Sunday, November 09, 2014


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has published a booklet, SAMHSA’S Working Definition of Recovery. It outlines 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery:

--Many Pathways
--Peer Support
--Addresses Trauma

Recovery emerges from hope
The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and motivating message of a better future—that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges, barriers, and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, families, providers, allies, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.

I first learned that mental recovery is possible during a meeting at Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSPNJ). The year was 2003 and I was at my absolute lowest point in life. Just a few months before, I had attempted suicide, and came very close to succeeding. I did not feel comfortable being at home all alone for long periods of time, fearing I would try to kill myself again. So I enrolled in a mental health day program at Mount Carmel Guild and visited CSPNJ’s Self-Help Center on a regular basis. That day when I heard the words, “Mental health recovery is possible,” I felt encouraged that I would have a better future. Even though I did not yet have a full understanding of what mental health recovery entailed, I felt hope for the first time in a long time. What I did not realize then was that I had already started on my journey to healing, wholeness and recovery. For despite the severity of my illness, I was proactive in my own recovery process by attending Mount Carmel Guild and the Self-Help Center. In the past eleven years, I’ve continued this journey of recovery and healing. I want to give others the hope that someone had given me back in 2003.

Recovery is person-driven
Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals. Individuals optimize their autonomy and independence to the greatest extent possible by leading, controlling, and exercising choice over the services and supports that assist their recovery and resilience. In so doing, they are empowered and provided the resources to make informed decisions, initiate recovery, build on their strengths, and gain or regain control over their lives.

We are not diagnoses, we are human beings. And as individuals, our goals are unique. I decide what my goals are and it is I who determines my path to achieve those goals. I choose the people, resources and support services that will assist in my recovery process.

Recovery occurs via many pathways
Recovery is built on the multiple capacities, strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources, and inherent value of each individual. Recovery pathways are highly personalized. They may include professional clinical treatment; use of medications; support from families and in schools; faith-based approaches; peer support; and other approaches. Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural, though not inevitable, part of the recovery process, it is essential to foster resilience for all individuals and families. In some cases, recovery pathways can be enabled by creating a supportive environment.

I tailored my personal recovery plan according to my particular strengths, talents and abilities. Therefore, my recovery is unique to me. When setbacks occur (and it is inevitable that they will), I now know that it does not mean I am not in recovery or that I’m headed back to where I was years ago. On the contrary, setbacks are an opportunity for me to strengthen my resilience and determination so I can then continue my recovery process.

Recovery is holistic
Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community. This includes addressing: self-care practices, family, housing, employment, transportation, education, clinical treatment for mental disorders and substance use disorders, services and supports, primary healthcare, dental care, complementary and alternative services, faith, spirituality, creativity, social networks, and community participation. The array of services and supports available should be integrated and coordinated.

I am committed to respecting myself and treating my mind, body and spirit with the utmost care. This is accomplished by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet; daily exercise; daily personal grooming and hygiene; keeping my apartment clean and organized; doing my laundry every week; paying my bills on time; keeping my psychiatric, dental and medical appointments; going to Mass; participating in my lay Catholic community; daily prayer, meditation, Lectio Divina and spiritual studies; practicing my singing daily; and working on my motivational presentations.

Recovery is supported by peers and allies
Mutual support and mutual aid groups, including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills, as well as social learning, play an invaluable role in recovery. Peers encourage and engage other peers and provide each other with a vital sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community. Through helping others and giving back to the community, one helps one’s self. Peer-operated supports and services provide important resources to assist people along their journeys of recovery and wellness. Professionals can also play an important role in the recovery process by providing clinical treatment and other services that support individuals in their chosen recovery paths. While peers and allies play an important role for many in recovery, their role for children and youth may be slightly different. Peer supports for families are very important for children with behavioral health problems and can also play a supportive role for youth in recovery.

Last year, I facilitated a women’s support group in my apartment building. I enjoyed it very much. I ran the group for eight months, then decided to focus on finishing my film. I plan to facilitate groups and present workshops at various mental health organizations, focusing on the topics of goal achievement and mental health recovery. In this way, I will support others along their own individual journeys of healing, wellness and recovery.

Recovery is supported through relationship and social networks
An important factor in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who believe in the person’s ability to recover; who offer hope, support, and encouragement. Family members, peers, providers, faith groups, community members, and other allies form vital support networks. Through these relationships, people leave unhealthy and/or unfulfilling life roles behind and engage in new roles (e.g., partner, caregiver, friend, student, employee) that lead to a greater sense of belonging, personhood, empowerment, autonomy, social inclusion, and community participation.

If someone is not supportive of my recovery, then I should not have that person in my life. This is vital, for my mental health recovery means my survival. I cannot afford to have someone in my life who threatens my very existence. Instead, I choose to surround myself with positive individuals, groups, health care providers and mental health professionals who support my recovery plan.

Recovery is culturally-based and influenced
Culture and cultural background in all of its diverse representations—including values, traditions, and beliefs—are keys in determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery. Services should be culturally grounded, attuned, sensitive, congruent, and competent, as well as personalized to meet each individual’s unique needs.

Unfortunately, I have very little cultural identity. I did not grow up with my Italian American father and I did not find out my mother was African American until I was seventeen years old. (My mother was fair-skinned and “passed” for Caucasian her entire adult life.) I grew up not knowing any of my relatives, other than my mother and older half-sister. So culture does not play a major role in my personal recovery process.

Recovery is supported by addressing trauma
The experience of trauma (such as physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster, and others) is often a precursor to or associated with alcohol and drug use, mental health problems, and related issues. Services and supports should be trauma-informed to foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice, empowerment, and collaboration.

During the filming of AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MICHELLE MAREN, I was finally able to confront the trauma from my childhood. For so many years, I wasn’t able to talk about it at all, not even with mental health professionals. However, during the making of my documentary, I attended EMDR sessions with a New York therapist. This specialized therapy helped me to process the violent abuse from my past. With a newfound inner strength, I was then able to confront my father; search for and find my missing mother, four half-siblings and cousins; and cope with the deaths of both my mother and father.

Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility
Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. In addition, individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Individuals should be supported in speaking for themselves. Families and significant others have responsibilities to support their loved ones. Individuals in recovery also have a social responsibility and should have the ability to join with peers to speak collectively about their strengths, needs, wants, desires, and aspirations.

I have spent many hours doing research on the internet searching for mental health providers. I never had family members in my life who were loving and supportive. I have always had to take care of myself. After long hours calling number after number, I found proper mental health services, which include psychiatrists, counselors and support groups.

Recovery is based on respect
Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation for people affected by mental health and substance use problems—including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination—are crucial in achieving recovery. There is a need to acknowledge that taking steps towards recovery may require great courage. Self-acceptance, developing a positive and meaningful sense of identity, and regaining belief in one’s self are particularly important.

Developing a strong sense of self has been integral to my recovery process. It is this confidence that supports me when setbacks occur. For example, if someone chooses not to acknowledge my recovery, or disrespects me in some other way, I have to remind myself who I know I am--a person of courage, strength and character. What someone else thinks of me, is none of my business!

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