The SAMHSA definition of recovery is: A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.
Society tends to associate the word recovery with substance use; however, it’s a much broader term that encompasses a person’s full health and wellbeing. A person could be in recovery from many things, such as, recovering from a physical injury, recovering from an illness like cancer, recovering from grief and loss, recovering from mental health issues, etc.
When I began my recovery, someone asked me “what kinds of things do you do to take care of yourself?” The concept of doing things for myself (vs living my life to constantly take care of the needs of others) was so foreign to me that I really had to sit down and think about the nice things I could start doing for myself.
My therapist encouraged me to get my basic needs met first. She said our basic needs are food, sleep and medication. I added a daily dose of music to my personal list of basic needs. My therapist said people need to have their basic needs met first in order to give them the strength to work on other life challenges. She would ask me on several occasions if I had provided myself with the proper amounts of food, sleep and medication. Each time she asked me, I would be missing something. Missed a dose of medication, didn’t allow myself the rest that my body needed, or hadn’t been eating enough, healthy, nourishing foods. If we have our basic needs met, we are way more likely to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
People have a tendency to set goals for themselves that are very big. They then become overwhelmed and their goals can seem unattainable, leading them to give up. Big goals are wonderful; however, it’s important to break down our big goals into smaller more manageable ones. For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about the 26.2 miles and the stamina it will take to run this long distance. However, if we break this down and start training one mile at a time, it becomes a less daunting task. We can even break it down to a half a mile or a quarter of a mile. We can continue to break goals down into smaller increments that we feel more comfortable with and capable of achieving.
When I’m struggling with symptoms of depression, a difficult goal may be just getting out of bed and getting dressed. When I’m doing well managing my symptoms of depression, I may be able to accomplish several goals in one day. I like to ask myself the question: What am I capable of achieving towards my goal today?
Most people set goals for what they want in their lives. For example, a nice fancy house, a new car, etc. I encourage people to set goals based on what they no longer want in their lives. I will literally stand in the middle of my living room and ask myself: What about my life is making me uncomfortable or bothering me? This points me towards the things I’d like to work on. Sometimes I see a sink full of dirty dishes that’s bothering me, sometimes I see a pile of laundry that makes me uncomfortable, sometimes I think of a bill that needs to be paid, or a loved one I’d like to talk to or spend time with.
There is no end or time limit on recovery. People learn how to manage their symptoms with healthy coping skills. Learning to live with a mental health diagnosis or a substance use disorder is a lifelong process. Each person’s path in recovery is different and unique. Just as each person in this world is a different and unique individual. I’m not suggesting everyone will walk the same path towards healthy living, however, I do believe that everyone has a path they can chose to take.
There’s a famous quote credited to Martin Luther King, Jr. that states “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” You don’t have to see the entire path of recovery right now. You just need to believe that there is a path for you and begin taking small steps towards your hopes and dreams. You can choose to take one step today towards caring for yourself and meeting your basic needs. Having all the answers or knowing all the steps to take isn’t necessary. Take that first step and the rest will unfold, leading you towards your next steps. And tomorrow you can take another step. That’s how you find your way to your healthiest self, by literally taking one small, manageable step at a time.
Author: Erin Schlitt, Recovery Coach & Peer Support Specialist Coordinator at Common Ground