This started as a post on facebook group in a conversation about recovery. It got a bit long so I tweaked it to go here.
I have a blog [this one] with the word recovery in its title, I’ve no interest in selling any idea of recovery, or even what it means. I do know what it means to me and I know that changes.
Words change – they are mere symbols of something , tokens we pass between us to help convey build, change and create new meaning.
When I first heard it used I was puzzled and excited, it was in context of how I had a choice. I did not need see myself as ill person, embarking on new career [in new country ] as a mental illness patient/ “service user”. That was not why I left one continent to live in another.
“Recovery” was certainly, for me, if nothing else, a better offer than the other crap. “The other crap” was basically learning to see myself as biologically faulty/deficient, living a life of drugs, drugs, more drugs and progressive deterioration, a shrinking life as non-human, non-person, nonbeing, ending in an predictably early, sad, lonely death no one cave a crap about.
I didn’t -don’t- know what recovery is, but I was sure that not being offered it as an option sucked sure as a ducks arse sucks water.
Wellness and Recovery
I’ve facilitated WRAP groups for years and for at least the first two would share how “recovery” was a word I was intrigued by and curious about but didn’t really have an understanding of I could put in words, I’d never read a “definition” I liked [but then I don’t like definitions] but was happy to park that until I did, and focus on “wellness” as an idea I could grasp and organize my own ideas around.
What are words worth? Words
Words dont mean what they say,
can’t say what they mean.
No word means exactly the same thing to any two people for more than a brief moment in time and this is even more so when what the word symbolises is complex and personal.
It is not necessary to either agree with others’ ideas of what a word means or yet have our own precise understanding of what a word means to find it somehow useful. Words are, always, mere in-the-moment symbols of something else far more complex.
When I decided to start a blog I thought hard about what to call it and surprised myself when the name I liked best included the word recovery. I’m good with the choice. It’s a useful word because it encourages us to ask each other what does it mean rather than pretend we know.
I’ll say this, to me anyone who insists “recovery” is limited to being about getting back to something, a time or a state of being is missing an important aspect of being alive..
For some time now, like Joanne I prefer to think in terms of healing- it means coming to wholeness. I like that. Besides I’m named “healey”, so there.
Any word only has the meaning we choose to give it or choose to take from it.
Whatever word you choose it’s your meaning. Shared meaning can be built but tafes effort and patience and a lot of listening with each other.
When it comes to the word “recovery” it seems to me that there are typically [at least] two intertwined but disjoined conversations about the word and its meaning and meaninglessness .
In “mental heal” it was adopted first by survivors, taking ideas from 12 steps approaches, people sharing stories of their ow struggle and sharing what they’d found worked for them, This was the start of people discovering that many people did indeed find a way to “do” something other than what they’d been led to believe by Docs and other MH workers was all they had right to expect having been given a MH diagnosis/life sentence.
There was a need to call that collective experience something , the word people chose at the time was “recovery”.
I till think it’s a pretty good choice that some very cool people made. Even if you think the word doesn’t work and /or you think progress is faltering, it is worth remembering its story and where it came from and its worth honoring the efforts and lives of those who created the foundation of where’re at.
It’s up to us to move things forward from here.
To me “recovery” as an idea or concept in mental health started as resistance to what was being offered by services – which tended to fall on a scale somewhere between “not much” and or something close to “institutonalised evil”.
It always was ambiguous, requiring anyone who wanted to find it to do a lot of hard work , themselves and with others. It never was like a pill, just take it and forget , had to engage with it and make it what it could be, what we wanted it to be, for us,
These days it can be more confusing because institutions, services and systems are under pressure to change and are adopting the term, sometimes in good spirit of that history and often not at all and every point in between, all in the same institution. If you take as a given the pronouncements of what recovery is by institutions that clearly have Norfolk n clue then please understand that’s not the only version.
I expect we’re not quite there but we may have passed “peak recovery”, that time when “mental health” institutions get most money for each mention of recovery in their documentation, strategic plan, website, and witless tweetings etc As a buzzword its power to accrue funding is on the wane but “recovery-washing” is everywhere.
Sticking feathers somewhere dark …
“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken”
…and talking about recovery, calling yourself recovery oriented does not mean anything much worthwhile. Adopting recovery terminology as a facade or front to create impression of change but not really believing it and not really changing, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours IS how institutions do tend to behave.
These days, though, “trauma informed” trumps “recovery” every time.
Recovery is personal is political
Here in Canada the MHCC talks of “personal recovery” – a term I do kinda like because it acknowledges the uniqueness of each person’s struggle and path, and it also emphasises what whatever services and those in services offer, its actually not about you and what you do for me – it’s about me and my life.
The commission did talk about services support personal recovery, language don’t seem to have stuck except in a few places.
It also puts choice in my hands. I’ve said more than once to workers who were being a bit arsey when assisting or advocating with a friend “whose recovery is it? Who gets to make the choices?” It can be quite useful that way.
What any person needs is unique, as example, what I need is not much of what service “offer”. I’ve been grateful for meeting a few v good people when I most needed it – who mostly offered me resources I didn’t have access to without them but mo so they listened when no one else would and let me see they believed in my ability to find my own way.
I also like the term because it leaves open [and I don’t think this was the intention] a huge space for us to realise that that the lion’s share of what’s needed is other forms: social recovery, system recovery. Society we’ve created and each of its institutions, especially “mental health” institutions are way, w-a-a-a-a-y more broken down than I ever was or could be but I can release myself from needing for everything wrong there to be put right be for I can feel any better. .
I have friends who say “I don’t have a mental illness I’m suffering fro capitalism’ and I’m sure they’re not wrong. I think its bang on but though I’d call it, as Bell Hooks does, the imperialistwhitesupremacistcapitalistpartiarchy but I’m not suffering and to me its a notion as disempowering and alienating as believing I have a chemical imbalance: it’s difficult to find hope there. Or at least there’s work for more lifetimes than I’m prepared to wait for.
I refuse to and don’t need wait for all the experts to finish arguing [as if they ever will] about what’s wrong and what’s needed to put things straight. I can just get on with figuring out what works for me and what I can do to live a life closer to the one I’d like, to be a version of me I like being..
I think the current WIKI on “Recovery Approach” ain’t ‘alf bad at giving a brief potted history of how the word has been /is being used in “mental health” […now there’s another term that’s thrown around without regard to complex meanings.. ]
For what its worth my personal meaning of “recovery” is something like this…
When we can get to a place where we’re comfortable with the choices we are able to make and making
and can say to all those voices in the “chorus of someones:
Thank for your for your concern, your opinions, and your moralizing.
Thank you for your dogma and all your shoulding on me
but I”m good.
How are you doing?
[Please note that it’s much harder to articulate in polite language than in the manner I prefer to express it.]