All new things are weak and tender. This can include the beginnings of a romantic relationship or friendship, a business partnership, a new creative project, a move to a new location, job or country or even the learning of a new skill. Whenever we make a change it is important to also recognise that even positive changes are often challenging. It takes time, energy and focus to adjust. So in a way we could say all beginnings possess a delicacy that is important to respect.
However the beginnings I am particularly focused on here are the beginnings of recovery; recovery from heartbreak, anxiety, divorce, addiction, trauma, depression, an abusive relationship, chronic illness, grief. Recovery from whatever it is that has pole-axed your soul and left you wondering whether your world will ever be the same again, let alone whether you even want to be a part of it anymore.
To quote Bernard Williams “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit”. The more I work with clients – who are both overcoming (and have overcome) incredible suffering and witness them not only survive but thrive – the more this quote has galvanised into a core belief within me.
If you look at any story of triumph you will see that transformational recovery – recovery against terrible odds, recovery in the face of real and undeniable adversity – is not only everywhere but completely and wholly achievable.
Whilst this is deeply encouraging, it is not to say that the process of recovery is something to be taken lightly. Where there has been grave injury to the soul, a deep respect and understanding of the recovery process – and especially the time it can take – is absolutely vital. However the process of recovery is often hugely misunderstood. Because of this, I have included below what I believe to be the most important aspects of supporting yourself, or helping support another, back to wellness:
Acceptance – there are many situations we can ‘bounce back from’ in life; haul ourselves out of by pulling up our bootstraps, gritting our teeth and ‘toughing it the hell out’. But it is imperative to understand the difference between these experiences and other types of experiences that are just too colossal, baffling and devastating for us to hold alone. Before recovery can begin, we must reach a point of accepting that you need to step onto that pathway. Accepting that this is actually a tsunami of pain too enormous to withstand or face without support. That at the very least requires considerable time out and a lot of tender self-care. This is where acceptance comes in. Not only is acceptance key in recovery, it is also the very first step.
Boundaries – those weak and tender beginnings to recovery must be guarded ferociously. You must stay away from whatever it is that has harmed you and ‘bottom-line’ this for yourself. For some it may be alcohol and drugs, a certain someone or ‘type of relationship’. For others it may be controlling the painful thoughts and denial and avoidance of emotion that drove them to the anxiety and depression in the first place. Identify your nemesis, and ring-fence it with tenacious ferocity.
Change – recovery will change you irrevocably. It isn’t about getting back to ‘how you were before’ – it’s not just about salvaging the remains of your wellbeing – it’s about building something new, more flexible, more deeply connected, authentic, honest and much, much stronger.
Discernment – as you change so will your external world. Some things, some people will remain steadfast in support of your journey, some will fall away. Some people around you won’t understand but that’s OK, they don’t need to. Your recovery is not for them.
Trust the process – recovery is rarely a ‘linear ascent’ back to health and happiness. There will be ups and downs, wonderful surges forward as well as small and significant relapses back into the pit of old behavioural patterns and dark emotional states. This is actually all part of the process as your subconscious lets go of the old wounding at a rate and pace that it feels is both safe and appropriate. It is important to trust that the new you will emerge, but it cannot be rushed and the more you try to hurry it the longer it will take. Our dark night of the soul has it’s own process and it will not be pressured and hurried, in fact to attempt to do so is detrimental. ‘Trust the process’ is a phrase I use a lot when working with clients in the initial recovery phase and the paradox here is that the more you accept your ‘own personal process’ of recovery the less time it will actually take. For example: when working with clients who have been mired in chronic or acute depression or anxiety, I often begin the initial consultation with: ‘you will begin to feel less awful’. Not the sparkliest or most uplifting of promises, but certainly the most realistic and honest. With the right application of therapy and time ‘less awful’ becomes ‘functioning’, ‘functioning’ then becomes ‘OK’, ‘OK’ can begin to allow in the glimmers of ‘wellbeing’. Hidden in those moments of ‘wellbeing’ are the embers that become clear pathways, these pathways widen out into vistas and become the galvanised new foundations on which you can walk into your new life.
Support – all recovery requires support. We are not meant to do it alone & why should we? We live in a world of incredible resources, real-life inspirational stories and those solid and compassionate beings that are much further along their particular path of recovery, whom, if you seek them out can often help gently guide you out of the woods. However, support means different things for different types of recovery, so it’s about seeking out what is right for you. The key to rebuilding yourself is to be sure you are using the right materials for the job. A skyscraper is, after all, only as strong as the steel it is made of. Plenty of self care, support – be it friends, a support group, grief counselling, therapy, creativity or exercise, sleep, nutrition, self expression – are all essential components in the construction of the new you.
Recovery is not easy but the alternative is often devastating and most things that are worth it are not easy. What is hard won in life is often what we value the most and no matter where you feel you are right now, know that there is hope. We are never too broken, too far gone, too damaged, too scarred to create change. Never, ever give up on your fight for the right to your light.
If you dedicate yourself wholly to recovery from whatever is causing you great pain now, I assure you that one day you will look back and see it was the very making of who you are. That actually you can weave parachutes out of everything that was once broken.