The Concept of Reclamation

The First Sep in Recovery


The Metaphor of Reclamation

Reclaimed landWe live on the banks of the River Tay in Scotland. Not far from our home is the landing strip of Dundee airport. This was once submerged beneath the estuary but, over many years, was gradually drained, and protected from further flooding by a sea wall. What once was lost from view - and was viewed as useless - was brought into view, and transformed into something of great value. This work was accomplished slowly, with great effort and skill, not to mention at some considerable risk to the people involved.

This provides a fitting metaphor for the process of
reclamation that is possible for those whose lives have been submerged by the experience of problems in living.  In reclaiming their lives from the waters of distress and difficulty, people bring to the surface a person who has, to large extent, been lost from view: Lost from the sight of family and friends if not also from themselves.

Reclaiming our Humanity

When people enter mental health services their personal identity is submerged - not so much by their experience of their problems in living but by bureaucratic labelling. They cease to be 'persons - with their own lives, loved ones and hopes and dreams. Instead, they become 'patients', 'clients' or 'service users'. Through this process the individual person is rendered anonymous; becoming just another 'patient', or 'client' or 'service user'.

If people are to recover their lives, the first thing they need to do is to
reclaim the stories of their lives. They need to take back the stories that belong to them as unique persons rather than anonymous 'patients' or 'service users'.


The Challenge of Reclamation

When people reclaim their lives, they undertake the lengthy, difficult and often threatening process of draining the effects of various problems and difficulties from their lives. They may not rid themselves completely of these problems. However, they begin to transform something that once was thought to be both meaningless and worthless, into something of great value if not priceless.

We have met and worked with many people over the years who have helped us understand what this process of reclamation means for them. Of course, it is also something that means something to us. No one passes through life without the experience of being being submerged by one thing or another. Listening to other people we learned to appreciate what we all had in common. - the personal and interpersonal effort involved. We also learned about how the reclamation attitude contrasts with traditional ideas of helping the so-called ‘mentally ill‿ Most of all we were reminded that that we are
all in recovery. Everyone struggles with something - perhaps a variety of things. Things that haunt us - perhaps from our past or perhaps right here and now; experiences that limit our capacity to lead the kind of lives we want.


Hopefully, you will have met people who are involved in reclaiming their stories, and are beginning to recover the whole of the lives that once were lost from view. We hope that such an experience of others will help you become more aware of your own losses; parts of your own experience that may need reclaiming, as part of your own recovery voyage.