I belong to Ridgeview Institute's alumni group and we put out a quarterly newsletter with a theme. This quarter's theme is "Falling Into Recovery" with stories about how one got started living a life of recovery. If you've been following my blog, then you know that my story has many ups and downs-I don't just go into the hospital once, follow the steps, and then my life is magically cured. Because I have serious mental illness, I have to continually work on finding new solutions to problems and learning new coping skills, which is probably true for everyone, but not everyone admits it.
I don’t really know how to start my recovery story. I first started seeing a psychiatrist the summer of 2001. I came home from college and was so depressed that I would spend all day sitting and staring at the wall. My mom is in recovery from depression herself, so she was able to see the signs and was able to convince me to see her psychiatrist. I suppose that was the beginning of my journey towards recovery. After months went by and medications alone were not helping me enough, my doctor suggested I see a therapist. Unfortunately, the therapists at my school were not very good and I continued to worsen. I was hospitalized two times as an inpatient and attended a partial hospitalization program at the same hospital three times, before obtaining a second opinion from a doctor at Ridgeview, who said that my mental illness was severe enough to need long-term help. By now, even though I was labeled “severely” ill, I was also incredibly motivated to get better. I was going to graduate college no matter what! And so, I took a break from college and attended Skyland Trail, a long-term mental illness and addiction recovery center for eight months in Atlanta. I, of course, had to get still worse before getting better and a month into my term at Skyland, I spent two weeks at Ridgeview’s Women’s Unit, getting help for my eating disorder (restricting) and for suicidal thoughts. It was at Ridgeview and SkyLand Trail that I really got introduced to the concept of living in recovery. I learned that the goal of recovery is not for life to return to how it used to be, not to be free of mental illness or to ignore it, but to learn how to live with it. I learned how to test reality and the importance of support groups. I finally found therapists that I felt I could trust and I met other people with the same diagnosis that I had, which was such a relief. Ridgeview taught me how to eat in a healthy way and introduced me to Anonymous type support groups, specifically Eating Disorders Anonymous. I learned that only eating non-fat foods is unacceptable and I started seeing a nutritionist. I made recovery friends, which has proven to be invaluable to me, as they can understand what I am going through in a way that few people can. Skyland Trail got me singing and playing the piano again-I had stopped my lifelong musical passions when depression overtook my life-and for that, I will always be grateful. When I left Skyland Trail in August of 2005, I found a therapist that I could trust – she used to work at the same institution – and with her help, and the help of my other recovery friends, I was able to graduate from Georgia State University with a B.A. in English in December of 2006.
I immediately left Atlanta for Milledgeville to get a degree in music therapy after graduation. Unfortunately, without my support network in place, I relapsed into my eating disorder in order to cope with the stress of school. I went back to Ridgeview’s Women’s Unit for another two weeks and this time I worked harder at learning new skills and surrendering the eating disorder to my Higher Power than I had before. When I got back to Milledgeville, I continued to work hard in recovery, but it was too difficult in that unstructured environment and so I decided to return home, so that I could work on my recovery full-time. Since then, I have worked part-time “recovery” jobs and spent the other times, focusing on Recovery with a capital “R.” I renewed some of my recovery friendships, which ended up leading me to discover Ridgeview’s alumni and aftercare programs. At Sam’s (the leader of our alumni group) suggestion, I found a sponsor and started working the twelve steps. Despite all of this, I ended up going back to Ridgeview several times last year, but I did not consider myself out of recovery. I did not relapse into my eating disorder, but needed more intense help for my depression and anxiety. My mental illness and my addiction are not cured and most likely never will be, but I now have a solid recovery net that I can lean upon for comfort and support. I have upped my meetings, I go to individual and group therapy, and I am reworking the twelve steps. I convinced my family to do family therapy as needed. To get outside of myself, I volunteer every other week at an assisted living home, playing and singing for the folks that live there. I am willing to do whatever it takes to stay in recovery and to make my life better. I may have sort of blindly fallen into Recovery, but it is a space I am determined to stay.
I hope this provides hope that life can get better and all the talk about how hard I have worked is not disheartening... Sometimes I don't know if what I write about is uplifting or frustrating, but I'm just telling my truth. I hope you'll let me know.
In the same way that we all say, "Everyone agrees that rape is bad!" as if there isn't rape apologia embedded in every aspect of our culture, we all say that it's fine for people to choose who is allowed to touch them, but simultaneously judge, and act offended by, people who turn away "shows of affection," which are, in fact, displays of aggression when done against someone's will.