“Nobody gets through childhood unwounded.” This is a saying in trauma and addiction work. We are all one in this experience of survival, we all have our own life journey and so we can all understand the process of recovery.
Recovery is the new mental health model that has emerged in my lifetime. Prior to the “recovery model” mental disorders were addressed with “treatment” and “rehabilitation.” Treatment attempted to relieve symptoms in one way or another such as lessening hallucinations or phobias. Rehabilitation took a step beyond the relief of symptoms in attempting to find ways to allow the patient to return to a more normal level of functioning in the affected areas of life.
The Recovery Model
Helping people recover from damaging experiences, whether they were serious traumatic events or the lack of appropriate validation in childhood, means guiding them on a journey to a level of functioning they have never achieved before. This goes way beyond the medical model of restoring lost functioning.
The recovery model presupposes that all people, no matter what they are struggling with can use their challenging situation as an opportunity to grow. And it assumes that all of us have similar goals for a rewarding life.
The Heroic Journey
The journey of recovery has been likened to the hero’s journey in mythology. The elements of this journey are common to mythic stories the world over. We are the hero. Something happens to set the wheels in motion– “the call,” as it is called, and we respond.
The prototype of the quest has key features such as a “guide” and the picking up of certain “allies” or cohorts along the way and the overcoming of mortal dangers. After the successful journey, the hero returns to his or her regular life with a new and expanded awareness and is in possession of a gift that can then be given to others.
One of the key features of the heroic journey is “faith.” The hero agrees to make the journey without knowing exactly what will happen and without being able to envision the life that is waiting at the other end. The hero simply chooses to take that leap of faith and follow their “guide.”
In trauma and addiction work this guide may be in the form of the therapist or it may be the 12-step group or other support system. It may involve a spiritual practice and a trust in a “higher power.” This is another way in which recovery serves to connect us with all other humans and with the universe.
Recovery in everyday life
Everyone can understand recovery because everyone has experienced it in some form. There is no bright line between psychological recovery and recovery in everyday life.
We all have things we have survived and recovered from in our own histories. These are often things like living through a loss or death, or an illness or some other challenge that affects us deeply.
If the suffering goes deeper and extends back further into early life, then the wound is often more difficult to find and address and the journey is longer and may be more circuitous.
The goal of the journey is meaning
The end of the journey is not the escape from all painful feelings. Recovery is not about living in some blissed-out state of perfection. Painful experiences are a part of life for all of us.
The goal that we have as therapists is to “make meaning out of suffering.” This is why you will hear recovering addicts say that being an addict was a true blessing in that it led them into recovery and gave them a new level of awareness and a new sense of meaning in their life. They are even grateful for their new-found ability to feel their most painful feelings.
All mental health issues are a doorway that can allow us to take the leap of faith and make the journey to find some meaning in our suffering. We can all reach a point in our recovery journey in which we can use our gifts, help others and enjoy a new level of peace.