Making Changes in Recovery - Part One

  • Hello, my name is Chris and I'm a recovering workaholic. I believe I inherited a gene for ambition from my father, who started his landscape and garden center business out of a two-car garage in the 1970s, and today it is the largest business of its kind on the Island. He was an absent father, away from home often to work at the nursery.

    This blog entry will talk about something central to living well: replacing old habits with new behaviors that reinforce our mental health. Let's face it, we don't always make the best choices. As someone in recovery from schizophrenia, I worked twice as hard to prove myself. Dr. Altman told me years ago, "Being hard on yourself allowed you to conquer a disability. Now you have to lighten up."

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    In my blog, Joyful Music, on my author web site, I wrote a couple months ago that only by testing my limits could I know how far I could go. I've come to disavow that notion, because I realize limits are a good thing: they give us safety, security. The habit I want to break-where I would "break night" so that I could get done in one day a prodigious amount of work-started when I was in grad school and has continued to this day, long past the time it served a useful purpose. The truth is, I can write a gorgeous scene at 1:00 a.m., yet on other nights I'm not productive. The result is the next day I'm out of commission.

    I'm tired of feeling tired all the time. Tuesday night I stayed up and the next day I called in sick to work so I could sleep in the afternoon rather than go without sleep. I saw Dr. Altman on Thursday and he wrote a sick note: "Patient had a medical condition which caused her to be unable to work." That's when I was forced to change my tune. I knew it wasn't going to be easy to create a new sleep habit that would become permanent. So I called my good friend Robin who told me he was confident I could do it.

    When I was paid on Friday, I went to Staples and bought fancy paper with yellow borders with pink polka dots on every side. I typed up these words and printed them on the colorful paper as a reminder:

    Love Yourself More Than Your Art.

    Shut the Lights at 11:00 p.m.

    The Fruits You Plant Will Bear Fruit in Due Season.

    To Understand is to Have Compassion.

    I taped this up on the dresser mirror in my bedroom so I could look at it often throughout the day.

    The first expression I cribbed from A., a peer at the Orlando NAMI convention who spoke up at the "Healing Through the Arts" morning session. She is an actress with bipolar who would get revved up at midnight doing projects, and she committed to falling asleep earlier. "I love myself more than my art," A. revealed.

    Indeed, for a lot of us recovering from a mental illness, we have behaviors that hold us back from achieving optimal mental health. Admit it: you know what you do. Maybe now it's time to look yourself in the eye and make a few changes. I have some ideas about how you could make a new behavior last:

    1. Hang in a prominent place a picture of the things you want to obtain. Right now, I posted photos of Metropolitan Home apartments on the refrigerator door because I have the goal of buying a co-op. The colorful reminder on my dresser mirror also helps me with a goal I can't see but want to happen as well. You may think it's corny or childish to do this; however, it works wonders. Who do you have to impress, anyway? If someone doesn't get it, that's their problem.

  • 2. Recognize that it takes 21 days-three weeks-for the behavior you adopt to stick. There will be relapses-such is the nature of recovery. When you fall off the wagon, forgive yourself, dust yourself off, and re-commit. Just because you slip up once or twice doesn't mean you're doomed to a lifetime of failures.

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    3. Use your support network for feedback and encouragement, as well as to have people who listen to you without judgment. Reach out to the other members of the Connection community by writing SharePosts here because you will get support-we've been in your shoes and even if it seems we haven't, we'll stand by you.

    4. Pay attention to the voice inside you that tells you something isn't working. In your gut you know what needs to change and if you ignore the signs, you'll make yourself sick.

    My workaholism was like any addiction with feelings of guilt and shame attached to the behavior. These feelings also surround being given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The feelings could keep us stuck. I was determined to accept how I felt and to work through it and move on. My inspiration has been David Robbins, whose SharePost documenting his new response to the voices he's heard for 28 years proves that it's never too late to change. As I'm fond of saying, give yourself the gift of a lifetime in which to recover.

    One thing I know: you can do it.


    Chris's sleep ticker: five days I shut the lights at 11:00 p.m.

Published On: August 19, 2008