National Recovery Month is a national observance held every September that educates Americans on mental health and substance use disorders and celebrates the achievements of people in recovery.
Labels have hurt me over the years
Over the years, I’ve been called junkie, crazy, wasted, dirty, psycho, clean, hammered, crack head, stoner, lush, pill popper, tipsy, tweaker, bi-polar, strung out, freak, baked, fiend, wino, boozer, blitzed, druggie, and burnout. For every word you just read, an image probably popped into your head to associate with that word. None of those are good images. The weight of the stigma in these words is evident, and it turns my stomach typing these terms out. I know people identified me with these terms, and in turn, I defined myself by them.
My mental health and substance abuse issues have taken me all over the place: to therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, trauma therapy, sexual trauma therapy, intensive outpatient programs, inpatient mental hospitals, 12-step programs, life coaches, self-help groups, substance abuse treatment, and even sober living residences. Honestly, many of these I’ve tried multiple times.
Learning to accept myself was a vital step
Every time I sought assistance for my issues, I carried all of those stigmatizing identities on my back, weighing myself into oblivion. “Don’t you know who I am?” “Don’t you know what I have been through?” I’m sure a lot of people can relate to these questions. I finally got to the point that I dropped all my identities and had to start working with a blank canvas. Coming to the realization that I didn’t know anything and taking direction from someone else were the scariest things I ever did.
Recovery doesn’t discriminate; it can impact every color, sexuality, gender, and socio-economic class. Some of my greatest supporters have nothing in common with me on the outside, but I wanted what they had on the inside. I had to have the willingness to listen. I always thought I was in control, but in reality, I skated by in life. Now I needed to follow directions from medical professionals, other people who have been through the same situation I was in, and like-minded friends and family who wanted to see me thrive. The more I listened and learned, the more I was able to accept my reality. I began to accept myself and to accept my life for what it was.
I tried everything as I was an infant again. I’d had all these preconceived notions of what I liked and what I needed. Once I let go of those thoughts, I was able to fill that blank canvas. I did everything I was told and said yes to all of those health suggestions. I learned that I like gardening, photography, and hiking. In my substance use and mental health struggles, I would never have attempted to do these things! For me, recovery isn’t about becoming who I think I am, it’s about learning who I’m really meant to be.
Now I’m living up to new facets of my identity
My canvas now is filled, and is constantly growing larger. It is filled with new hobbies, new friends, family members, friends I had once lost due to my behaviors, and a support group of people who deal with the same issues I do. Most importantly my canvas is filled with new identities and characteristics: honesty, acceptance, integrity, courage, strength, trusting, loving, hard working, supportive, compassionate, patient, and willing.
Being employed by Workit Health has become the greatest gift of my recovery. I have an amazing team. All of us have experienced or been in some way touched by recovery personally. If you have ever called in, you have spoken with one of us. We carry hope, compassion, and care for every single person we come in contact with. Asking for help is the hardest thing to do. We are all grateful to be a small stepping stone in people’s pursuit of happiness. Recovery is possible! It takes work and requires great attention to our mental and physical wellness, but it is possible!
Recovery month is not only to celebrate those in recovery but to bring hope and light to the possibilities brought on by working on ourselves. Be well.