Being someone who is very ‘out’ about my recovery, I am often asked, “What helped make your recovery possible?” I’m grateful to FOR-NY to have this forum to share some of my thoughts on this.
The first thing that I would point out is that my story is not much different than most. I used substances and the results were not that bad at first. However, when I started experiencing negative consequences because of my use, I found I was unable to stop – even when those consequences grew in severity – broken relationships, incarceration, homelessness and dropping out of high school just to name a few.
I eventually entered recovery through the traditional treatment system and believe I can attribute my ability to maintain recovery to a number of significant factors that were present in those early days. They are as follows:
Peers and Other Allies
One of the most important things I learned in early recovery was the importance of peers – people who had been down the same path as me and were now living in recovery. Not only were these individuals helpful because they were able to talk to me about their experiences, they were also helpful because I could see first-hand that they had lives that were full and they were able to navigate life’s ups and downs without using.
It is important to mention that I also had the support of many people not in recovery. Part of the shift that made me willing to seek help from people who were not in recovery occurred when I started looking at myself as a human being first, and an addicted person in recovery as just a piece of who I was.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance that education and employment had on my recovery. Most of us enter recovery with very low self-esteem and a general sense of hopelessness. Early on in my recovery I knew that if I was going to be able to support myself financially, I was going to need to be trained or educated in something. Luckily, I was a huge political junkie (yes, pun intended!) and after lobbying to be allowed to continue my education while still in treatment, I went back to college with the help of state-run vocational supports. Through hard work and a continuing commitment to my recovery, I’ve earned a MA in Public and Social Policy and was even a speaker at my recent graduate school graduation!
The self-esteem I gained in college and later in employment has been one of the great benefits of recovery. In addition to the obvious benefits of employment – namely, a paycheck, I’ve found there are others.
There have been countless times when I have been supported through life’s ups and downs by coworkers. In fact, I consider my employer to be my second family. The love and support they have given me over the years has been invaluable.
Another thing that I learned along the way has been the importance of wellness in other parts of my life. Like so many of us who have spent years living in the dysfunction of active addiction, I was not used to taking care of the many things that are important to sustaining recovery.
This meant going to a primary care doctor, a dentist, eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking care of health concerns I neglected while using. In addition to these areas, it was also important for me to cultivate and maintain spiritual and financial health.
While taking care of these things was both scary and overwhelming at first, I really leaned on my peers for support and most of these things, which seemed foreign and strange at first, became life-long habits.
Community Integration and Civics
The last thing I want to mention is the importance that regaining a connection to my community has had on my recovery. This means being involved in various civic activities like volunteering, voting and generally being a good and engaged citizen willing to help my neighbors. When using, I felt so apart from society and the ‘living’. Recovery has enabled me to be a part of, rather than apart from, and that feels really good!
In closing, I would like to add that it’s important that we all work together as a community to support people in recovery. To me, a person in recovery, this begins with me stepping out of the shadows and standing proud! The reality is, as I write this, there are many who do not know that recovery even exists. These folks will never know there is hope if we continue to remain in the shadows!