Written by Thomas Lane, NCPS, CRPS

September is National Recovery Month, and during this time, we celebrate the fact that people living with mental health and substance use disorders can and do recover.  Recovery is real.  But what does it mean to recover?  It’s an important question, and there is no simple answer.  Each individual experiences recovery in unique ways.  As a person in recovery, here is what I believe we have in common.

Hope – We all need hope in our lives.  Hope is like a beacon, a light that shines in our lives and in the lives of others.  It is vital.  But there are times when we lose hope.  It’s in those times we need someone to hold the hope for us.  Hope doesn’t cost anything to give, yet it is priceless.

Self-determination – Self-determination is a fundamental value in our lives. For many of us, our choices have been limited due to the impact of our mental health or substance use disorders.  Some of us live with both.  There are times when conditions are imposed on us that are not consistent with our own goals and aspirations.  Self-determination is so important, because without it, we can feel hopeless and without control in our lives.  Decision support tools and opportunities to strengthen self-efficacy empower us to choose self-determined roles in communities of our choice.

Connectedness – We are interdependent.  Connections to others and meaningful relationships are human needs.  Without connections, we can feel isolated. Developing circles of support and being included strengthens our recovery.  We are part of our communities and cultures, not separate from them.

Health  – Many of us live with chronic health conditions.  In fact, the average life expectancy for a person living with a serious mental health condition is twenty five years shorter than the general population. Finding good health care professionals who support improvements in our health and conditions, beyond just symptom and illness management, helps us realize improved personal health outcomes.   We develop healthy living habits.  Good nutrition, exercise, restful sleep; we are intentional in our approach to live well.

Peer Support – To me, peer support is the bedrock for recovery.  When someone shares experiences we can relate to, experiences we may have in common, we discover we are not alone.  We discover others have made it through similar difficult times and overcome similar challenges.  We are encouraged.  We gain confidence.  We rediscover hope.  And we pay it forward.

As I think about this year’s National Recovery Month, I know from my own experience that recovery is not a straight path.  I know there may be setbacks and hurdles to overcome.  But I am absolutely convinced that recovery is real.  It happens when we have hope in our lives, when we have choices, and when we are connected to each other and our communities.   It happens when our health care needs are met and we work to become healthier.  For so many of us, peer support represents the beginning of our journey.  Let us celebrate each person’s pathway, honor each person’s journey, and welcome those who walk alongside us.