One of the mistakes people make in their recovery is believing they don’t need to have a plan.
Sometimes, this happens when people are doing well. They think they finally have this depression thing licked, or they think they’re really in control of this PTSD thing, or they think this anxiety thing isn’t as big a deal as they once thought. So they kind of get it in their head that they can just go about their day as if depression, or PTSD, or anxiety wasn’t part of the equation.
Then, when depressive thinking starts worming its way into their everyday thoughts; or when they start reacting to PTSD triggers; or when they find themselves getting anxious out there in the world, they’re either surprised, upset, or both.
This happens to a lot of people. It’s not a small subset of people in recovery who struggle with this.
Ironically, it has a tendency to happen when things are going well for a person in recovery.
You need a plan to handle your triggers, to keep your symptoms at bay, and to keep moving forward in your recovery.
No matter how well things are going at the moment; no matter how confident you may feel that you’ve weathered the worst of your struggle; no matter how boring or redundant it might feel to be formulating day to day recovery plans when you’ve already been in recovery for so long you could recite what your therapist might say word for word from memory. You STILL need a plan.
Much of the same stuff that got you OUT of the deepest, darkest parts of your struggle is the stuff that you need to do to STAY out of those deep, dark places.
If you’re recovering from depression, and primarily using cognitive therapy techniques to reality test your thinking, you need to CONTINUE using those techniques EVEN AFTER you start to feel better. It’s by challenging your distorted thinking day after day after day that you stay OUT of the pit you’d fallen into.
If you’re recovering from PTSD or a dissociative disorder, and you’re using grounding techniques and internal communications manage your symptoms, you need to CONTINUE using those techniques EVEN AFTER you’re past the point of every day being a struggle to stay alive. It’s by staying present and managing your relationship with the various parts of yourself that you’re able to create and experience a full life in the here and now rather than getting sucked back into the past.
If you’re recovering from anxiety and using cognitive therapy and relaxation techniques to manage your psychological and physical reactivity, you need to CONTINUE using those tools on a regular basis EVEN AFTER you get to the point where you’re not blindsided by panic every day. It’s by making those tools a part of your daily life that you can truly begin turning your attention to creating a life that isn’t defined by a looming sense of dread.
Why do so many people feel the need to quit using the tools that made their recovery possible when they get to a certain point of success in recovery?
There are several reasons, but one of the big ones is denial.
A lot of people simply don’t like to think of themselves as someone who needs to utilize special tools and skills to make every day livable.
People who are depressed have often been told the reason they are depressed is because they are weak-willed.
People who have PTSD have often been led to believe that they are somehow responsible for having experienced trauma.
People who have anxiety are often told that they simply make too big a deal of things.
Once therapy starts working and people start feeling sort of normal again, it’s really easy to slip into denial about how necessary it is to think of themselves as someone who really does need to utilize a specific skillset to live well.
Because they never wanted to be “sick” in the first place, they get into denial about what it takes to not be “sick.”
Plus, they’re feeling pretty good at the moment, so, they figure, why not just consign all that “mental illness” nonsense to the past, and just go on living like nothing ever happened?
So they stop using the stuff that got them over the “hump” in their recovery.
It’s not surprising, then, that their symptom return, often with a vengeance.
I know, from firsthand experience, that it’s often demoralizing to accept every day that you have a particular set of struggles you have to endure in order to live well. I often struggle with admitting that my ADHD is as much of a problem as it is, and that I have to use specific strategies in order to not let it ruin my life.
I get it.
But the fact is, we really have to surrender ourselves to the reality that we need what we need.
We need to use the tools that will keep us out of the dark.
We need to KEEP using the tools that keep ups out of the dark.
Because the alternative really, really sucks.
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