What recovery means

People who have recovered from addictions to alcohol and drugs are often very, very cautious with how they describe their recovery, and that’s for good reason: Relapses are, tragically, all too frequent.

It didn’t dawn on me until much, much later in my life that the same applies for people living with depression.

First, a look at some broad facts: According to one study, ” at least 50% of those who recover from a first episode of depression having one or more additional episodes in their lifetime, and approximately 80% of those with a history of two episodes having another recurrence.”

In other words, sadly, the more depressive episodes you have, the more likely you are to have another one in the future.

Making this personal: The worst depressive episode I’ve had in my life, and the most extended, was my freshman year of college.  Therapy and medication helped me learn to live again, but I had a pretty hard-core relapse my senior year, and then another one a little after grad school.  Periodic ups and downs followed, but I’d say those were the three worst “episodes” of my life, with the most dehabilitating consequences.  As I got older, the intensity of these episodes began to wane, as I became better at recognizing depression for what it was, coping with it’s symptoms and seeking additional help as appropriate.

That’s not to say they went away.  They didn’t.

I’m bringing this up to make a point: Recovery is not an end state.  It’s not a destination.  For most, it’s a journey.  For some, they’re lucky: One episode of mental illness, one bout with addiction, and they are done.  You lucky, lucky sons of…sigh, anyway….

For most who have ever suffered – depression, anxiety, addiction, whatever – a relapse could always be just around the corner.  This means that you can never let your guard down, because you’re never really, truly “done” with mental illness.

Is this a bad thing?  Well, I’d be a heck of a lot happier if I never had to worry about this again.  But the specific reason I am bringing this up is to remind people who suffer that recover is not the end state – it’s a perpetual one – and that relapses are okay.  They are part of the disease with which you suffer and not endemic of any internal weakness.  Recurrences shouldn’t be dealt with via self-flagellation and scolding – they should be treated as a natural flare up of a disorder that can be dehabilitating without treatment.  Don’t yell at yourself.  Don’t hate yourself.  And don’t think that your any recovery must be permanent or you are failing.

Recovery is a journey.  Not a destination.

2 thoughts on “What recovery means

  1. Recovery is indeed a journey! After having a recent major second relapse it is helpful, as you stated, that relapses are okay. For me the key is to do positive self talk, accept what the relapse for what it is and to be kind and patient with oneself. Receiving professional help and successfully completing an outstanding outpatient program offered by a local hospital was key as I traveled through this recent dark time. I am strong, competent and courageous. I have recorded these positive self affirmations on my cell phone and need to listen to them daily..hear my own voice making those statements and journey on!

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  2. Excellent piece. I especially identify with the thoughts on journeys and self flagellation which only serve to prolong the episodes. We mature with stigmas attached to these shared effects. Too many unaffected argue that its not a disease and that may be easy to ascribe from their relative safety, but the truth whether it is or isn’t those of us who suffer from these very real episodes have bodies with chemical compositions that make us prone lapses of illness that can be temporary if we understand who we are without shame and approach relapses with courage and self realization. This was a timely piece for me, and much appreciated.

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