A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Al-Anon

I'm going to an Al-Anon meeting in a few hours...if the group still meets. I'm surprised to say that it's been at least two years maybe more since I went to a meeting. I used to go to this meeting and sometimes another meeting on Wednesday nights (which I might also go to this week or next). The group I'm hoping to go to tonight was the first group I ever went to and so I gravitate towards it. The people there were warm and bright and always treated me with kindness. Because there were no groups that I knew of for mental illness other than AA and Al-Anon, I went to Al-Anon when I was deeply psychotic. Once I was almost having a psychotic break when the voices ordered me to go to the Al-Anon meeting. I went while I was in so much pain and the people there were supportive and I felt safe. Unfortunately, I knew they weren't capable of addressing my schizophrenia and I rarely talked about it. I wish I could have but everywhere I went, except with my therapist, it didn't seem an appropriate environment.

But Al-Anon and especially the daily readers for it that I bought (there are now three of them) helped me so much when I was psychotic and not taking the anti-psychotic meds. It wasn't a perfect fit but there was enough to benefit me and keep me heading in a good direction. Now I aspire to start a Schizophrenics Anonymous group in my area, so that I can help other people suffering from schizophrenia and so I can find friends who understand where I'm coming from. I wish there had been a group like that for me early on in my illness. That would have been heaven sent. But maybe I can make a difference. Now, all I need is the courage to form the group by calling the Schizophrenics Anonymous headquarters. It sucks, but I have real problems using the phone. I have to prepare before I make a call to a stranger. Even so, I can do this. I want to do this.

What support groups address is one of the most pervasive problems for those suffering from mental illness: isolation. Whatever problems we face, we need to have contact with others who are struggling with the same problems. We need to know that we're not alone. I did reach out to people but rarely for help with my schizophrenia. Being around other people and being supportive of them kept me afloat but it really wasn't enough. I needed to talk to someone about my delusions and paranoia. Someone who wouldn't just think I was crazy and leave it at that. So I talked to my therapist and that helped. I talked a bit to a young friend who also suffered from mental illness but we never truly bonded and we went our separate ways. And that was it for human contact dealing with schizophrenia, except for the internet.

This past year the internet has helped to ease me out of my self-imposed withdrawal.

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I went to the meeting, same place, different room and recognized two people there. It was a comfort to see and hear them again; they both had wisdom to offer the rest of us. It was all familiar to me: The Serenity Prayer, the introductions, the 12 steps, the daily reading from the readers, the discussion. What was different was me. I had changed. I was no longer deluded and desperate. And yet I knew that I was still sick just not as sick as I once was. And I knew I had more hope now and could once again be there for other people. And I felt a strong respect for those two people who had stayed with this meeting for all those years and were still dedicated to it. Gentle, kind, warm and sensible. People I can learn from and enjoy. By the end of the meeting I felt very welcome and determined to return next Monday.

There was one woman there who was really hurting and I thought, too late, why didn't I write down her number? I guess I was just getting my bearings again. I also didn't want to come on too strongly my first time there in years. But I am praying that she returns next week because then I will be prepared.

Part of the preparation is just reading the Al-Anon daily readers, just as I hope she's doing. It was taking the time to read my books and reflect a little each day that got me through some hard, hard times. What goes in conjunction with the reading is the opening of my heart. The more I can connect with the practical yet spiritual aspect of this literature, the more I can connect with other people using the literature as a kind of bridge between two perspectives. I think I'm ready now to start taking on some more responsibility. And that can be as simple as calling members of Al-Anon between meetings just to see how their day is going. That's what I used to do when I was deeply psychotic and if I could do it then, I sure as hell can do it now. A simple act of kindness can lift a person up and I want to start making those acts a part of my life. I want to start believing that I can make a difference in my community. Withdrawal may be safe but it is not challenging or inspiring, it's people who are challenging and inspiring whenever I get to know them. So now I will.
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