Recovery - destination or process?
The concept of recovery has become the popular 'buzzword' of 21st Century mental health services - beloved by survivors and politicians alike. However, the notion of 'recovery' is hardly new. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) talked about 'recovery' 80 years ago.
Two things are of particular interest about the influence of these social movements (AA and NA).
- First, they believed - rightly or wrongly - that 'alcoholism' and 'addiction' were 'illnesses' or 'diseases', both of which were part of the lottery of life.
- Second, they believed that people could deal with such overwhelming problems, by talking about them; by asking for support from their fellow women and men; by acknowledging that they were powerless to resolve such problems. Within such humility (powerless) lay great strength (the human collective)
However, AA and NA found it very difficult to solicit support from the mainstream 'scientific' community for their philosophy of recovery. Undoubtedly, this was because of their associations with religious ideals. It is clear, however, that AA and NA, and the different '12 step' programmes' which they promoted, have been great successes. They believed that people with alcohol and drug problems could recover. All they had to do was accept that they had a problem, seek the support of fellow 'sufferers' and allow their 'god' to guide them back to meaningful living.
Clearly, the contemporary mental health 'recovery' movement is a child ( or grandchild) of AA and NA. Mental health survivors have, in different ways, gathered together, shared their 'stories' of distress, difficulty and inappropriate 'treatment', discovering within this 'story telling' great comfort, companionship, mutual support and hope. The similarities to AA and NA are clear. What is, perhaps, most interesting is why it took so long, for this idea to filter through to the 'mental health' field.
We believe that the key to 'recovery'
is to be found in 'story telling'. By 'bearing witness', or 'telling
my story', people discover the 'personal truth' of their own life -
as opposed to the artificial, theoretical 'truths' offered by
different psychiatric professionals.
By talking about what has happened to us, how it affected us and what it meant to us, we begin to move towards talking about what might 'need to be done' to deal with, respond to, or otherwise overcome the problems of living that others call madness, mental illness or psychiatric disorder.
Getting going again
We believe that 'recovery' is simple - if very challenging. It involves nothing more than 'getting going again'.
People encounter all sorts of obstacles in life, which stop them in their tracks, disrupting their lives. A person might break a leg, run into financial difficulties, experience the break-up of a relationship or have, what is commonly called, a 'mental breakdown'. In each case the person's life is disrupted - either by something very obvious (like a broken leg) or something much more ephenral (like a 'mental breakdown'). In every instance, however, the challenge is identical. How does the person begin to 'get going again'?
The dictionary tells us that recovery means: Regaining possession, use or control of something". That 'something' must be some 'thing' that is important to the person concerned. It should be obvious that we (professionals, friends or family) can never know what that 'thing' might be, which the person wishes to 'recover'.
We have to ask the person "what is it that you want or need to recover?" Regrettably, professional services - and for that matter, many friends or family members - often think that they know what the person needs; or what will be 'in the person's best interests'.
It goes without saying that this involves treating the person like a child, not as a person in their own right.
In the Tidal Model we assume that the person knows what is best for her or him. It may take time to work this out but, ultimately, all decisions about 'what needs to be done' must be made by the person.
People 'reclaim' their own story as a first step towards recovering the life that they have lost. Reclamation is the necessary 'first step' in the recovery project. By reclaiming the fundamental story of our lives, we take back everything that we are - as persons; the good, bad and indifferent.
We reclaim all of 'who' we are, so that we can begin to establish what we can do for ourselves and what we need help with. No person is an island so there is no shame in accepting support. However, to ask for help we need first to know we are alone, and we need to know that we are in difficulty. The hard work of recovery involves 'letting go' our distress and difficulty, as much as trying to control or contain it.
Reclamation means: Seeking the return of one's property." The Latin root of reclamation is: 'to cry out against'. To reclaim our lives and personal identity, we must 'speak up' and 'speak out'. In that way, we take possession of the telling of our story - the first step in recovery.