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.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Return To The 12 Steps

There’s an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that meets once a week in my town.  This meeting has been active since before I arrived here 25 years ago.  It has always had the reputation of being a very good meeting.  I went to this meeting a couple of times when I was in a relationship with an alcoholic many years ago.  Last Friday I went to my first meeting and yesterday I returned again.  I plan to go each week from now on.  The reason I can go is because it is a beginners meeting and open to anyone. Though I am not addicted to any substance except the nicotine in cigarettes, I consider myself an addict, too.  I am a recovering codependent addict.  I crossed the line into addiction when I chose to begin a relationship with a young alcoholic who was cyclically abusive to me.  I remained in that relationship for over 5 years, which was plenty of time to establish this chronic illness inside of me. Some people may claim that addiction can be cured; most do not.  The 12 step program is meant for those affected by addiction who believe that they must follow a lifelong recovery program based on strict self-honesty combined with compassion for themselves and others.  The basis for this program rests on coming to believe in a Higher Power and then turning one’s will over to that power by continuing to ask for help and by following the guidance that comes.

It took me four or five attempts to leave my codependent relationship with my abusive, addicted lover. In the final year I prayed to be released and was given the ability to do so in the summer of 1995.  But I haven’t all these years treated the root cause of my addiction.  Instead I chose to avoid all romantic relationships and have been on my own since the day I left him.  Part of why I chose to stay alone was because I became psychotic in the Spring of 1998. For over 3 years I was too sick to be in a relationship with anyone.  Gradually, after committing to take the anti-psychotic medications, I entered into an early recovery stage but was plagued by depression and the continuation of voices in my mind. Several years later I believe I could have tried to find a new relationship with someone, but hid behind the weight I had put on because of the medications I was taking and continued the self hating practice of calling myself “fat and ugly”.  I had also entered into middle age and had to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer young.  I was aging and my body was gradually changing.  I held onto the slight possibility that I might have a child still, but let go of that once I reached my mid 40s.  The truth was that I continued to struggle to take care of myself and was not fit to care for a child and I knew it.

Now, at almost 52 years old, I am finally ready to address the roots of my addiction, which began to develop I believe in childhood.  I have decided to commit to the 12 Step recovery program.  This program has been my guide during the most traumatic times in my life when I was in a self destructive mutually codependent relationship and when I was in the acute stages of my psychotic illness.  I never fully dedicated myself to going to either Al-Anon or AA meetings, but I did embrace the study of 12 Step daily readers and other support literature and worked to apply the concepts to my daily life.  Self-honesty has been the foundation of my recovery.  I know now that there can be no recovery for me without this practice.  By the end of 2006 I did two things that set me going in a healthy direction; in addition to a written journal, I began an audio journal using a small tape recorder and I began my Yin And Yang blog.  The audio journal became my daily self honesty practice just for myself.  The Yin And Yang blog became my public self honesty practice.

The spiritual path I chose to follow combined elements of Christianity and Buddhism.  I was raised by parents who had rejected their Catholic upbringing and chose to become committed to atheism.  But I knew at a young age that I was different from them in that I believed in something greater than myself that I could not clearly define.  I studied Christian history and art in college, but did not become converted to it.  It wasn’t until I was around 30 years old when I first went to Al-Anon that I began to consider deepening my shaky faith in a Higher Power.  I read and studied the Al-Anon daily readers and read books on defining and treating codependency addiction.  One of my favorite authors was Melody Beattie who was an expert on codependency and a firm believer in the value of applying the 12 Steps to daily life.  She wrote a daily reader for codependents called The Language of Letting Go and this book, along with the Al-Anon daily readers, gave me permission to put the focus on myself and my recovery.

Ms. Beattie wrote several times that it was important to believe in a totally benevolent Higher Power and also to believe that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, even though I was desperately miserable because I was stuck inside self hating attitudes and behaviors.  But at least I was coming out of the fog of denial about my own sickness.  I was learning to take responsibility for myself, for my thoughts and actions.  I began to see that I had many more choices in life than I had thought and that, with the help of a Higher Power’s guidance, I could have the courage to change myself from an actively addicted mess into a person who could practice recovery attitudes and behavior, into someone who could heal.

Twenty two years have passed.  I did have the courage to leave my addictive relationship, but did not have enough faith in myself to try to have a healthy love relationship.  Before I was pulled into psychosis, I did not return to Al-Anon, only temporarily saw a therapist, continued being reclusive, and continued my practice of relying on addictive fantasies about unavailable men.  Too often I chose fantasy over reality.  In my journals of the time I realized that on some level I was hating myself and yet I did not reach out for help.  I thought going back to college and getting a second bachelor’s degree in art and photography would be enough to give me a fresh start.  It did not.  By the end of my first year I was delusional and paranoid and had to take a leave of absence from school.

I believe now that I was deliberately led by the Higher Power into an even deeper mental illness than my codependent addiction because I had continued to live according to one of my deepest character defects:  self imposed isolation.  How could the Higher Power help me when I refused to seek out help from other recovering addicts, when I refused to practice a recovery program, when I refused to be of service to the people in my community?  I had been given many opportunities.  In fact, once I left my addictive relationship, I had been given another chance to really get well.  I don’t think God had any other choice but to bring the abuse that had once attacked me in the form of my lover into my mind, into the one place where I could not run away from my core issue of self hatred.

The voices in my mind, which I had been conscious of since my mid 20s, now transformed from mostly benevolent guides that did not intrude upon my life into two groups.  One group was devilish and the other was angelic.  It was as if my very soul was being fought over.  While the devilish group tried to convince me that I was some kind of anti-Christ figure, the angelic group tried very hard to teach me how to help myself.   In the midst of my desperation, I was directed to get admitted into a hospital, which I did.  I stayed only over night, but it was enough to get my diagnosis of schizophrenia from a psychiatrist and a prescription for an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic.  My father arrived the next day from Florida and stayed with me for a month and then my mother came an stayed with me for another month.  From there the helpful voices told me to get a therapist and to go to two support groups:  Al-Anon and a domestic violence support group.  From there I was told to pray for the people in those groups and actively try to help them however I could despite the fact that I was still very psychotic.  I agreed to take the anti-depressant, but not the anti-psychotic.  It would take me over three years and three break downs before I would take them.  I mark January 2002 as the beginning of my recovery from severe mental illness.

That was 12 years ago.  I have come a long way in that time following a spiritual path that includes elements of 12 Step philosophy, Christianity and Buddhism.  I have been vigilantly honest with myself.  I go to therapy every two weeks and I take my medications, get enough sleep and eat well.  But all through these last 12 years I have continued to be reclusive, going to support meetings only sporadically and never fully going through all the Steps.  But two years ago I reached out to someone in my town in friendship and we have been close and mutually supportive since then.  Now I know for sure that I am ready to push myself farther by going to the AA group each week while working the Steps each day.  It is my turn to be of service to others while taking very good care of myself by continuing on my spiritual path.  One thing I do know for sure and that is that somewhere along the line, I don’t exactly know when, but I have turned my life and my will over to the Higher Power.  And so I have a strong foundation to work from as I go through the rest of the Steps.  I know that after all I’ve been through that I love and respect myself very much.  I know that I love my life and am grateful every day.