The Shame of Recovery



It was 6:30 a.m. on the last day of summer. I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I made some coffee. I’ve gotten into the habit of a brief meditation before drinking my coffee. After meditating, I held my hot mug of coffee between both hands, porch door open, listening to the world wake around me.

As I sipped my coffee slowly, I was overcome with a strong sense of déjà vu. Early mornings of being awakened daily before 6 a.m. for vitals in the hospital. Upon waking, accepting each day that I was indeed still not at home in my bed.

Immediately showering before the rush and waiting for coffee to be served at 6:30. They only served decaf there, but it was hot and it was coffee. It made me feel more normal, more human. These were quiet mornings, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups around other waking beings. We sat there, drinking our coffee in silence. Our eyes showed we all felt the same way.

This morning was like a visitation with my previous self. A past version of me. Upon feeling this connection to my past and everything I went through while hospitalized, I realized I had failed to connect with the progress I’ve made over time. I realized I had boxed my life into three parts: before I was diagnosed with a mental illness, my hospitalizations and instability, and my current state of relative stability. I realized I had neglected to reflect on my recovery, all the steps and challenges I’ve encountered while trying to become healthier.

I began to wonder: Why is it that I’ve minimized and repressed what recovery has taken for me? What I’ve minimized and repressed is shame. The boxes I like to fit my life into seem to be out of my control. I couldn’t control that my mental illness manifested when I was 24 years of age. Recovery is where I had to declare responsibility. It isn’t a cookie cutter process. It’s a maze, maybe a minefield at times.

After leaving the hospital, I was healthier, but for months I did not feel like myselfIt felt like I lost who I was deep down. It wasn’t until I reflected on this that I came to accept that every aspect, every box I’ve placed myself into, is still entirely me. I have never lost myself, despite the frustration, confusion, and struggle. Accepting that I am always entirely myself is comforting yet concerning.

Getting help and recovery are often discussed and encouraged, while the details and reality of doing so are a burden individually felt. Simply accepting one has an illness that is incurable can be a substantial blow. I instantly wanted to separate myself from my diagnosis. I had a desire to prove myself.

The process of recovery has been like an episode of the cooking show “Chopped.” The one where chefs are given a can of spam, twinkies, soy sauce, and an ear of corn and are instructed to make a dessert. Except that I am not a chef and I have been blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back.

The most challenging aspect of my recovery has centered around trust. Which medical professionals can I trust in my life to treat me properly and without bias? Which people in my support system can I trust in sharing what I’m dealing with and how I’m really feeling?

Most difficult is the process of learning to trust myself again. After my mental health episodes, I felt I couldn’t trust my own mind for the longest time. After all, it had failed my so severely. Learning to trust myself has been a slow yet key aspect of my recovery process.

Unpacking each of these boxes has allowed me to see the importance of persistence in recovery. There are roadblocks at many turns, but also detours if you put in the time.

I’ve felt like a tired zombie for months in the past, trying to find a medication that “works” for me. I’ve seen multiple doctors, some with unsound professional instructions that have led to further health issues. Amid this I sometimes felt my life was unimportant, especially when I was actively seeking out care and came up dead end after dead end. Admitting one needs help is an amazing first step, but seeking out that help time and time again without receiving it can be discouraging and disheartening.

Now I’ve become my own advocate. I speak for myself and have slowly learned that I am still valuable. Everyone’s lives have value and meaning; everyone deserves to feel humanized in their own experiences.

The process of recovery is ongoing, it’s daily. Taking a pill is not all recovery takes, although for many this is a crucial step. The process of recovery should be humanized and not shameful. Before, I liked to view myself as someone who was whole, complete, then broken and finally mended.

But I’ve never been whole or broken. I’m simply myself, navigating what life brings me and adjusting. Each small adjustment is crucial to recovery over time. I am, and have always been, fully myself. Recovery has been a willingness to accept help, learning to be my own spokesperson, and trusting myself through this continual process.

Leave a Reply