What Do I Expect My Life to Be Like in Recovery?
Donna has written a thoughtful reflection on recovery that raises questions I’ve asked myself many times. These are her words that go to the heart of my own concerns.
- I don't know whether I am expecting too much out of recovery. When I have a really good day, I wish they could all be that way. I can't tell what is normal. Then when I have a depressed day, I can't believe I lived with it for so many years. I want to know how I am going to feel a month from now...six months from now...six years from now, but I guess none of us can know that. It seems hard to make plans when you don't know what is coming.
I went through a similar questioning when I started to feel that I had finally recovered from depression. At first, I dared not trust that what I felt would last very long. I had lived through many false recoveries which were only the natural upside of the depression cycle I lived with. Every depressive episode played itself out and eventually ended, but then the good periods also cycled back into the bad ones.
This time, after a whole year of feeling OK, I realized that something basic had changed and that I wasn’t still trapped in the swings of the old cycle. So what did this new sense of life involve? If I started to talk about “my” recovery, what would I be referring to? I had my own version of Donna’s questions - What could I expect from this - what would life be like?
Part of the problem was that I couldn’t remember a time when my life hadn’t been distorted in some way by depression. When I felt good, I thought of recovery as “feeling like myself again.” In other words, my mind could work freely, I had the energy to do things, I could be responsive and present to my wife and children. All of that was great, but I still had no self-esteem and expected that this refreshed person would turn into a depressed one before too long.
Since recovery has now lasted for a few years, I’ve come to believe that it’s the real thing. There is a lot that’s new to me, though, since I’m not used to a life that isn’t dominated by depression. I keep thinking about the comments of a young soldier recovering from PTSD.
He had become so estranged from his feelings that a big step for him was letting himself feel love and anger and all the rest of his emotional life. But once he’d gotten that far, he was baffled. OK, he said, now I know it’s OK to feel anger, but what then? What do I do with that? He didn’t know how to behave, how to live a life that had this new dimension of emotion.
I’ve felt a bit like that. Instead of avoiding people, I’m learning how to reach out to them. I became so used to avoiding everyone, though, that I still have to catch myself before automatically saying “No” to an opportunity to spend time with friends or even family. The old reasons for that “No” are gone, yet I’m still surprised at how good I feel when I do say “Yes” and go with them.
So one thing I’ve learned is to let myself take time to get used to living without depression. I’m having to replace the habits of depression with the habits of wellness. That’s not only a matter of behaving differently and expressing feelings more freely. It’s also about changing the negative way I thought about myself for most of my life.
There’s a long learning curve to all this, and I’ve come to be patient and accepting of the fact that recovery is a major life change, full of uncertainty. I’m living a very different life in some ways from the one I used to know. It feels less like restoring a golden age from my past than creating a new, realistic life in the here and now. That takes time, and I’ll never know what’s coming up.
I guess living with uncertainty requires a willingness to adapt to whatever happens. That’s an ideal, of course. I’m often just plain scared by big changes, and sometimes the effort to adapt falls flat.
The thing about depression was that it had all the answers. Changing and adapting were definitely not encouraged. The bad episodes put a big pause on living and turned the volume down so low I hardly knew there was any life to deal with.
Despite all the changes and learning, I feel a stability deep down that I never used to have. That’s hard to label or even understand. Somehow the “me” inside has become more at ease with himself as well as more upbeat. When I first recognized that inner change, I realized what a powerful shift in my life had occurred. That was the turning point, much more so than feeling better. Feelings come and go, but my center or core holds everything together.
Carl Rogers, the great psychologist who developed client-centered therapy, once wrote about his effort to be fully mindful of himself in the present moment. What he said about mindfulness is also true of my experience with recovery:
- To really know what I am experiencing in the moment is by no means an easy thing, but I feel somewhat encouraged because I think that over the years I have been improving at it. I am convinced, however, that it is a lifelong task and that none of us ever is totally able to be comfortably close to all that is going on within our own experience. (from A Way of Being).
Do Rogers’ words resonate with you? What do you expect recovery to be like in your own life?