re·cov·er·y (rəˈkəv(ə)rē/)noun1. a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.2. the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.
I’ve come to accept that I will always be in a state of recovery. As the first definition states, it is a process of returning to (or, in my case, eventually achieving) a “normal” state of health. While I know that I will never actually be mentally “normal,” I am actively trying to reach my normal–a place where I am stable, with fewer bad days than good ones, and the strength to fight back more often than I get pushed down. Even if that day never comes–on earth anyway–it’s the pursuit of such a peace that keeps me going.
It’s all about movement.
In therapy, in books, on Pinterest, quotes concerning recovery are all about journeying forward, about forgetting the past, and looking only towards the future. We are told to breathe in the future, and exhale the past.
But, if you look at the second definition of recovery, it seems to involve a different kind of return–one that requires us to go back and find, to repossess, what was lost or stolen.
I find this second definition to more accurately reflect my current state of recovery. I’m almost 30, and for the first time in my life, I have begun to feel beautiful–not in a vain, superficial way, but in a deep, meaningful, made-in-God’s-image way. I don’t know when I lost that confidence, or when I allowed it to be stolen from me, but each day I am finding the strength to go back and repossess it–with varying degrees of success, but hey at least I’m trying.
A huge part of this specific recovery process began with redefining my idea of the “American dream.” At some point, when I was much too young I imagine, I became victim to the “ideal body” and “ideal dress” and “ideal American dream” conditioning. I thought that I needed to enjoy and buy what conventionally pretty people my age did, and that I needed to pursue the jobs they had, so I could achieve a big house and expensive clothes.
This mentality only fueled my anxiety and depression, but at the time I didn’t think I had another choice.
And then I moved across the country a few years ago, and I grew up–just not in the way I expected. I began to make peace with myself: body, soul, and mind.
That first fall semester as a PhD student, I remember going to class in heels, a skirt, and a collared blouse, with a sensible short haircut, glasses, too, and, on the one hand, I thought how adult and accomplished I was, but, on the other hand, I felt empty, soulless, and full of self-doubt. It’s the image that is on my ID card, so I encounter it quite often. Each time I do, I feel a twinge of sadness at how long I lived that way. But I’m also proud, proud of how far I’ve come.
I will graduate in May (*fingers crossed*), and I no longer recognize that first-semester version of myself. I haven’t just changed physically; it’s more than that. It’s the slow manifestation of a simple, yet profound truth:
I can be ME.
The me, sans bells and whistles. The me, God loves just the way I am. The me, I had been running away from for quite some time. The me, who is gaining both life and self, again.
Of course, it’s not a one-and-done realization. I don’t always feel beautiful or at peace.
But I’ve come to understand that my way of being had become one that was guided by the world rather than by my faith, and every day I am working to restructure this mentality.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. | II Timothy 1:7
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.