Perhaps one of the most frustrating truths about recovery is that it isn’t linear. It is not a straight path from A to B, and actually I’m not entirely sure that B even exists. The B you have at one point may be a B you later realise you’ll never attain, but there’s no harm in dreaming big. The B you have at one point may one day be your new A; sometimes we don’t dream big enough.
In fact, ‘recovery’ might be a misleading misnomer in itself. There is no final recovered self who is as if the trauma had never happened at all. Recovery doesn’t mean you lose the memories, the lessons, or the triggers. You don’t even lose the hurt. (But it can diminish greatly.) Recovery isn’t being the you you were before all the shit happened. Recovery is being the best you possible in spite of the shit that happened.
But even the path to that best you is wobbly. You don’t just keep getting better without any stumbles and falls. But just because the darkness is back and the memories hurt again doesn’t mean the progress is lost. My therapist uses an analogy of a pile of sand. You can’t keep building the pile higher and higher without at times it fracturing under the weight, the foundations widening, the sand falling. Has all the progress been lost? The new sand added has not left the pile, it just looks different now. And it may look smaller, but it is stronger, it has a more solid base.
Recovery is a lot like that. Some days, weeks, even months can be dark and ouchie and we can wonder what on earth has happened to our journey. But then the sun comes out again, and slowly we pick up the pieces, and the lessons from before are not lost. Not only that, new lessons are learned. And all that growth we experienced before, it’s still there. Our sand pile doesn’t stand as tall right away, but it’s built on more solid foundations. Those foundations can never be taken away from us. Our lessons aren’t forgotten just because things have got difficult again.
I try to be very realistic in the expectations I give to my clients. I have always believed in dreaming big, but promising the impossible helps no one. Things will get hard again, and being prepared for that is one of the best ways to dissipate the chaos that the next low brings. I am also realistic with myself when I see a client making heart-warming progress. It does fill with pride, in me, in them, in the process. But I don’t allow myself to think that the first escaping from the darkness means that clouds will never hide the sun again.
Recovery is not linear, it is a lifelong process. That’s why I am not just a therapist but also a client. That’s why I am helping others while also still getting help myself. It’s not weakness, or ineptitude, but a bold recognition of the fact that there is no ultimate destination, no fixed me. Instead there is a journey. And while I am able to hold others hands along the way, sometimes I still need that person holding mine. I hope all people I help on this journey feel as comfortable reaching out for help no matter how ‘recovered’ they see themselves as being. I am no different to my clients, I might be just a little further along the way, with a lesson or two to share. And that’s ok.