Rebuilding Your Backbone: From Wooden Planks to Steel Beams
Art by Erin McPhee
Trigger Warning: Psychiatric treatment, cutting, alcohol
Whether it’s from drugs, razor blades or a bad partner; at some point in our lives, we’re all faced with the daunting task of recovery. For some, all it takes is a good cry and a hug but others may require long-standing professional care. The road to healing isn’t meant to be easy. A universal toolbox to recovery sadly doesn’t exist but there are steps you can take to make this transition as smooth as possible. The common methods recommended are all discovered with experience and mastered with patience. You too will find your own ways to cope with these changes in your life. The word ‘recovery itself originates from the Anglo-Norman French recovrer, meaning to “get back”. In essence, recovery is the journey of finding the part of yourself that you’ve lost along the way.
**1. Recovery is deeply personal. **
There is no set time and no one way to do it. We live our lives in a constant state of flux so embrace this as a natural, recurring process. With every chance you take, there is the possibility of a negative outcome and therefore, a possibility of having to accept your predicament, do some self-reflection and change directions. More importantly, do what’s best for you. While you might care about what others think of you, the ability to take matters into your own hands and trust your own judgment is what will help you distinguish the bad from the good in your life. At the end of the day, no relationship is more precious than the one you have with yourself so do yourself a favor, go with your gut!
**2. Recovery is a decision that lies with you **
Ultimately, the choice to get better is one that no one can make for you. It’s up to you to find the motivation and carry through with your plan for recovery. Everybody has bad habits. Some are harmless, some can be fixed by a simple change of routine but some are detrimental to both your body and your mind. The bad habits you decide to keep today will dictate who you end up as in the future. In order to be successful, you have to be committed. Practice self-compassion; see yourself as your best friend and forgive yourself for both your past and present mistakes. This is a special promise that only you are accountable for and it’s to your benefit to keep it.
**3. Recovery is worthwhile. **
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to take your own advice. You may have known the ins and outs of recovery before reading this but one of the biggest steps is convincing yourself that you should bother with this tedious and often painful endeavor. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Challenge the mentality that you’ll be stuck here forever, recognize and correct negative thinking patterns and above all else, remind yourself that there is a world beyond your recovery. There are places you haven’t gone and foods you haven’t tried, people you haven’t met. Often times, when we’re fighting through hardship, our perceptions are narrowed to the point of tunnel vision. Our struggles seem like mountains we can’t move when really, they’re just molehills we have to step over. You owe yourself the opportunity to enjoy life to its fullest without the burden of nursing old wounds.
4. Recovery is strengthened by healthy outlets
Let’s face it. Chances are, whatever you’re looming over has probably been in your life for a very long time. It’s time for a change of pace. If it’s an addiction, that might not mean switching from one substance to another. If it’s a bad breakup, hooking up with a new person might not be the best solution. A good outlet is an activity you can partake in that is beneficial to you and doesn’t bring you shame. It should be something that you’re comfortable with sharing with others, something that brings a smile to your face and that not even circumstance can strip away from you. While the urge to revert back to your old ways will overwhelm you at times, just remember that doing things that are good for you will make you a happier person in the long run. Not all of these things feel good. A common example of this is diet and exercise. While no one likes passing up the last slice of pizza or jogging five miles a day, the sacrifice is necessary to reap the benefits. Every now and then, you can have it both ways but it’s important to place your mental and physical needs over your basic desires.
5. You are always ready to recover
Whether or not you think so, you are ready for positive experiences. You are worthy of love and capable of achieving anything you desire. Your past does not define you. While the decision ultimately lies with you, you don’t have to go through this alone. Your loved ones will be there to carry you through this process and once you learn to love yourself, you will be bigger than the pain that once held you down. You will be stronger than the things that once made you tremble. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about people is that we have the ability to bounce back, to be resilient. Much like how flowers die in Winter and bloom again in Spring, recovery gives us the chance to shed old versions of ourselves and grow as people. We all possess the strength to overcome adversity, why not start today?
It’s worth acknowledging that sometimes, pain grips us in a way that causes us to grow stagnant in our lives. If you are hurt beyond recognition and can’t stomach the concept of recovery just yet, that’s completely understandable. All I ask is that you take care of yourself until then and if you find yourself struggling, reach out.
Throughout the drafting process for this article, I spent about three days in the psychiatric unit of a hospital. My afternoons consisted of pacing the halls and peeling glass deco off windows while my nights were occupied by more feverish, cryptic writing than sleep itself. Although the food was questionable and time crawled slowly, the impact was absolute. I met people from all walks of life while I was in there, all brilliant minds with the same intention: to learn how to rebuild no matter what the trauma.
Upon being discharged, I remember seeing someone new when I slipped into my street clothes and took a good, hard look in the mirror. Her hair was brittle, her lips were chapped and stained from a couple days’ old lipstick and her eyes were tired but she was more brave, wise, forgiving and passionate about living than I was before. I began to appreciate the simplest things; Feeling the cool breeze on my skin, having long conversations with my mom and stomping through puddles without rain boots were all that much better now that I knew how it felt to go without. All of this lead me to believe that recovery isn’t just about preventing injury but accepting it and seeing past it with the confidence that tomorrow, next week, or next year, you could feel happy.