What Is Recovery?
"Individuals who are “in recovery” know what it means to them and how important it is in their lives. They need no formal definition. ... “Recovery from alcohol and drug problems (from trauma and relationship with self issues) is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence (relief from suffering) and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”
My journey is my own. Although I've used information from both academia, self-study, and from others perhaps a step or two ahead in the process than myself, my journey remains my own to this day.
The goal of my recovery journey?
Simply to feel better than my conditions of trauma, depression, PTSD, and substance issues set-up inside of me biologically to feel suffering through.
To make any progress at all, given that these conditions already generate via symptoms a negative outlook on life generally, I needed to chart a course, willing to examine my entire life, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
"Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness in others."
~ Carl Jung
Turning weakness into strength.
This is the promised outcome of Post Trauma-Experience of Growth:
What is post-traumatic growth?
"It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways." https://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/
Where do we start on the path to recovery?
For me, first things first. I needed to learn how to embrace a RADICAL acceptance of reality.
How do we learn to accept reality head-on?
We examine ourselves and our entire lives. We start by making a decision to go inside and not retreat from that which we may well continue to want to repress.
What does that look like?
As it was put to me, I'll put it to others interested in this writing:
We ALL have a bag of snakes that we carry around with us. Whether we've remained conscious or otherwise of the defining events in our lives, from birth to this stop point we make a choice to take:
Those events did happen, the very good, the very bad, and the very ugly.
To face the snakes, we need courage.
Courage to pull out the snakes, one-at-a time out of the bag, and without any further judgements attached to the snake, examine the who, what, where, when, why, and how of every one of those snakes, representing life-events.
Where do we turn towards for help to get through recovery?
Recovery is a frightening endeavor.
"It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems. ... What's hard is to decide."
~ Robert Downey Jr.
First, we must own that we've issues that we need to recover from, and decide it's time to face it.
Again, recovery is a hard choice to make.
Thus the reason why we will insist on maintenance of an ego image. Our ego is a false-self, a self that generates over time as a means of psychological self-protection.
False-Self needs a mask or persona. A mask that we wear to project OUR BEST SELF to the world.
This works for us for a very long time. We're tougher eggs to crack than we might think. The mask works until we reach a point that the mask no longer serves our greater good or functionality.
Thus the sense of ultimately being in a state of crisis that then motivates us to make that decision to give recovery an honest try.
The help we need is quality therapy. There's no other way that I've found along the way to get through. Religion is biased. Spirituality as is preached by the New Age Movement invariably let me down.
What we get with the right therapist is a totally safe place to confess both kinds of snake. Our own dysfunctional snakes we've put into that bag by choice, consciously or otherwise, as well as any dysfunctional snakes put into the bag by the actions of others.
It's here too that we're safe to also reveal to ourselves those snakes that are the best of who we are, without an ego-driven need to use these snakes as means to rest upon laurels.
This person, the therapist, is with us for holding space with us as we examine our lives up to the selected stop-point to do this work.
Holding this space is all about having someone with us to bear witness to the life we've lived.
The person we choose to work with us can't be our spouse or life-partner.
This person is most definitely not anyone from our family of origin.
The person can be a trusted friend who's done similar deep work with herself. But those folks in our lives are few and far between.
The therapist who is gifted in the ART of holding space with us, can act as a validator of our own findings, but can also help us to interpret that which we are having a more difficult time understanding, or even looking at head-on at all.
The best therapists I've seen during my recovery are trauma-informed clinicians, with either PhD credentials, or, at the very least, Masters level training, so long as the Masters Degree holding therapist has studied trauma and is certified in trauma issues.
Sometimes the therapist may need to use alternative modalities like EMDR, Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, to break the body free from holding onto any traumatic experiences we've repressed, locking our body in a state of nervous system and physiological dysfunction.
Why these folks? Why choose for any life recovery process a trauma-informed, clinical therapist?
Because to specialize in trauma, the therapist can't come to the table with any of her own issues unresolved. These folks have done the deep work I suggest here is necessary, in order to clean the inner-slate, so that they aren't retraumatized themselves bearing witness to our own lives.
The very good is easy to look at as a snake.
The very bad is often not as bad to look at as we might think.
The very ugly, however, trauma issues, do life-long damage, a damage that we reinforce by way of keeping a toxic secret about the trauma, or we may perhaps have inside the bag many such snakes that are secrets that have become toxic inside the bag.
Anything we feel a dramatic need to hide from ourselves and the world?
It's these issues and experiences that require the most courage to face.
How will we know we've transcended our weakness (darkness)?
How will we know when we've grown?
Weakness is generally a response to something we've not resolved in our lives.
When we tell ourselves the story of the worst events in our lives, we will feel an emotional response to the story. If anything in our environment reminds us of a past we'd rather forget, we will react to that, often dysfunctionally so.
Anger, for instance, is a response in the body to perceived threat, real or imagined, to the ego, or our physical being. We need anger to defend ourselves if we're in danger of assault or are in real potential life-ending danger. We don't need it for traffic jams. Nor for ego wounding. Nor in debate where we're in disagreement with any other human.
Anger is needed when we need to fight to save our lives, or to protect ourselves from an assault by someone in our space who is dysfunctionally violent herself.
We know we've transcended our weaknesses when we can tell ourselves a story of our life, from birth to the chosen stop point, and have reframed the good and great stuff to a place in the story of being humbled.
We humble ourselves by facing the bad and the ugly to balance the scale.
The ego hates this process. It will fight back. That will be part of the pain in recovery we feel. The ego doesn't want to have to give up it's admiration of the false-self that the ego has generated as an image we must portray or risk excommunication in the ego's life of any others that have encouraged that ego to grow.
By facing our lives, head-on, and with RADICAL acceptance of reality, we are then empowered to get to the actual facts of our lives, rather than continuing to cling to dreams, wishes, and hopes we might have for that reality be different than it actually is.
Radical Acceptance: Accepting ourselves and our lives EXACTLY as we are.
With this foundational acceptance, we can then more easily accept ourselves fully, good, bad, and ugly, which frees the spirit, allowing for greater appreciation of the present moments in life, without wish for the present to be any different than reality suggests these moments to be.
The freedom of spirit has a feeling inside.
It's a sense of no longer being burdened.
No longer needing to change ourselves.
As we understand more deeply the who, what, where, and why of each chapter of our life-story, up to the stop point, the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, changes, and we are then empowered to abandon self-judgement.
Along with radical acceptance of reality, we need as well to learn to be self-compassionate.
There's an adage to this process. One I know to be real:
We can't be fully present in the moment packing around with us a bag of snakes.
Dealing with the snakes, one at a time, puts the snake representing the bad and ugly to sleep, or makes a snake more active, if the snake is about a personal gift, passion, or unique to ourselves set of quality human-skills.
The best of us is truly active once we've dealt with any negative issues from a life previously left unresolved that are the source of suffering, causing so much inner-grief and oft constant emotional and physical pain.
The worst of ourselves is now comfortably asleep, once we get through this process.
As gifts, passion, and skill-presentations of ourselves generally come with joy, we can then live the joy in a way that quiets the pain of some of those now sleeping snakes, still woken by an all-too-familiar negative present-moment experience.
This will happen still. The memories of trauma are really still that strong. We'll be triggered often, but we'll have the new story to turn to as a means to get us back on a more emotionally functional track when we are.
Remember, when we make a decision to face these often ghastly things, we'd hoped, then, to NEVER lift a single, troubling snake out of the bag.
Therefore, any trigger need not be used to convince us that we're not getting anywhere at all as the process continues, really for the rest of our lives.
"Find a place inside where there is joy, and the joy WILL burn out the pain."
~ Joseph Campbell.
That which may have hurt us, having examined and studied ourselves fully, whether brought upon ourselves, or brought upon us by another, once we understand the who, what, where, when, and why of it, we're no longer saddled with things unresolved, whatever those unresolved issues for each of us might be:
Which will be, always, unique to ourselves, just as our choice of recovery process needs to be.
We can become experts in these issues. Not to be an arrogant ass, but I'm now an expert (non-credentialed, and therefore, I can not treat anyone) on traumatic stress, depression, substance use issues and addictions, along with now PTSD.
Because I've lived this, and studied myself against all available information to come to answers on all these issues in my own life.
I'm learning now about poverty.
Both issues I'm now living through, shackled still by the world due to stigmatization against anyone labelled mentally ill.
This also took me to a study of human rights, of the human condition, of sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics, politics, and foreign affairs.
My greatest gift is a love of learning, which I used to recover as best I can from my past life by taking advantage of online open and free courses on the Edx, Coursera, and Allison education-platforms.
"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~ Socrates
"Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me."
-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person
As far as this process goes, supported with the right choice of therapist, I refer to my friend in the cause of rectifying injustice for fellow First Responders who developed PTSD as a consequence of service, to explain how to best tackle the very difficult process of recovery:
"Festina Lente": "Make Haste Slowly".
The process of self-discovery, on way to self-actualization, can then be embraced, and accepted as life-long once Post Trauma-Experience of Growth sets in.
There's no hurry getting through this.
In fact, we're wise to listen to ourselves when we've touched on all we can handle, and then we need to recover a bit from the work, which is very hard, in preparation of pulling out the next snake from the bag.
For each of us, recovery will have it's own agenda and timeline.
Learning patience, and learning to accept this fact, might be the most difficult aspect of the recovery process over-all.
So, in choosing recovery?
And, all along the way . . . . .
"Mind How You Go."
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2017. All Rights Reserved
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.