Recovery Is Possible!
The following story was originally published October 2014 in Feminine Voices: True Stories Of Women Transforming Leadership, a Heal My Voice collaborative book.
RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE!
By Beth Terrence
“A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” ~ Working Definition Of Recovery (www.samhsa.gov)
My life has been a journey of recovery. I grew up in a family with severe mental health challenges and active addiction. I experienced extreme psychological, verbal, emotional and physical abuse. How I managed to survive those experiences is a miracle in many ways, but somehow I did. Today, I am able to see the gift in what for many years felt like pointless suffering.
I am a person in long-term recovery. The effects of trauma have been a constant in my life. As a result, I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression and insomnia as well as chronic health issues. As a teen and young adult, I used substances and emotional eating to cope with my pain. As I tried to muster my way through college it became clear to me that my functioning was affected by my life experiences; my pain was so great it was hard to be present in the here and now.
By my second year of college, I realized I needed help and sought out the support of a mental health counselor provided by my school. This was the first time I found myself being able to open up about some of my experiences. I found this helped me to feel better about life and function better in school. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of my journey of healing and long-term recovery.
After college, I entered into a live-in relationship rather quickly, which led to marriage. I found myself in a dynamic similar to my childhood with active addiction and abuse present. I know now this is a common pattern and many people end up in similar experiences to those growing up. It took me more than a decade to begin to pull myself out of the cycle of dysfunction that was all I had known. During that time I went to counseling, I learned self-care, and developed a career as massage therapist and holistic practitioner. My own use of alcohol and drugs to cope fell away naturally.
By taking a holistic approach to life and well-being, I found that I was able to live with greater ease, even within the confines of an unhealthy relationship. Still, I found myself unable to leave. As bad as it was, it was nothing in comparison to my childhood. Oddly, there was some comfort in the familiar. I had many of the classic adult child patterns including denial, isolation and shame. I lacked the inner strength, confidence and a strong enough support system to move out into the world on my own.
In 2001, my husband and I relocated and his alcoholism became worse. We moved in with some friends and family temporarily, most of whom were actively using alcohol and drugs. I found myself in a new place, with no support, surrounded by active addiction. I was still just beginning to understand my own experience of recovery from addiction, which had occurred naturally through holistic pathways and trauma healing. However, my trauma became triggered by this environment – my insomnia, anxiety and fear escalated. I was struggling to maintain my well-being and my sobriety, which I was just beginning embrace.
I remembered a friend suggesting that I try Al-Anon or ACOA, but I was always too afraid of what my husband would say or do to go. Now, I felt I had no other options. I went to my first meeting feeling terrified. I just sat and listened. I did this for several meetings. And then, I cried; I began to cry a lifetime of tears. What I heard in those rooms was my story. I learned that I was not alone in my experiences; and others who had similar ones had gone on to live full and happy lives through recovery.
I learned about the 12 steps. I came to understand addiction as a family disease. I got a sponsor, joined an intensive ACOA family group and began to heal. I gathered recovery tools and built a support system. For the first time in my adult life, I began to feel hope for what was possible. I began to move out of the patterns of shame and hopelessness that had kept me trapped in a cycle of trauma and abuse.
I remember the first time I heard something called “The Laundry List” read at an ACOA meeting. I understood for perhaps the first time in my life that others had experienced what I had, too. I say this because isolation is something that occurs for families dealing with addiction and mental health issues. And, as a child growing up in this way, there is no knowledge or understanding that things can be different. We just try to make it okay within the container that we are given – everything we think, do, and feel is a form of coping. These are hard patterns to unlearn; seeing and acknowledging them is a first step toward recovery.
Here’s “The Laundry List” a.k.a 14 Traits of Adult Children Of Alcoholics, written by Tony A. in 1978 (Source: http://www.adultchildren.org):
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- We are frightened of angry people and any personal criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
- We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We became addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
- We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
It was during this time in early recovery that my mother, who had eventually been treated for schizophrenia, died suddenly. I found myself in a period of crisis, loss and grief that was close to unbearable. I thought I had mourned the loss of my mother while she was still alive, as her disease had taken her from me at an early age. But, when she was actually gone, I was able to access the pain and trauma of my life experiences in a much deeper way than I had ever allowed myself to before.
Maybe it was accessing this core wound and going into the depths of my unfelt trauma; or maybe it was the blessing of having a new support system in my life, a “family of choice” made up of folks in my recovery community and my spiritual community that eventually gave me the courage to step out of my marriage. I’m not totally sure; but at 37 years old, I found myself at the beginning of a new journey. I separated from my husband and was finally living outside of a dysfunctional environment for the first time in my life.
It was then that I found my recovery was truly beginning. I began to understand how addiction, abuse and trauma had impacted my life up until that point. Now, 10 years later, I am grateful for the life experiences I’ve had. As painful as they were, I know they’ve helped to shape me into the person I am today. I am a person in long-term recovery. I have a strong spiritual foundation and have acquired many tools along the way. And, I have the desire and experience to help others find recovery, too!
This desire to help began in 2004, after the death of several friends and relatives from addiction and suicide. I had seen their suffering and was powerless to help. I had also seen and felt the pain of friends and family who were struggling to work through their losses. At this point, I had only a few years of personal recovery experience, but I had also been a holistic health practitioner for 8 years. I knew how important holistic resources were in my own healing and recovery; and I ‘d seen how they helped my clients, too. I felt a strong calling to bring holistic tools to those struggling with addiction and mental health challenges.
I contacted an inpatient addiction treatment program in Maryland and volunteered to teach a meditation class. Before I knew it, I was leading clients in a weekly meditation group. This was a great learning experience for me. Although I knew meditation and other holistic resources could be beneficial to people in recovery, I hadn’t had much experience with clients in active addiction treatment or early recovery. What I experienced was short of miraculous. Each week, I shared a variety of meditative and contemplative practices as well as journaling and self-reflection.
From the very first day the response was positive. In fact, one young man came up to me after that first group and shared that he’d never imagined he could feel so good without heroin. He felt that meditation gave him the experience of a “natural high” and was excited to have this as a resource in his recovery. Many of the clients reported similar feelings responding to meditation as a powerful tool for recovery.
A few years later, following my desire to bring holistic resources to the recovery process, I returned to school and attained a Certificate in Addictions Counseling. I did two internships and worked for almost two years as an Addictions Counselor Trainee. I was passionate about working in the field, but I found that the role of addictions counselor did not suit me. I felt the “rules” were very uniform and did not support individual client needs. Coming from a holistic perspective of treating the whole person, I found this very challenging.
I really felt that there was a better way I could support people in recovery, but I didn’t know what that would be. Although I could bring my holistic approach into some groups, it was limited as I had a very set curriculum to follow and lots of documentation to attend to. Luckily around this time, I had an opportunity to work at a private holistic residential addictions program in Virginia. My role there was as a holistic practitioner and group facilitator. I was even invited to bring Shamanic Healing into individual sessions and groups.
One of the things I learned from this experience was the importance of taking a PEER approach in relating to clients. I found this highly beneficial and key in the effectiveness of my work with the clients in this program. I truly believe that meeting a person where they are, from a place of mutuality and openness is the best way to support recovery and healing.
Recently, I have carried this approach into a program I facilitate at a residential addictions treatment program for women that brings writing, creativity and holistic resources to the recovery process. The focus is to empower clients to reclaim their voices, to become advocates for themselves and to explore recovery tools that work best for them. Reflection, journaling and creativity are powerful tools to support self-exploration and growth on a deep level, especially for people in recovery.
In early 2014, I learned of a new role emerging in the field of Recovery – a Certified PEER Recovery Specialist. I was elated! Finally, I felt like there was a good fit for me to bring who I am and what I have to offer forward. I learned I had less than six months before a grandfather period was ending to complete the training and requirements. My desire to bring holistic resources to recovery was the fuel that helped to catapult me forward in this process.
Through all of the PEER Recovery Specialist trainings, I became more and more excited, as I began to see that there is a strong need for PEER Specialists in our communities. It is a joy to see the emergence of a new Recovery frontier with PEER Recovery Specialists as a key component in supporting change for individuals and families as well as the system of Recovery itself.
PEER Recovery Support offers a gateway onto the path of recovery and an ongoing resource on the road of long-term recovery. I feel strongly that PEERS can engage individuals on the front lines and be a welcoming force that helps to offer a bridge to treatment, services and ongoing recovery support. There is flexibility in the PEER role that allows for a different type of relationship in recovery – one that really meets a person where they are with equality, empathy and acceptance. It is a person-centered approach rather than systems based one.
My overall goal is to support recovery and wellness; the PEER dynamic allows for that support regardless of circumstances or even a person’s willingness. Rather than being judged, rejected or thrown out the door for non-compliance, individuals are met with openness, positivity and possibility.
Here is an overview of some of the support that Certified PEER Recovery Specialists offer:
- Helping individuals to recognize there are multiple pathways to recovery and wellness
- Participating as part of an individual’s wellness/recovery team
- Helping an individual to identity personal strengths, capacities, talents and skills
- Offering their experience, strength and hope strategically to support an individual’s recovery
- Helping to empower people and families in recovery
- Providing a self-directed approach, supporting what the person in recovery wants, not only what the provider wants to accomplish or see
- Advocating for the recoveree and helping them to learn how to advocate for themselves
- Supporting an individual in experiencing optimism, hope and well-being
- Helping an individual to focus on the present – on what they can do today to support and strengthen their recovery
- Assisting in goal setting, self-care and recovery planning
- Supporting individuals and families from crisis to long-term recovery
- Offering a holistic approach to life, well-being and recovery
Having grown up in a time when there was little or no support for individuals and families dealing with mental health challenges and addiction, I feel passionate about being able to help others have a different experience than I did. My growing up experience was one of extreme abuse, isolation, and abandonment. The denial that pervaded my family and community was detrimental to a child and young adult. No one should have to bear that alone. Today, I believe that there is a potential for a different experience – one that comes from a community approach to Recovery.
I hope to help others know that RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE, to find recovery pathways that best serve them and to support an experience of wholeness and well-being for individuals, families and communities. I am excited to begin my journey as one of the first Certified PEER Recovery Specialists in Maryland, to combine this role with my work as a Holistic Health Practitioner and Facilitator and to explore what’s possible as we open the doors to a new way of Recovery.
Beth Terrence’s vision is to support others in living a heart-centered, balanced and joyful life through discovering the healer within. She is a trained Shaman, Holistic Health Practitioner & Facilitator, Certified PEER Recovery Specialist, Speaker and Writer. Beth believes that her own life journey has served as a catalyst for the message she brings to the world – that at our core, we are all beings of love, light and peace – we just need to “remember”.
Beth resides in Annapolis, MD, with her loving partner, Mario and her cats, Massimo and Clover. To learn more, visit www.bethterrence.com or www.holisticrecoverypathways.com for resources on holistic tools for recovery.