Recovery starts when you stop falling.


By David Joel Miller.

Recovery begins when you stop getting worse.

How do you measure recovery from anxiety, depression, stress or trauma? The whole concept of recovery is relatively new to the mental health field. Substance abuse people have been thinking in terms of recovery for a long time. But if you have anxiety, depression, PTSD or another mental illness how do you know if you have begun to recover?

There are those who question the whole notion of recovery. Once you have a disorder, addiction or PTSD, they say you are stuck with it forever. I do not believe that. I have seen too many people recover to buy that myth.

In addiction treatment there is a saying that you “hit bottom” when you stop digging. The belief is that there is no set level of pain and suffering you need to endure before you begin the journey of recovery. Once you decide to stop doing things that are not healthy the process of recovery begins.

Recovery to me does not mean a cure. If you have been in an accident, been injured by things others did to you or by things you did, the scars may fade but never go away completely.

What recovery does mean is the ability to live your life in the best way possible regardless of whatever you chose to call your challenge.

How might someone with a stress related disorder know when they are moving in the direction of recovery?

For someone with a mental health challenge recovery might begin at the point when they get stable, when they stop sliding farther down.

For people who suffer from “complex trauma” a cousin of PTSD, caused by repeated traumatic experiences, one way of describing the beginnings of recovery is reaching a place of safety.

Najavits in her book “Seeking Safety” talks about the need for people in recovery from stress and anxiety issues to create a safe place, to get stable, as the way to begin your process of recovery from complex trauma. People with depression or substance abuse issues may call this a “supportive environment.” What follows is my version of her ideas from the book and from some published journal articles on Complex Trauma. I hope I have not harmed them in the transformation.

Recovery requires the creation of safety in three different areas of our lives, our thinking, our behavior and our relationships.  Professionals, like Najavits, might refer to these areas as cognitive, behavioral and interpersonal domains.

Safe thinking supports recovery.

A saying you might hear in recovery groups is “when I am in my own head I am in a really bad neighborhood.” It is common to collect a lot of really scary negative thoughts that we find it hard to let go of.

In a previous post I wrote about the need to do some neighborhood cleanup” so that your head can be a safe neighborhood to live in. Recovery begins with changing your thinking. Often this is hard. You do not know what you do not know and you may believe some things that made sense in the past but are no longer working for you. Working with a professional or a supportive person can help you figure out which of these thoughts you need to toss and which you need to revise and renovation.

Safe behavior builds recovery.

If you want your life to change you need to create safe environments and safe actions. This may involve avoiding certain people, places and things or it may mean learning to set better boundaries in the places and relationships you find yourself.

Using drugs or alcohol to cope often puts people in a much riskier position. Some behaviors will make your symptoms worse and some will make you feel and be safer. Learning from experience and close observation (sometimes referred to as mindfulness) will help you in your effort to stay safe while still getting out there and enjoying life.

Safe relationships nurture recovery.

Some people are safe and supportive. Some are dangerous and disaffirming. There are a whole lot of others in between these poles. Recovery can involve avoiding or limiting unsafe relationships. It can also mean working on improving those relationships that are supportive.

Friends and recovery supporters do not automatically appear when we need them. Developing good friendships requires effort. I see many clients who pursue a romantic interest actively even when others around them see that this is an unhealthy relationship. If you want healthy relationships you need to seek them out and spend time with those friends just as you might spend time with a new romantic partner. Time together builds a closer relationship.

Recovering people also need to learn that there must be degrees of trust and closeness. Some people are fine to spend time with in short segments. We have work friends and hobby friends but only a few of these people may become “over to the house” friends.

So if you are setting out on the path of recovery from an emotional problem, a mental illness or a behavioral issue. Make certain that you work on creating safe thoughts, behaviors and relationships. A happy life awaits you.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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