capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

Fifty Shades of Recovery

We throw around this word “recovery” all the time, as if it is some kind of magical elixir or concrete trophy of success. We use it simplistically, an overarching term that neglects to address the subjectivity that characterize its very nature.

I don’t believe anything about recovery is simple, and I certainly don’t believe it can be summed up in one neat, boxed package. It’s not an end-goal. There isn’t some high and dry destination or end of the road eclipse of harmony and peace. There is no, “Okay, I’ve done what I needed to do. All the work is complete.”

Just like any other life process, it’s a constant evolution, a constant work-in-motion, a fluid and vibrant energy.

Recovery entails the reshaping and refining of an identity. Because in order to step onto the pathway of recovery, you’ve had to make the conscious decision that some part of you is hindering or simply getting in the way of the real you. In easy terms, something isn’t working. For this reason, it doesn’t matter what’s not working; the problem itself is just the way you’ve programmed yourself to cope. What matters is that you’ve changed your perception about it. What matters is your challenging your own identity, and you’ve decided you want something different.

Many people talk about recovery like it’s a voice in their head, and I like this concept. Recovery is similar to learning a new language because the old one is no longer working in the mental place you’re residing in. You don’t learn the language overnight, and many times, you’re still going to think in that old language. You’re going to act out in ways that go against what you want. You’re going to stumble and fall. Your old identity may put up a hellacious battle, and that’s okay. It protected you for a long time, and it’s scared of being forgotten or replaced.

Because this is a complicated, internal process, therapists and clients alike must practice patience with recovery. Everyone’s timeline and story is intricate and different. Yes, I believe in traditional therapy, but not as a cure or answer for everyone. Yes, I believe in knowing the statistics, but not being limited by them. Yes, I believe in “knowing what works,” but knowing it may not work for you.

There is no perfection in this journey. There is only progress.

Transformation does not erupt as a big bang or sudden, grandiose costume change. Usually, it comes as a quiet whisper, as a collection of day-to-day movements, subtle in nature, accumulating as time etches forward. I came up with this metaphor that I like to share with my clients: If you look in the mirror everyday, you rarely notice the slight changes in your growth. But, when you look back at a photo taken a year or two ago, you notice the differences. The same can be said about recovery. You won’t see miracles everyday because change happens on a small, gradual plane.

People are often frustrated by this. We are transfixed by quick results and miracles. We want the change, and we want it now. That’s where recovery gets tricky. We lose the meaning of the legwork. We want a destination that doesn’t even exist because we aren’t appreciating or even understanding the journey. The legwork, is the miracle. The miracles happen on small, small choices, in those treacherous, mundane foundational steps.

That’s why there are fifty shades. That’s why recovery is not a marathon; it’s a labyrinth. That’s why professionals continue to argue and disagree about the “right” methods or the “right” theories. Because nobody knows exactly what’s right!

If you are committed to recovery of any kind, no matter how “good” or “bad” it seems, you deserve credit and praise. You deserve acknowledgment, and you are allowed to be proud of yourself. Continue moving and orienting yourself towards the things that make you feel more whole and continue evaluating and reassessing the things that minimize or deplete that wholeness. And on that note, if you don’t what whole even feels like, start asking yourself what you want it to feel like! Nobody can define that for you, and you get to write the guidelines of your life.

This is your life. You don’t “try” to recover from anything; you do it. You work it. You lean and move into it. As long as you decide you can’t fail, then nobody else has the power to determine your progress.