Steps to Recovery
In the first of this new series, Emily introduces the Steps to Recovery.
I used to think recovery wasn’t possible. I used to think that the best life was going to get was moments to grasp and cling to sometimes, that would be all too fleeting and rare. I used to think I just had to think of myself like an ex-addict, ‘in recovery’, taking life one day at a time. I used to think that was the best I could hope for. I used to think that if I dreamed, or hoped, for more, I was just setting myself up for a fall.
The times when I got attached to those moments that I grasped at, and had the audacity to hope they might stay, and then they went away again, those were the times I kicked myself for having dared hope. Those were the times I allowed myself to spiral into the abyss of self-loathing because I really should have known better, better wasn’t going to be possible, don’t hope for what you can’t have. I should have known better. Recovery was a pipe-dream. He had taken me from me. I was never going to return, not as I had been, and never unbroken.
I told myself, get used to this. This is all life is. Get used to this, or don’t do life. There’s no other choice. Hoping for more was setting myself up for a fall. And anyway, hoping for more would just let him off the hook. If I did get better, what he did wouldn’t be so bad.
Looking back, now, from the place where I feel I am recovered, not merely in recovery, these thoughts seem so foolish. And yet, they existed to keep me safe. Feeling uncomfortable and unsafe, had become my comfort zone. Identifying as broken stopped me from taking risks that had potential to break me further. Being ‘not the same’ as I had been, gave me a justifiable reason for not fulfilling my potential, for not excelling at work, for staying in the rut. I couldn’t possibly expect to play by the same rules anymore. The game had changed.
What is recovery, anyway? I think part of the reason I felt it was impossible was that I knew I couldn’t be the person I had been, before. And yet, I can’t be the person I was yesterday either. And nothing bad happened between yesterday and today; time changes us as well as events. For me, recovery is about what happened in the past no longer dictating how I respond to my present, or my plans and dreams for my future. The event doesn’t have a hold on me anymore*.
It’s 9 years ago today that it happened, this event that jolted me out of my world and into this one. Today I do feel the hold that it used to have. I look back at the journey of this past 9 years with a mix of wonder and awe that I came out the other side.
The shame. How could it have happened to me? Why did I do to let it in? The blame. If only I hadn’t been so trusting, if only I hadn’t let my defences down and drunk the drink. The judgement. I deserved it. I was foolish and naïve and it was a lesson I had to learn. The self-loathing. Numbing emotion, switching off connection, detailing plan B. All the things I did along the way in these past 9 years to tempt fate, to have the choice to survive taken swiftly away.
And then, the stubborn refusal to believe that it had to be that way. The persistence in seeking a cure for my unravelling sanity. The happy accident of finding out that coaching helped me reconnect to me, discovering the self-compassion for having been doing the best I could do, letting go of the self-blame. The moment the lightbulb shone so brightly on my disassociated body and when I knew I had the key to the box buried at the end of the rainbow.
In this new series I will be sharing the steps I believe from my lived experience to get to this place are the necessary ingredients in the recovery path. How those steps look for everyone will be unique and different. For some, at times the path will be covered in thorns; for others those same times might more resemble fields of daffodils. But the milestones along the way have the same outcomes.
*And yes, of course that event 9 years ago today does have an impact on my present because I have chosen to make speaking out about rape, and supporting survivors, my job, my business, my mission. But I am no longer pulled into the past of my event in the way that I was. That doesn’t mean I don’t have memories, or that I don’t feel grief and sadness sometimes for the me that was hurt. It means that I can handle those memories and those feelings in the context of knowing they are scars, not open wounds. And if I can, so one day can you.