a little conversation about recovery

Let’s talk a little about recovery from mental illness and addiction.

Ok, sounds good.

Once upon a time, we didn’t think people with mental illness could get better. They were just that “odd” relative or they lived in an institution.

Now we know better. People with mental illness can recover!

Really? What exactly is recovery?

Here’s an “official” definition: Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. SAMHSA, 2011. By the way, SAMHSA stands for the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Can you break that down a little for me?

Sure. Recovery is a process of change, so people change and grow as they recover.

Ok. What else?

In recovery, people improve their health and wellness. This is about the whole person, which is called “holistic.” That includes mind, body, and spirit.

Also, in recovery people live a self-directed life. That means they must accept responsibility and be in charge of their lives and their recovery as much as they are able.

Is there more?

Yes. In recovery, people strive to reach their full potential. This means doing all the things that bring back meaning, quality and joy to their life.

This is pretty interesting.

Also, SAMHSA gave us something else to think about – 4 dimensions of recovery.

What are they?

Health, home, purpose & community. Let’s look at each of these:

1) Health – overcoming or managing one’s illness as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way. This includes healthy choices like exercise, diet, not smoking, and not using alcohol or drugs.

2) Home – a safe and stable place to live. Without a safe place to live, recovery is almost unthinkable.

3) Purpose – meaningful daily activities and the independence, income and resources to participate in society. These can include a job, school, volunteering, hobbies, and creative expression.

4) Community – relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, and hope. One important kind of support is peer support, or learning from others who are also in recovery.

I like that part about hope.

Yes, because recovery emerges from hope. The opposite of hopeful is hopeless. It’s almost impossible to have a meaningful recovery if you are hopeless.

Is that all?

A couple more things. Recovery addresses trauma. That includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and exposure to disasters, combat, or violence.

And recovery is influenced by the person’s culture. Each person has values, traditions and beliefs that are important to understand.

What else should I know?

This may be one of the MOST important things. Recovery is about finding each person’s strengths and building on them.

What do you mean by strengths?

Personal strengths are things like housing, income, social support, access to health care, transportation, ability to communicate, literacy, motivation, talents, and many more!

That makes a lot of sense.

There’s one more thing. Recovery is based on respect. Do you remember the Golden Rule? (Treat others as you would want to be treated.)

So, does recovery looks different to each person?

Absolutely. Each person will travel a different path on their journey of recovery. There will be bumps in the road, the occasional detour, or even what feels like a landslide or earthquake in some cases.

This is all great, but how can I help someone with their recovery?

Remember the terrific power of you. You help someone in their recovery when you provide support, when you smile and encourage them, or when you reassure them things will get better.

So I’m like a superhero?

Yes, your powers to help others are amazing. But you must always use them for good. For just as we can heal, we can also hurt if we aren’t careful.

Did you say hurt?

If we label someone with their illness, it can cause pain and slow down their recovery. This also increases stigma, a negative attitude people or society sometimes hold about mental illness.

So, what should I say?

Use “person-first” language. Instead of “Jim is a schizophrenic,” say “Jim has schizophrenia.”  Say “intellectual disability,” not “retarded.” Don’t use clinical terms to describe someone’s quirks or behavior, such as “He’s OCD!” or “That’s really bipolar!” Say “has a mental illness,” not “nuts” or “crazy.”

Advocate Don Coyhis said it well: “Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a ‘flower.’ If you want to kill something, you call it a ‘weed.’”

Anything else I can do?

Help people overcome their own self-imposed limitations. Expect people to do more than they believe they can do. Expect people to get involved in their recovery plan. Expect recovery!

So, here’s a question: How can you help someone with their recovery? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

  • Jan Cottrell

    Excellent. Thank you for these helpful and hopeful words — especially for those of us who work in Substance Abuse Rehab.

  • DavidSusman

    Thank you Jan! Glad you found it helpful.

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