September is Recovery Awareness Month. This is a time to spread the message that, “Recovery is for everyone: every person, every family, every community.” We need to remind people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone in the journey through recovery. Everyone’s journey is different, but we are all in this together. With the right treatment and support, people can and do recover from substance use disorders to live healthy, self-directed lives. I am living a life of recovery from serious mental illness and substance use disorder. I hope by sharing my story, I might help someone else see that recovery is possible.
My mental health challenges took root in early childhood. Like many others, I experienced a traumatic event at an early age. The resulting shame, loss and grief provided the fertile ground for the seed of mental illness and substance use disorder to take root. During the first of many hospitalizations, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. But I do not let my diagnosis define me. If you’re starting your journey toward recovery, don’t focus on your illness story; focus on your recovery journey.
I’ve also been in recovery from substance use disorder since 1998. Addiction affects people from all walks of life regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or income level. If you think a friend or family member needs help, keep these tips in mind:
• Show that you are concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental.
• Keep questions simple.
• Avoid phrases that could sound accusatory.
• Offer reassurance and hope.
What I finally realized was that my life experiences had meaning. I realized I could use my experiences to help others that shared challenges like mine. I learned that is the purpose of peer support. My pathway to recovery began modestly. I took brave and courageous steps and was encouraged by my family and others that were also living a life of recovery. Putting one foot in front of the other and acknowledging that occasionally setbacks happen was how my journey began. I connected with and was inspired by others that were walking a similar path. That is what peer support is. It is powerful and essential to finding a pathway to recovery. I discovered a recovery community of people that helped me learn the needed tools of recovery and all the support I needed.
You can use that type of support yourself to prevent substance abuse in your own life, your family and your friends.
• Check in with loved ones regularly and look for changes in behavior.
• It’s often just as simple as starting a conversation when you see changes in behavior.
• Sometimes all it takes is a gentle nudge to help someone take that first step on their path to recovery or to get someone back on track.
In my journey, I’ve also realized that there are a lot of recovery resources out there. Unfortunately, too few people are connecting with them. You can start by going to optumidaho.com, calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1, or to learn about recovery centers in Idaho, visit recoveryidaho.org.
Through my process I reclaimed all aspects of my wellbeing. The quality of my life far exceeds what I was told was possible. Always hold hope and remember: every person, every family, every community is more than a dream. My experiences are encompassed in the words of one of my heroes, Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Those are words to live by.
Julie Henderson Hardle is Optum Idaho’s recovery and resiliency manager, who works helping people reach recovery in their own health journey.