My Personal Recovery Story
To give you a glimpse of my personal recovery story requires that sadly I share bits and pieces of my illness story with you as well. I do this because it is important that you know that those who will be in your care who are ill, can and in fact most times do get well. In the program of AA when one share’s their story they share what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now, I will attempt to do that as I share with you my story.
First let me begin by saying that I am most definitely a walking miracle. By all intents and purposes I should not be standing before you today. But before I get to that part of my story, let me share with you 10 things that I think are interesting about me.
1. I attended over 40 different schools by the time I graduated from high school.
2. I prefer the mountains to the beach.
3. I am addicted to Starbucks Hazelnut cold coffee – with 7 Splenda’s!
4. I am owned by 2 dogs and 2 cats.
5. I love to travel.
6. One of my favorite things to do is shop for clothes.
7. I was kissed by Shamu the killer whale when I was 13 years old.
8. One of my relatives crossed the Potomac with General George Washington.
9. I love to snorkel in the Bahamas.
10. I have a dry sense of humor.
Now let me share with you 10 things that I do not like that I have had to experience:
1. Most green vegetables.
2. Hot weather.
3. Driving in the rain.
4. Losing my cell phone signal.
5. Missing a flight connection.
6. Driving through traffic in Atlanta.
7. Getting a flat tire on the interstate 15 miles from the next exit and not having the correct tire iron to change the tire.
8. Conflict with others.
9. Having to be in the hospital.
10. Being labeled as mentally ill.
I will begin my story in the late childhood/early teen years of my life. This part of my story I am sad to say is the illness part, but if you will bear with me, I promise that you will hear that recovery has been possible for me.
Problems began for me when I was about 10 years old when I told my mom I wanted to kill myself because of how I was feeling and circumstances that had happened to me. Her response was to bring me a knife and tell me if I was going to kill myself then to do it right. Fast forward with me to age 11 when I was so depressed with life that I took a whole bottle of baby aspirin. Forward with me if you will to age 12 when I told my mom I wanted to be dead and was hospitalized for the first time for suicidal ideation. Come with me to age 13 when I began to scream at my mom for mostly no reason at all, slamming doors, and began cutting on my arms. From ages 13 to 16 this was my norm. Age 16 began 20 years of living with bulimia-nervosa. Age 18 I attempted to go to college but quit before the first term was half over because I could not concentrate. I also started having times where I could go for four to five nights without sleep. My doctor actually did a sleep study and said the only thing wrong was that I was drinking caffeine too late in the day. Since I was not going to college I entered the working world. Money equaled spending to me. Let us now fast forward to the age of 28 when I started experiencing the devastating effects of depression again. It did not help that two weeks after being diagnosed with depression that my birth mother passed away. Now let us fast forward two years and I am on disability because I could not get out of bed most days to get to work due to the depression that would not let me get out from under the covers. I also began the first of over 50 psychiatric hospitalizations in my life. Diagnosis: Chronic Major Depression. Medications given were not helping so I self medicated with alcohol not knowing that alcohol was a depressant itself. Fast forward to 1997 when I overdosed on 12 Soma’s while I was inpatient at a psychiatric facility. We will now fast forward to November 1998 when I recognized that I was in fact an alcoholic. December 2nd of that year was my last drink, and a day at a time I still choose not to drink or use alcohol as a way to medicate my symptoms away. Let us take a short step to January 1999. Once again I am in the hospital, so what is new right? Oh, but wait, this time I have a doctor more observant than any of the ones in the past. He asks me questions the other doctors did not ask. Did I recognize that I was talking fast or that my words were clipped? Did I have frequent times where I could go for days without sleep and then find myself in a deep depression? Were there times that the world just moved to slow for me? Yes, Yes, Yes! Remember I asked you to stick with me because here is where my story begins to change. My doctor told me he had good news and bad news for me. He gave me the bad news first, I had been misdiagnosed for 9 years, the good news, the correct diagnosis for me was bipolar disorder and there was hope for me. Not only could I get better while I was in the hospital, but I could have a life where I felt better. Not that I believed him at the time. He was honest with me and told me it would take time to find the right medication to help me not have the drastic mood swings and reduce the suicidal ideations I experienced so often. He was so right. And as time went by my hospitalizations did become less frequent, the thoughts of wanting to die were not so prevalent and I did begin to feel better.
I was lucky to connect with a doctor who sees me not as an illness but as a person who lives with an illness. I have only been hospitalized three times since I began seeing her in 2002. When I see her she asks me about me, about my pets, about how my trip went (I travel to St. Simons Island, GA to see her), how my job is going, do I have any stressors and if I do how am I handling them. Only after we have chatted for a period of time does she then ask me two questions related to the illness I live with: am I having any side effects from my medications that are distressing to me, and have I experienced any problems that I want to talk about with her.
Let us now fast forward to 2004 when I decided I wanted to volunteer at the local mental health facility since I knew I would never be able to work again. I began volunteering on the women’s substance abuse unit and two weeks later was offered a full time job. After two months I went to my supervisor and told her I was going to have to quit because the evening hours were not conducive to my health, she told me that I was not quitting, that instead she would create a part time position for me. Two months later she came to me and told me that I was going to apply to take the training to be a certified peer specialist. My response was “no way.” I had been labeled so often that I was not going to be called certified and I let it be known. Needless to say I still had to apply. Obviously I was accepted for the training or I would not be working for GHSU today! I went to the first day of training begrudgingly. My van broke down so I thought I would not have to go, the agency sent a company van to take me. By the end of the day I was inspired for the first time in the belief in the hope of recovery and wanted to share that hope and that a person did not have to identify their self by the diagnosis they had.
In 2005, I received my certification and by 2006 had been the program director of two different peer support programs. Fast forward finally to August of 2008, when I accepted the position of certified peer specialist for the Medical College of Georgia. This is a job that I thoroughly enjoy! I have the unique opportunity of educating residents, medical and nursing students and faculty about recovery. I see a byproduct of my job is reminding the residents that the individuals that they work with who are not at a place of wellness in their lives, that wellness does happen.
It is important that I share with you that my doctor and medications are not the means to an end when it comes to my wellness. I have to have supporters in my life. People who know me so well that they can point out to me when things are different and I can take the necessary steps to stay as well as possible. I have tools that I use such as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Because I am a recovering alcoholic I have found that AA is crucial for me as well as utilizing the sponsor that I have. It has been important that I educate myself about what I can do to take responsibility for my wellness and not put that responsibility on my doctor or others.
You may be wondering the role God and my faith have in my recovery. When I was 23 I was going through a time where I was again experiencing severe depression. The single’s director of the church I attended was clueless about anything that was related to mental illness. He told me I was experiencing the depression because of sin in my life. Those words only made me feel worse because no matter the amount of confessing to God that I did, the darkness was still heavy in my life.
I now attend a church where I am supported not just when I am doing well, but when I have times of difficulty. When I was hospitalized in 2010, I wasn’t treated as an outcast or with kid gloves but was welcomed back with open arms after I was able to return to church.
When I am in the deepest of depression, I doubt God’s love for me. I have the thought that God wants nothing to do with me. That he wishes that he had never created me. However, because of the support and encouragement I have through my family, friends and church family, I am able to see where that thinking is untrue and that I am deeply loved by God not only when I am well, but also when I am in the deepest pit of despair.
When asked what recovery means to me I do not respond by saying that it is about being on medication that helps me stay well, instead I respond that recovery to me is about having a life that has its ups and downs, having independence and empowerment, knowing my limitations, facing them head on and often overcoming them, and having respect for myself as a person.
In closing I just want to say that the person standing before you has a name and that name is Dee, and I am not an illness, but a person who has a life worth living, and who has a story to tell.