What does it takes to recover?

I favor using  the term “recovery” broadly to include any person who seeks to completely change their lives. Whether we are recovering from mental illness, self harm, an abusive childhood, or an eating disorder – it’s seriously the most bad ass thing a person can do.

I find myself (once again) a solid two steps outside of my comfort zone. This week I started as an adjunct instructor for Husson University. I’ve been given the honor of teaching trauma recovery.

But they only gave me 15 weeks to teach what’s taken me almost 20 years to learn.

I’ve boiled it down to the most important things. I’m sure the students are wondering if I might just be a little nuts. The lessons I most want to impart to them are not fully supported by research. They’re what I’ve learned first hand and painfully:

  1. You must learn to take excellent care of yourself. We know adages like, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” To misfits like me, these are too often little more than nice ideas. They must be practiced daily. .

I went into my profession knowing well how to care for others but not myself. I paid a terrible price for this repeatedly. I made and honored commitments to my self care only when I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. I served others because I believe that the stigmatized have tremendous value. By neglecting my own needs I treated myself as a person whose only value was in what he did for others .

  1. You must be genuine. We who survived are brilliant at being chameleons. We are intuitive people. We fly under the radar, tell others what they want to hear, and do our best to blend in. I spent a lot of years feeling insecure because I am not like mainstream people. I’ve come to see that I do not want to be like the people I was imitating.

It is easy to pretend when you don’t have a strong sense of who you are. I recommend the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” It took me a long time to understand that who and how I am are not things to be discovered. They are things to be chosen. Being anything less than real not only made my life unsatisfying, it hindered my ability to serve others like me.

  1. Recovery is spiritual. It’s a transformation process – becoming something greater than we are. Spirituality is about connection – relating well to self, to good people, and to something far more powerful than self. A “Higher Power” can be anything we choose.

I’ve learned that when I don’t take care of myself that every relationship I have suffers.

  1. There are deal breakers. We cannot think our way into change nor can we wait until we feel comfortable making changes. We must choose self respect, dignity, and patience. We must choose to receive what we so willingly give: acceptance, kindness, recognition, and praise. These things are easy to understand and hard to do (for self). Do them anyway.
  1. Recovery is messy. It takes time. It’s scary. It hurts. It’s the hardest thing a human being can do. We only choose it when we believe we must. None of us who seek recovery initially believe that we deserve it. All of us do. Some of us don’t get enough chances to choose it.

For all that you might choose, choose you. Embrace self acceptance. And if you’re going to serve others – allow others to serve you and learn to take excellent care of you. Otherwise you will inevitably fight a losing battle with yourself and everything that has the power to destroy you.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.