I am not depressed! What I am is angry, frustrated, and weary—This is the refrain I’ve been saying far too often this past week as more and more people close to me are commenting on the fact that I am “withdrawing” and being “quiet”. I’m reminded of that evocative Dylan Thomas verse:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Yes, maybe that’s it—I’m “raging”. I’m raging because it feels as though I’ve been in a constant hyper-alert process of recovery for so damn long. There is nothing more humbling than realizing that you’ve been banging your head against a wall for years and going about the business of “getting healthy” all wrong. It’s taken me over thirty years to finally realize that by itself, no drug, 12-step program, medication, or therapy, can address the feelings of shame and self-loathing eating away at me.
I once heard a yoga teacher say that Western medicine has become susceptible to symptom-based treatment, rather than looking at our body as a whole. She said it was like removing the battery from a smoke detector instead of looking to put out the fire. That image really resonates with me because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Yanking the battery out does stop the immediate crippling noise in my head, but it does little to get to the underlying problem. As soon as I achieve a little distance and quiet from what is bothering me, everything comes shattering down when I go back to the business of living my life.
Yesterday, I watched the documentary The Anonymous People, which was about the addiction recovery movement in the United States. The movie raised some important questions about whether or not the “anonymity” at the core of 12-step programs, and which initially attracts newcomers to recovery meetings, may in fact be hindering the potential reach of these treatment programs.
It’s not too difficult to stay sober when you are sitting around the table with other recovering addicts in a church basement, or to feel somewhat “sane” when you are safely sitting in a comfortable chair in your therapist’s office. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to overcome a significant trauma, addiction, or loss in isolation, or all on your own. Recovery, or “moving forward” from any setback, requires transformative self work, but the most obstinate barrier to “change” may not lie in the individual but within the community he/she interacts with on a daily basis.
There is a growing movement referred to as “wellbriety” originating in the Native American communities. It’s a holistic approach to recovery that professes the importance of the entire community embracing change, and not simply treating individuals. They use the metaphor of uprooting a dying tree and giving it care, rich nutrients, and an abundance of light, only to later return it to its original deprived location, where disease and death again threaten it.
I’m left with so many unanswered questions—How can I create a “healthy forest” in my community? What does it really “look like” to support family, friends, and neighbors through loss, trauma, and addiction? My hope lies in my belief that within my own frustrations, are the solutions. Just as we have come to rely on advocates to protect our environment, so too do we need to engender stewards to foster healthy families and communities. Through adopting an overall empathetic vision, we can turn to role models, mentors, and healthcare professionals as we move away from symptom-based treatment towards community-empowered support.