider it dear.
* I embrace humor as healthy.
Well, I think that’s enough for now. The task ahead for me is to focus on these positive character traits and build on them. According to my PSS training, that’s the first facet of recovery — hope. After that, it’s understanding that I have choices in all areas of my life and it’s my privilege and responsibility to make and advocate for whatever are the right choices for me. That leads to the next step — empowerment. When I start exerting control over the state of my life and refuse to allow circumstances or other people to make vital choices for me, I begin to feel empowered and that helps me take more risks and venture outside my comfort zone to achieve bigger and more rewarding pursuits in my life. The next step is establishing a recovery environment, which means surrounding myself with positive people who support my efforts toward recovery. That can also mean ridding my life of negative or triggering individuals and things. A recovery environment includes safe places to which I can retreat to recharge and renew myself and attain whatever level of self care I require. The final piece of the puzzle is spirituality. Apparently, this step is left out of some PSS training models, but B felt it was too important to omit. Spirituality is whatever I define as my sense of universal order, the idea that informs my experience of life and provides meaning and comfort. This is a tricky one for me, as I don’t adhere to any religious belief, but do believe there’s some sort of undefinable something that gives shape to the world and our lives. My readings about Buddhism and forays into meditation are, I believe, expressions of my spirituality. I am waiting to see how that all evolves.
Now that I’m learning so much about recovery and tentatively identifying myself as “in recovery,” it amazes me that such a notion was utterly foreign to me just a couple years ago. I wish I had known all of this sooner. It makes me wonder how much stronger I could have become earlier in my life. But I also know there were times nothing could have gotten or did get through to me in any meaningful way that altered my behaviors. I evolved how ever I could when I could, and I’m not sure anything could have changed that. What matters is that I’m learning and evolving now, and hopefully I can take what I learn in training and help others know sooner in their journey that recovery is not a myth, nor is it only for a select few lucky individuals. It is achievable, against all odds. And, as B reminds us multiple times each training day, it is for everyone.
Even you, whether you believe it or not.