The ‘Recovery’ Trap

Sera Davidow
78
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One of my very favorite questions:  How long have you been ‘in Recovery’?

Gosh, well, where do I start counting?

How about after my first psychiatric diagnosis? (age 16)

Directly following release from my first hospitalization? (age 21)

After my first dose of psychotropic drugs… or my last?  (age 16 and 26, respectively)

Perhaps it was the last time I saw a therapist? (age 29)

(In fairness, these ages are estimates.  It’s all a bit of a blur.)

I could go on.  But I’ll spare you.

For those who consider themselves to be ‘in recovery’ from substance abuse or addiction and who follow an abstinence model, the answer is clear.  They have a whole system – replete with souvenirs of remembrance – to document their recovery down to the day.

I, on the other hand, have many ups and downs.  There is no specific beginning to them (unless you count birth) and there will be no end (unless you count death).

Yet, one of the statements that most drives me up the proverbial wall is that ‘recovery is a lifelong process.’

At this point, all I can think to say in response is, “Just when was it decided (and by whom) that what you get to call ‘life,’ I have to call ‘recovery’?”

We really need to amp up our examination of who coined this ‘lifelong recovery’ idea.  For one, I don’t believe I was ever ‘sick,’ and so from what precisely would I be recovering?  And just who exactly developed this weird, black-and-white binary of ‘sick’ and ‘well’ to begin with? (Surely, one is never completely one or the other in their entirety.)  What of the complicity with assumed chronicity that being forever ‘in recovery’ implies?  I could also offer the same argument we’ve already heard of co-optation – of the painfully quick shift from meaningful to buzzword.  I could speak to the offensiveness of medical facilities and even hospitals dressing themselves up in pricey, painted bricks and ‘recovery’-oriented names.  (And, even though I’m ready to release the word itself to the wild, this phenomenon IS offensive.)  I could wonder – as so many have – about what it is exactly that I’d be ‘recovering’?   But I want to go deeper because the reality is there simply is no humanity to be found in the broad brushstrokes of these simplistic concepts as they are laid down over the complexity of our lives and minds.

I don’t have a lot of fond memories from when I worked in a more traditional provider setting, but one particular analogy a former colleague offered   has stuck with me over the years.  In the language of cigarette smoking: there are those who smoke, those who have stopped smoking and consider themselves ex-smokers, and then there are those who have been stopped for so long that they simply consider themselves non-smokers again.  The comparison is imperfect, but I appreciate it for the basic fact that it supports the idea that some people have a particularly difficult time in life and then just… move on.

I heard Daniel Mackler talk once about how difficult it was to find people (who had received a particular type of support) to talk to during the making of one of his films because so many of them had simply moved on with their lives.  They were doctors and lawyers and teachers and parents.  They didn’t see themselves as ‘in recovery.’   They hadn’t necessarily left a forwarding address.

How have we allowed ourselves to be sold this idea that ‘recovery’ is where it’s at?  In whose best interest is it to keep us believing that?  We spend an awful lot of time supporting one another to get in and stay in ‘recovery.’  But what if ‘recovery ‘is just another prison and we’re wasting our time keeping each other there, rather than focusing all the energy we can muster to build an escape hatch?  And, no, ‘escaping’ doesn’t mean living a life free of pain or that all old wounds have healed perfectly.  It doesn’t mean that I believe we’ll all be living life as if we’re ‘skipping through a field of daisies,’ as I was once accused of believing.  (Who on earth walks through this world so perfectly untouched and unaffected?)  It simply means that we have moved from a place where our hurts consume and define us to one where we recognize that they are but a part of what make us human.

I don’t mean to take a word away from those who find it meaningful.  However, much like I find ‘stigma’ (see my blog post, ‘Anti-Anti-Stigma’) to be a word of the system that demonstrates tacit acceptance of the existences of all its parts, so do I find ‘recovery.’  These unnecessary delineations between those who are living ‘in recovery’ and those who are simply living continue to foster an ‘us’ and ‘them’ that inherently negates the truth that ‘us’ IS ‘them.’  I realize it also creates a sense of camaraderie in some realms, but is it worth it in the long run?

Once again, we find ourselves on a merry-go-round and here’s where I get off.

78 COMMENTS

  1. Sera, you always seem to write exactly what I feel! The “R” word is one of those terms that was bestowed upon us by others (sort of the way we were suddenly named “consumers” in the mid-80s), and it’s always rankled me for exactly the reasons you describe. Thanks!

  2. Sera,

    So many take-aways from your post, e.g. Just when was it decided (and by whom) that what you get to call ‘life,’ I have to call ‘recovery’?”

    and

    They didn’t see themselves as ‘in recovery.’ They hadn’t necessarily left a forwarding address.

    I’m going to rexamine my blog name, and eventually bring the curtain down on the “recovery” part of it. It’s time for my relative to just get on with life and disappear into the crowd.

    Thanks!
    …Rossa

  3. I’m with you Sera, but, as you say, if you’re not recovering because you were never ill, you were just dealing with the problems of living like everyone else. And if you’re not “ill” or in recovery for “illness” than in our current system, you’re not eligible for certain governmental “assistance” like Social Security and Medicaid. All this to get to the challenge of so-called mental illnesses being grounds for disability. Bob talks about the astonishing rise of persons diagnosed as mentally ill receiving Social Security/Medicaid benefits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to get rid of the idea of normal human distress as illness but I’m not sure how that plays out in our current society. If Bob’s stats are accurate, changing the conceptualization of mental illness to normal human distress would make millions ineligible for their current assistance. How would their needs be met and by whom? Thanks for the post.

    • David I hear what you say, except even in countries with social health care systems and social security for everyone who doesn’t want to work, they still have massively rising rates of mental illness, and of acute and life long disability.

      What one needs to do is to find new ways of supporting those in acute emotional distress. Our current medical models don’t work. From Australia what I see is a continuing pulling down of communities and society, and an increasing reliance on the medical model to cure everything. Feel upset about anything at all, you immediatley have a life long brain disease.

      What I see in Australia is people striving and searching for that label, and believing that if they ever do anything at all, they will become infinaltey worse.

      I remember very well a link to a newspaper article about new research about how really highly successful people, who did experience ongoing and contiuing acute psychosis, (aka, scizophrenia). The best medicine was found to be no medication, no doctors, no therapy, no disability, but instead very high presssure jobs. With a high pressure job they were not able to spend time listening to the voices and simply had to focus on the task at hand. The same is true for all conditions. Doing nothing and hiding oneself away from the world, does not help those who are depressed, living life is the best medicine one can have.

      When we talk about the need for these things for those in distress, we are denying the very real research that shows that these benefits actually make people sicker and don’t allow them to get better. Being active and a part of life is the best medicine anyone can have. Yet so many are still encouraging victim hood by telling people it is bad for them, to ever work again, or they at least need to have made a full recovery first, etc. I see those arguments even made by commentators on here.

      I would just like someone to tell me excatly what it is that I need to do to have recovered?? I’m told its an individual process and decision, yet when I say I have recovered, I’m told I’m in denial!!!

      • Belinda

        I agree. I had a job four days after being released from the state hospital where I spent almost three months. I was discharged to a homeless shelter which required you to have a job within 14 days or you were back on the street.

        I never believed that I was ill in the first place and the requirement to go out and get involved in life didn’t give me a chance to sit around and ruminate about what had happened to me. I just had to go and produce or else. It was the best thing that happened to me.

        Also, I never applied for disability while in the hospital. I am one of the few that came out of that place wihout Disability and am very glad for this. It’s a trap that keeps you in the mindset of being a permanent patient. Some people get off of it and go on with their lives but the numbers are few and far between.

        • Before I was on disability I was on unemployment benefits, which I have the ability to get in my country. But that required me to be doing some form of voluntary work or training or the like – for up to 8 hours per week, spread over the whole week. Hardly arduous on anyone. It’s less than 2 hours per day!!

          One person I know who was profoundly traumatised and affected by her lengthy forced hosptialisation and forced ECT, did that in an animal shelter, just petting cats!!! She felt dogs would be too much for her, as she would need to walk them, etc. She started with cats, just giving them some loving attention for a few hours a week, and if anything it was the best thing she could ever have done. She did that alone for 8 months, before slowly beginning to do some other things in the shelter, and then going back to study, finding work, etc. It took a number of years, she had a safety net of unemployment benefits, PROVIDING she did her mutual obligation, which was her 8 hours a week of voluntary work, and she was given an exemption from looking for work for the time being.

          I was told I was being placed on disability, which is pretty much how it happens here, although if I really wanted to, I could have fought it, which would have been difficult and time consuming, and not what I needed.

          • Thanks for sharing this. I know from the experience of my roommate that for some this process takes a long, long time. I was lucky in many ways. I don’t have the trauma that so many of my peers do. Again, thanks for this. My cat is my salvation; he keeps me on the straight and narrow and is much too intelligent for his own good. But without him I would be at a great loss. He’s a best frind in a fur coat!

      • “Feel upset about anything at all, you immediatley have a life long brain disease.”

        Love that.

        “…a continuing pulling down of communities and society, and an increasing reliance on the medical model to cure everything.”

        Indeed. Ignorant, harmful, and doesn’t work!

    • David, while you’re certainly onto something about concerns about people maintaining their eligibility for benefits, I’m not clear how thta relates to the concept of “recovery,” or even “illness.” Lots of disabilites are not related to what is generally thought of as “illness.” For instance, if one is born blind or deaf, that’s not an “illness,” if one is an amputee, that’s not an “illness.” And it’s not a diagnosis of “mental ilness” that qualifies people for disability benefits – it’s the degree that their mental/emotional state interferes with various activities. So we really don;t need to talk about ilness or recovery in order to talk about disability.

      • Darby, I think a key point for many is that mental health disability should NOT be thought of the same was as one thinks of being blind or an amputee – because one doesn’t generally have a chance to “recover” say from having a leg removed, but one does have a chance to recover from a mental health crisis. It’s the keeping alive of the hope that the crisis and the related disability does not have to be permanent that many people really have valued in the concept of “recovery.”

        Of course, there are always more wrinkles than one can document on how such words and concepts are used. One interesting such variation is the way some consumer/survivors saw how “recovery” was used by people who definitely do have permanent disabilities – these people used the word to mean getting one’s life back, despite continuing to have the disability. Moving into the mental health field, this was taken to mean getting back to a full life, despite having a “disability” due to hearing voices for example. Of course mental and emotional differences are less easy to categorize than physical differences, and many people discovered that once they learned how to have a life despite the voices, that the voices could became more of an asset than a disability, so it wasn’t clear any actual disability was persisting!

        I do think it’s important that we see the inadequacy of words to define our lives, and that we feel free to explore other meanings that might work better for us, but also keep in mind that in other situations or for other people, those same words we rejected may work really well. When it comes to language, I’m more with the Discordians – “All statements [and so each of the words] are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense…..”

      • I appreciate your thoughts Darby, I think I wasn’t clear since there are two threads by different bloggers about basically the same issue. I’d like to see the SSI/SSDI process change, because you can’t get the disability benefits without the diagnosis piece. That diagnosis, is as you say, based on mental/emotional state, but without a DSM diagnosis AND evidence of mental/emotional states interfering, I’m not familiar with people being approved. Maybe they do, It’s just not been my experience with the attorney’s and judges I’ve worked with. As an aside, your work in Ohio continues to be built upon. Trauma Informed Care is becoming much more prominent in our State. Thanks for that!!

  4. I concur with all of that. Defining recovery as a process that lasts forever turns it into something one can never quite achieve, an impossible dream. To much like you will always be sick.

    Below is a paper published in Studies in Social Justice from the University of East London that make many of the same points and indeed goes much further…

    Uncovering Recovery: The Resistible Rise of Recovery and Resilience
    http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/SSJ/article/view/3499

  5. Sera, I love this: “Just when was it decided (and by whom) that what you get to call ‘life,’ I have to call ‘recovery’?”

    For myself, I do use the term “recovery” but I’m referring to recovering from the psychiatric system. Coerced and forced treatment are the most traumatic things I’ve ever had to deal with. The chemical imbalance theory has been the most negative factor in my life.

    And, in response to one of the posters above, I believe a lot of people receiving disability benefits do so because their spirits have been broken. They’ve been trained to be “disabled.” Who knows what they’d be capable of if their case managers treated them as human beings?

    How many lives have been destroyed and dreams shattered by this religion (cult)?

    • Francesa I could not agree more in relation to what you say about disability benefits.

      I am on them and continue to be on them. For me I seriously believe they have not helped, but have in fact hindered my ability to move on. Before them I was having some casual work and thriving. I had some relationships with people at work, and they were important, since I had no family. I wouldn’t call them friends, but they were moving in that direction.

      I have begged and pleaded for assistance to look for work in Australia to move me off disablity and every time I am assessed as being in denail about the severity of my disability and illness. And of course since I am not on medication, then I cannot access assistance as I am a risk to others for my noncomplaince. That is the case even with letters from a doctor supporting me, and proof of being very successsfully medication free for over 15 months!!

      I will find a way off them eventually, but one finds it ironical when the system works so hard to keep me on them.

  6. I like the question: How long have you been out of recovery? I just don’t hear anybody asking it.

    Recovery is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end. So many people mean recovering, the process, rather than the end, recovered. I lost my mind. I found my mind. Good question # 2: How long has it been since you recovered your mental health?

    Sometimes the thing people need to recover from is psychiatric intervention. Through this intervention a person can lose a stable situation, a reputation, friends, precious time, jobs, shelter, etc., etc., you name it.

    “Mental illness” is my favorite unicorn, but I’m afraid he is lost somewhere in the woods, and I’m in no great hurry to recover him at all.

  7. only one use I find for the idea of being in recovery … there is a necessary bond between those of us who have “been there” and can share certain experiences and challenges that it is sometimes a risky business to share with those who have not.

    But oh, what a devil’s dictionary we could write of perfectly good words that have become Newspeak glop! Recovery. Holistic. Advocacy (being paid to represent someone you don’t know and who never elected you their representative). Resilience (a concept eagerly embraced by the military to prove to soldiers that PTSD is their fault!) Empowerment (making people come up with ways to work harder and eliminate their own job). Restorative justice (in which cops pretend to be social workers) and accountability (in which social workers pretend to be cops).

    I have been in and out of psychotherapy perhaps a dozen times in thirty years, and each time I quit I immediately felt better, at least for a little while. Even in cases where the therapist was a good person whom I did not resent in any way! Thank you for helping me figure out exactly why that is. It’s the joy of just disappearing into the crowd.

  8. While I fully the identification of the problems with seeing people as “always recovering” instead of living, I find the word recovery to still make a lot of sense in some other contexts.

    Recovery definitely doesn’t imply that one must accept that one was ever ill – one can just as well “recover” from trauma or any other life disruption. And as others have pointed out, even if one is sure there was no disruption before the mental health system came along, one can “recover” from the damage done by the system. The word has a lot of uses, and I’m not aware of an adequate substitute. (“Escaping” sounds like going somewhere away from the problem, which certainly doesn’t define how people deal successfully with many problems which are only handled well when faced directly, not “escaped from.”)

    While the mental health system has done its best to co-opt the word recovery, and make it mean still being a mental patient needing drugs etc. but one “in recovery” and staying out of too much trouble, I think the notion of “full recovery” is still quite threatening to that system, and needs to be talked about more. Full recovery logically means not needing treatment anymore, back to living a life, leaving the system behind. Stories of people who have fully recovered are still unknown to many, and can have a revolutionary impact on people when they are shared.

  9. I really appreciate this perspective, Sera, and definitely get where you’re coming from. I still find “recovery” to be a useful word in tranformative dialogue, bridging space between the medical model and reality. It does mean to heal and also to take back and so, in ways, it is an apt descriptor of the process that some folks go through.

    “Sometimes the thing people need to recover from is psychiatric intervention.” (Frank)

    More and more,I don’t like framing my life in relation to psychiatry at all…so, I might be getting to the “moving on” and “just living” part.

    Thanks for the good thoughts about the underside of the “R” word and its implications.

    Much respect…

  10. “Surely, one is never completely one or the other in their entirety”; not their entirely-not-retired-entity-of-entirely-being-what-our-entirety-is-tired-of, is surely never completely one or the other in their entirety, or on or the other entirely. It’s never both either, just us entirely and them not retiredly, un-retired and tiring, or even entirely. The unretiredness is simply that there they are not are not retired, nor even un-entirely, and most certainly not entirely; or maybe even perhaps the most would even at best mostly that they entirely must not retire – if they would? how would they? ENTIRELY!?

    In my town for example, where it’s living that’s the commodity. They are building, have built, probably not entirely finished with it, the building of hospital buildings; and there’s this little shack that says, or would have said, but it did, and no longer stands: fertile earth developers. That’s an [entirely!?] interesting seed, of thought…. Hospitals built by developers of fertile earth…..

  11. I agree. I feel that all of this talk about “recovery” by the system is a very insidious and sneaky way of keeping the so-called “normal” people separated from those of us who’ve had experiences with the so-called “mental health system.” It’s like there’s a boat for the “normal” people and a boat for the “recovering” peopls. In reality we’re all in the same boat together, no matter how much the system doesn’t want this known. To be human is to struggle with difficulties and adversity sometime during your life. It’s a normal part of living. Human beings are all in the same boat together.

  12. ah, the Hegelian, Marxist dialectical anti-recovery backlash…

    Who says it has been “decided”?

    I’m not so sure it has – who did we appoint to the world council of deciders?

    btw “decide” in its original meaning is to kill or remove life from an idea, usually to give prominance to another…

    Who says “recovery” and “living” are two categorically separate things or entities?

    Who says only one is acceptable and that we have to choose one over the other?

    They don’t have to be separet, indeed they only can be so if we let them become so.

    For me the idea of “recovery” is simple – and it did take me a few years to figure out –

    recovery for me simply means me recovering my ability to be the chief author of my own life, my future, choosing my place in the world.

    Yes I did lose that for a while… and it led to me becoming very ill and detached from the society I found myself in. I did not notice it was happeneing til I was exhauseted and had run out of recources, and felt very isolated lost and terrified. And it took me a long while to build strength , resilience, confidence, to learn, unlearn and and relearn how, in a new country and on a different continent, to live in a way that suited me and also enable others to embrace and accept me.

    For me recovery IS about living: as in living – not simply surviving, hanging on, or existing; but about constantly learning to live- in the way I want to, and choosing what I want my life to be about.

    Now,if that ain’t living I don’t know what is.

    And, if you or anyone want to tell me what recovery is and isn’t then you can try: I’m good.

    Recovery is an important concept – if for no other reason than that we have as a society come to adopt the idea that people don’t, can’t move forward from a life that has become stuck.

    Recovery is a critically important idea for people who work in various parts of mental health system – to help them recognise that just keeping people alive, drugged and waiting to die early is not the best we can hope for; not the best we can do; not the only thing we can fund; simply not all we can expect.

    And it’s important for people who have been subjugated by that system, and lied to by factions of society that simply want to push aside a growing problem they choose not to understand and not to prioritise: being drugged and warehoused and waiting for the end of a shortened life is not the best that people so subjigated have a right to hope for – not all they can expect.

    Words are just devices for conveying and sharing meaning: we don’t have to accept others’ co-opting of a particular use of a word to suit their agenda in order to be able to continue to use that same word our way.

    If we keep rejecting words because we don’t like the way some other people use them where does that leave us?

    What word do we use next? and what do we do when that one gets co-opted?

    Do we want people to not recover?
    Are we going to work and campaigh against people recovering?

    words, eh?

    here’s one – but one – expression of an idea about life, recovery and everything…

    http://recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com/about-2/we-believe/

    k

    • It’s sort of like taking a dog, no actually a human child; OK BOTH, and then anesthetizing the legs so that it won’t get hit by a car and calling this safety. Recover is truly, really, can’t be, won’t ever be equated, does magically combine in some great chemical war that’s won with this poor creature having to understand that it could never have understood the danger! Recovery from the unnecessary anesthesia is another story.

      When someone is writing a book, and it’s not allowed — the BOOK isn’t — to stuff it all the way where the sun shining on it won’t allow the authorities to see it: and then have to heal this WHOLE condition!? This includes also the points where you might have had to completely forget where you put it to keep that part of your mind free –actually both parts, the part that might give up and the one already mentioned…. And when you are allowed to remember, that might be recovery; but AGAIN it’s not recovery to completely forget forever, believing one shouldn’t be allowed to write a book, understand what it has to do with life, to experience it for what it is (EVEN when you’re not allowed to, and yet it manifests in your life, clearer then the pressure that safety is NOT writing one, or seeing the imagination as crazy); all of this when there’s freedom, this isn’t really recovery, it’s simply freedom… that’s recovered from what?

      Even those that said it wasn’t good, there’s no recovery there either, actually. Because, when you completely have the space that’s THAT human and beyond boundaries, truly they also have that inside them…..

      That’s what you’re saying: ” “decide” in its original meaning is to kill or remove life from an idea, usually to give prominance to another…”

      To take it to the extreme, the bizarre, the baroque: this what it is recovery has become a shining light for, into a trap:

      To think something changes, this means that there would be loss. And then you think you’ve “recovered” you see, and that’s decided. The change was what you needed to recover from; but that’s all decided too; that you needed to recover from what changed. And then defenses come into being, which defend that it changes, but the recovery is what changing is inbetween when it still needs to change, in order to need defenses in order to need recovery.

      So, you can recover from that by ditching recovery……

      And thank you so much for contributing here Kevin.

      And your “Now,if that ain’t living I don’t know what is.”phrase 🙂

      And this is SO beautiful, what you say here:

      “Recovery is a critically important idea for people who work in various parts of mental health system – to help them recognise that just keeping people alive, drugged and waiting to die early is not the best we can hope for; not the best we can do; not the only thing we can fund; simply not all we can expect.

      And it’s important for people who have been subjugated by that system, and lied to by factions of society that simply want to push aside a growing problem they choose not to understand and not to prioritise: being drugged and warehoused and waiting for the end of a shortened life is not the best that people so subjigated have a right to hope for – not all they can expect.”

      • Haha Thanks Nijinsky, glad you liked those words and thanks for saying so.

        Maybe the “trap” we fall into is believing that we must accept others’ definitions of a word – any word but especially those we use to describe our experiences.

        Or maybe the trap is even believing that there can possibly be a definition – one definitive meaning – of such words. I certainly do not experience the world as an exact fit with any definitive description and I believe that over seven billion people alive right now each have a unique experience of every moment that passes.So we might just want to accept that some of us will use the same words in different ways.

        For me we each have the right to choose and to use whatever words we see fit to describe our own experiences…

        …and again, for me, part of allowing each other that right [and also honoring and protecting it] means we don’t seek to tell others when they use their words that those words have neither valid meaning nor general usefulness.

        I simply choose my words and let them choose theirs.

        The pcreative tension in the space between is something that we can view as needing [us to] control, or as generative and creative – we do get to choose.

        Let “the system” use words with their narrower, boxed-in meanings – the very same words can have whatever meaning[s] we choose to give them.

        That really is living.

        K

  13. Hi Sera

    “However, what I see as more important is getting out of the loop of developing these ‘one right words’ to apply to a whole group of people and just speaking human. Period.”

    …is exactly my point too.

    …which for me means that we will come to accept that we each use words differently and also come to develop new habits such as, rather than saying that a word someone uses – eg “recovery” – no longer works, we can ask…

    “help me understand, what do you mean by that?”

    in the end the only thing that limits our freedom is the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other about what is possible…

    k

  14. Sera, Great blog, as usual! Most of the time, most people are unable to really acknowledge the power of words and the implications behind them. I agree that for many folks (both professionals and their clientele), using the word “recovery” implies a previous illness to recover from, which can insidiously undermine a more thorough critique of the process that led to “diagnosis” and “treatment” in the first place. That critique can be critical in finding a more liberating way to view what has been happening, but such an analysis is generally not in the interests of those in power. So they discourage it by using terms like “consumer” and “recovery” to make it sound like something super helpful is happening. Sometimes words like “unwitting victim” and “escape” are more accurate and more empowering.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am glad professionals are now talking about “recovery” instead of “lifetime disability” – it’s definitely a shift in the right direction. But true empowerment involves taking back the right to define our own experiences from our own point of view, and a lack of this ability or of feeling the right to exercise it is very often at the core of what the system sees as “wrong” with the individual. Being empowered has a tremendous positive impact on anxiety, depression, and hostility. But since it can’t be patented or controlled, it must not be of interest to the “service providers” (aka labelers).

    I have similar feelings about terms like “self-medicating” (implies that the person using drugs “needs medication” and is using drugs as a substitute) and “misdiagnosed” (implying that the reason the person “recovered” is because the doctor picked the wrong diagnosis, rather than that there was nothing wrong with them in the first place) or “overmedicated” (implying there is a “correct level” of medication that was missed, rather than accepting that the medication was doing damage at any dosage.) I think we have to be very careful of the euphamistic use of these words to avoid the real conflicts inherent in trying to force everyone into the disease model.

    I get where Kevin’s coming from, and I don’t want to take away an individual’s word for describing his/her own experiences. The problem is when those in power start using those words to cover up their misdeeds and to retain their power to define the experience of those lower than them in the social pecking order.

    —- Steve

    • Very well stated. I think you’ve captured everything in a nutshell. Huge problems develop when the system chooses a word and promotes it in order to hide their failures, lack of empathy and compassion, and out and out malpractice and doing harm. I think “recovery” is definitely one of these words and they expect all of us to get on the bandwagon and wave our “recovery” flags simply because they took the word over and promote it.

  15. On MIA’s facebook page, I commented that when terms like “wholeness” and “recovery” get co-opted, it distorts perceptions of how successful treatments are. So, mind-boggled people are less likely to sue the APA. People have become so conditioned to the idea that healing has occurred when it hasn’t, that when they hear of treatments that actually heal, it sounds so unconventional that they can’t fully integrate it into their awareness. They’ve developed strong social connections to using the term “recovery” to refer to the experience of “lifelong problem.” Its true meaning has been stolen.

    Many people who abuse drugs, who don’t truly care to become healthier for themselves and others, distort these terms’ true meaning to get disability payments and housing. They say they’re “in recovery.” This appeals to many social servants who think they’re positively helping them. Meanwhile, they kick back with their preferred poison when they aren’t out fleecing the public in broad daylight. In homeless shelters or transitional housing, they can act like responsible citizens by making other homeless peolple out to be mental cases who need conventional treatments — especially if they don’t go along with their con-job sex-and-drug lifestyle. Thus, they discredit the people who care more as “disordered minds.”

    Why wouldn’t this be happening in needy communities everywhere, such that the social structures that serve them don’t realize the need to pursue reforms that actually heal? This problem drains our nation’s productivity, thwarting economic recovery! Pharma is just one business of many! Such addicts don’t care how the nation suffers as long as they can get their fix!

  16. One man’s pain is another man’s gain, comes to mind. At least, this is what I see in Denmark: a huge, and ever growing, “recovery industry”. And I guess, you have it in the U.S. too, probably even more literally an industry than in Denmark, where it’s mostly a public, taxpayer money financed enterprise, not that much a private one like WRAP for instance. It secures a lot of jobs in the public and mh sector, and even creates new ones, with every new “recovery project” that gets launched. And of course, since that which all of the innumerable “recovery projects” — faithfully sticking to the biopsychiatric dogma — aim at is keeping people “in recovery” for life, people never really “recover”, and what we need are ever more “recovery projects”…

    The more I look at the mh system, the more clear it becomes to me that what it labels an “illness” is life itself. Or being an alive human being. — IMO, it’s no coincidence that the “better” the “treatments” psychiatry comes up with, the shorter people’s life expectancy and the more reduced their aliveness while not yet dead become. — Consequently, no one can be “recovered” unless they’re dead. Everybody still somehow, somewhat alive must be “in recovery”.

    To me “recovery” means becoming aware that one never was “ill”, “diseased”, “disordered”, or anything along those lines to begin with. It means being able to let go of the labels and accept life in its entirety, the enjoyable alongside the painful. This unconditional acceptance to me marks the end of the “recovery process” and the beginning of (one’s) life.

  17. I’ve worked as a therapist in the field of drug and alcohol problems for over thirty years and do find that “recovery” has some utility there. Yes, there is stigma to the labels of “addict” and “alcoholic;” and there is a continuing, frustrating medicalization of addictive “disease” in the terminology of “recovering addict.” Addiction seen merely through a medical lens is reductionistic. BUT the idea of merely being “in remission” within the notion of a “recovering” addict or alcoholic is very important for their ongoing ability to get on with life and avoid falling back into a pattern of compulsive drug or alcohol use.

    To give two examples, I read of a man who had forty years of abstinence from alcohol who was found passed out (from drinking) in his closet two weeks after deciding he could have “a couple of beers” after so much elapsed time. Another man I knew had over 25 years of abstinence when he decided to try using socially again; it didn’t work and he struggled for several years before re-establishing and maintaining his abstinence.

    From a sociological perspective, referring to oneself as a “recovering addict” can also have the sense of attempting to positively redefine the unacceptable, “deviant” social role of addict. Additionally, when an individual continues to view himself or herself as a recovering addict long after they have last used any drugs or alcohol (the refrain of “once an addict, always an addict”), they reinforce a self-identified “master role” as an addict that reminds them of the very real and serious consequences if they forget or redefine their sense of self as “cured” or “recovered” to the extent that they can resume social drinking or drug use.

  18. Great article Sera! [please see my response to the hearing voices article which I read before your article]

    What a relief to read something which speaks something of what I feel because recovery starts to feel like Invasion of the Body Snatchers

    Recovery in the UK has become a stick with which to beat people with.
    Political recovery = get any job under any conditions [preferably with no tax credits]
    Mental health services recovery = discharge asap
    Survivor groups/critical thinking allies/charities recovery = what you got no recovery story?!

    David you make good points that part of the problem [which feels like it’s the dirty washing of survivor movements these days], is that in order to access any social supports such as travel cards/housing/income [be that in-work, or out of work short or long term] requires a diagnosis. Years ago no one gave a toss about whether campaigning contributions were paid/unpaid, whether people used services or not, it just didn’t matter but it does now. If you criticise recovery as a concept and how it’s used [by anyone] you can be accused of being too lazy to recover or asked about your employment status i.e. are you one of those scroungers on ‘welfare’ [the UK has adopted the same system as the US with Atos assessments which are incredibly hard for anyone to negotiate, and ‘Workfare’].
    What is needed is a welfare system which is flexible, which allows people to hop on/off doing as much paid work as they can and be guaranteed a living income the rest of the time. Some people will never fit traditional working patterns, and now part-time work [typically requiring some top ups of tax credits/housing benefits] has become conditional so that part-timers will be hassled to get more hours or higher pay, of face Workfare for the remaining hours they are not working.
    So it’s a big leap for people into employment because now, it means you have to be able to work full-time and not everyone can do that.
    Some people fare better doing voluntary work of their choosing, but that’s no longer acceptable. Political systems need to change because survivors don’t fare well with capitalism which only values economic productivity. It’s painful to see people force themselves repeatedly into work and hitting the deck repeatedly all to prove they are working hard enough in their recovery and to avoid the stigma of receiving benefits.
    The new system is already seeing increased suicides, admissions, evictions/homelessness, take it away completely, they would all go up dramatically.

    This is the one area I don’t see survivor groups addressing at all. Thank you for even being prepared to talk about it [I have felt so alone].

    We have great physical disability activists here who wrote The Spartacus Report, there needs to be a mental health equivalent to put forward a different way of doing things so that people CAN contribute in whatever means they can and live as well as they can but are not forced into positions they cannot do.

    We have rising levels of distress because our country has become more unequal and punishing and over the last 3 years sick/disabled/unemployed/the working poor have been utterly vilified in the media as being scrounging criminal rubbish, referred to as ‘stock’ and ‘stock pile’, with ‘work as the solution’ despite there being high levels of unemployment and employers not wanting to take on people with psych history other than low paid temporary contracts and doing this going on/off benefits means certain debt because it takes weeks and weeks for anything to start being paid. It’s been shown that continuous low paid temporary jobs interspersed with benefits is worse than being unemployed. There’s so little in-work support so it’s really annoying when high profile survivors speak of ‘graded returns’, ‘working from home’, ‘reasonable adjustments’ when that doesn’t apply to shelf stacking [and that’s as high as the bar goes for formal employment support].
    We have Atos, Workfare [mental health users are especially vulnerable to this], low wages which have to be supplemented with tax credits/housing benefits because corporations refuse to pay living wages, and some employers really harass employees when they are sick i.e. ringing them every day [that’s common in retail].
    Political divide and rule has impacted on unemployed/sick/disabled where people feel pitted against each other [our political masters want this of course].

    Many people feel that they can’t be who they really are because one way or another it’s not going to be good enough unless it’s full-time employment and not needing any support. I listen to many now afraid to go out and be part of their local communities if they are not employed, some even frightened to do their voluntary work because this invalidates state support or make them a target from people who believe voluntary work is not good enough. There is open hostility.

    Recovery is not an individual process it is often prescribed.

    I know some activists I admire who would never have written the publications they have unless it had been done so voluntarily and with state support. They don’t view themselves as victims, they simply cannot produce work under pressure.

    Belinda, the 8 hrs of voluntary work and exemption scenario you describe sounds like a good safety net to me, but it does seem that no one’s allowed to genuinely have ongoing difficulties [however you frame it] without it being called a sick role/lazy/failure. Survivor networks don’t want to face this since recovery became in vogue.

    Recovery means nothing to me as a concept, and I come from a self-management background but I do not relate to what is said and done in the name of recovery because some of it is profoundly damaging. I would never refer to myself as recovered/in recovery, but that’s doesn’t mean I view myself as a sick victim.

    I am ‘anti’ prescribed recovery and people being berated, ostracised and ignored for failing to say they worship recovery with their recovery story.
    I want people to do and be whatever they need and for all of us to value each other wherever we are on that spectrum.

    • The survivor networks you describe don’t sound like any kind of “Survivors” that I recognise. This sounds more like coopted “Service Users,” hoping for jobs from service providers and the “voluntary sector.”

      To me Survivors are those who say that they have survived the mental health system and who by implication are saying it is a dangerous and distructive system.

    • @John and Joanna

      I agree with that definition…although I tend to associate it with contact with the more brutal and coersive aspects of tertiary services….when I look at the icarus project forum it seems to be flooded with “survivors” of family doctors who gave them a six weeks course of prozac…Ok im joking but you know what I mean…

      One of the most active and outspoken people I know….spent a full night in a psychiatric hospital after being admitted on Sunday night by a junior doctor and discharged on Monday morning…basically admitted instead of being sent home from accident and emergency in a taxi….they have all the patter though….human rights abuse…blah blah blah…

      • I wish the six weeks of treatment with a family doctor was a joke, but it is actually something I see all the time. MOST of the “Peer Support” Workers, employed by our hospitals, even our long term hosptial services are people who have had nothing more than a 6 week prescription of prozac from a GP. Apparently they know exactly what these people are going through and can be good peer support workers. Of course these are people who had no problem with the drugs they were prescribed, and have no problem with forced treatment orders, they are after all there to protect people from themselves, and if they had just taken the pills for the few weeks that the GP put them on to begin with, they would not be in the position they are in today!! While I cannot ever see the day when the system will employ people who do not worship the ground they walk on, they could at least employ people who have had some experience of the system, as someone who has spent a few weeks on some low dose of prozac does not know what it is like to be chained in concrete cells, sedated for days on end, with drugs that make you want to die, more than anything else in the world. I have met one or two who say, it was horrible at the time, and they need to find nicer ways of doing things, but it was for my own good. I don’t like them, but at least they acknowledge the brutality of it all, and say there must be better ways of doing things.

        I guess that is also why I have no respect for any of this stuff, it has been taken over by a system here, that is hell bent on making sure recovery and peer support, is what they define it as, ie, taking pills for life, and people who have taken a pill to tell that to you!!

        We then have the others who say, these laws are important, they save us from crazy people, but I was not crazy and I never hurt anyone and never would, why was I locked up overnight, and even worse locked up with them!! Or my GP prescribed me these pills and did not tell me how bad the side effects would be. How are they allowed to do that. The reality is that people do see a human rights abuse in the fact that a family doctor did not tell them of the side effects of medications to the level that they would not have taken them. Then there are times when doctors have not done a bad job of listing side effects, but the person was so convinced they would cure them that they took them and of course they did no such thing, and the side effects were much worse than they imagined, even if the doctor had tried to tell them. But they do consider themselves having survived the system, and they do consider what they went through as abusive. None of them can comprehend the gravity of the situation that people locked up face on a daily basis, and the level of the coctails they are prescribed.

  19. @Joanna

    Yes, dead men tell no tales or tell no fawning corporate recovery stories one might say…

    Even people who are ardent recovery fans have to acknowledge it’s not a panacea….it won’t fix everything…of course they will just respond that the system needs to “recover”…and so it goes…

    You might like this as well on “Recovery Stories”

    “Recovering our Stories”: A Small Act of Resistance
    This paper is from CANADA…culturally closer to the UK than the US in this respect…

    http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/SSJ/article/view/3741

  20. You so eloquently say what I feel. I thank you. In the words of a high school grad who is now a full time mental health advocate….To hell with recovery. I have nothing to recover. I’m whole now that I broke free from the medications. I have my emotions back…I have my life to live like never before. Recovery??? What they talking about. Recovery and the peer specialist system here in Tennessee is a trap. Another trick to enslave those who believe the lie. I feel what Martin Luther King so pointedly stated…..Free at last!!!!!Free at Last!!!!! Thank you my lady and keep up the great blogging.

  21. Thankyou Inarticulatepoet for the link.
    I guess what also disturbs me is that activists including leaders [not here] can be almost chastised for ‘selling out’ if they do take medication [ongoing or ad hoc during difficult periods]. I’d be the first to say how awful the drugs are, would happily see depot injections banned, and for no forced treatment, but, I also will not have a downer on anyone who does use it because we each have to do whatever we need. I’m thinking of an interview sometime ago [American activist], and also of another whose work I have always admired [I won’t say her name because I must respect her privacy], but again an American activist who told me about how difficult she finds it with her peers because she’s on welfare. I thought to myself how sad that they must feel so judged.

  22. Very excellent, Sera. I have never felt I was recovering from anything except the atrocities I experienced from being IN the mental health system, and I will never stop speaking out about it. I was in a war and was responding quite understandably to the many wounds of that war against me within the system itself.
    Love, Dorothy

  23. Me neither Dorothy, but I’m also living with [not recovering from] what led me to psychiatry, but now I’m in a war I never envisaged – the war against those who are not economically productive enough which has just as much power to kill as psychiatry, and survivors are not supporting each other.

  24. Recovery insinuates a return to normalcy or regaining something that was taken from you. I didn’t stumble into this mindset and it certainly isn’t a brain defect. You see, normality is a lot like being a Muggle… Sound and uniform on the outside, brittle and unyielding inside. Magic can’t exist. It must have been a freak, summer, snow storm. If they don’t think like I do, they must be sick or defective… I am not sick or defective. The pieces cannot be put back together so I can be mentally “normal” again. I adapted to survive. So no, this is not recovery. This is a becoming.

  25. ” I could speak to the offensiveness of medical facilities and even hospitals dressing themselves up in pricey, painted bricks and ‘recovery’-oriented names.”

    If I can add Homeless Shelters (The one I’m in Now and others in the last year.) with Their Black and White Thinking “Health Care”/”Mental Health” Medically Arrogant, and “Educated” Neurotoxers. “Helping PEOPLE.” They have NO Guilt and NO Shame.