Recovery is Real
edited: Monday, April 19, 2010
By Tova Gabrielle
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010
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Peer-to-peer counseling: “I recovered. Now, why not you?”
It was summer and I was having a meltdown. I had gone off my antidepressants due to my experiencing toxicity from them in the late spring, and I thought I was going to be OK. But I wasn’t. I was living with a very successful musician who had joked in his ad for a housemate, “If you’re normal and you know it, clap your hands!” I hadn’t seen that ad when I was looking for a house-share in Brattleboro at the time, but when I later saw the ad in the book of listings in the co-op, it explained a lot: why he was so exasperated with me, why I was hiding in my room, why I was stuck with my painting. I resented his cutesy ad … I had never been, nor aspired to be “normal” (only creative).
By July I was crying all the time. Grieving for my seemingly lost potential. For the loss of family to chronic and profound mental health issues; for the loss of my home and my career as a psychotherapist. For the loss of my body to middle age and sluggishness and heaviness. But most of all, for the loss of my energy. Now I was afraid I would lose my partner to my depression and lethargy. Who would want to stay with someone whose body hurt so much she couldn’t take a walk with him without whimpering?
I sat and sat and meditated and prayed. I focused on my breath and on the sensations in my body, and I noticed how resistant I was to life itself. I noticed I was full of aversion. I thought of how a friend had said that I was unafraid of death and terrified of living. I thought of downed trees over a stream mucking up the flow, allowing only trickles where there had been rushing waters. I was rotting; my potential as a writer and painter were going mostly untapped. I couldn’t believe I had been the one to do those paintings in the first place. I rationalized that it was my teachers who had really executed them, not me.
“If you express that which is within you, it will save you,” a master had said. “If you do not express that which is within you, it will destroy you.” I had always felt that I and the family members who had gone under from so-called mental illness (it felt more like a sickness of the soul to me than a mental thing) had been great, and their greatness had turned against themselves and was destroying them.
I was not going to let myself push my partner away again. He had left before for two years and returned finally in June. I talked to my cousin, who had struggled with depression herself, and she said to me, “If I ate like you do, I wouldn’t be able to be working. I'd be a wreck.”
“Like what?” I asked, really wanting to change.
“I don’t eat any sugar, dairy products, or wheat.”
I gave them all up.
Within a week the pain was gone from my body, especially the back of my body. I could take walks in the woods with my partner without wishing for an encounter with mud to excuse me from continuing up a wooded path.
I had an epiphany while meditating and praying to the Divine: How could it be that the power that created me could not now heal me? If I could be created, couldn’t the same force that created me certainly have the capacity to heal me?
I was thinking about working again after twelve years of major depression and waiting for my life to be over. I had been a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor in the inner city before I got too spaced out and grief-stricken to work, before I got on disability, which for me was both a blessing and a curse. (I had been enraged that they agreed that I was broken. But I had also been relieved that I could at last stop setting myself up to prove that I was indeed broken. My recurrent experience of trauma always trumped my best-laid plans.)
I was thinking about getting a job as a psychotherapist, but my resume, plus the fact that I'd never gotten my license, was making it seem impossible.
I was thinking how in reality, my lived experience should have made me twice as employable, since I was much more able to help people, having lived through deep struggle myself. I felt enraged: Shouldn’t that be a plus on my resume, not a minus? After months of hitting obstacles to employment, I had the thought that I had reached out as much as I could to the world. The problem wasn’t me. The working world should have been banging on my doors, with all that I had to offer. Now the world needed to change.
Soon I would discover that the world had changed.
A friend of mine worked at ServiceNet. She said, “You should talk to Lee.” She mentioned something about this guy who had come out in a staff meeting about having lived experience with bipolar illness. He wanted to share his recovery experiences with those in the throes of it, to give them hope and a reality check confirming that the old-school belief that mental illness is forever is a crock.
I didn’t know why I was meeting with Lee. I didn’t know that I was asking for a job. I just knew that this guy had recovery and success while dealing with his own stuff at the same time.
We sat in a café in Greenfield and I cried. When I had been blocked in the past, I had thought that if I ever allowed myself to fully feel again, and if I started crying, truly grieving for all my losses, I would never stop crying. This was the summer of the flood. I couldn’t find the handle to turn off the faucet.
Lee didn’t seem to mind.
He suggested I train as a peer counselor. He said my timing couldn’t be better.
The rest is history.
I'm here now; I'm teaching art and writing, and I know with a certainty that recovery is real.
Someday all people with lived experience will have access to peer counselors, peer therapists, and peer doctors. People who are living proof that recovery is real will say to the world, “We recovered, why not you?”