Sunday, April 8, 2012

Recreational Recovery: Eight Steps to a New Life

I love the recovery movement, but not its name. "Recovery" implies "cure" or "going back." I prefer recreational recovery. Why? It sounds like fun (until I remember it means to create again, not just go out and play), and "re-create" sounds powerful -- a mighty phoenix rising from the ashes, not a cooked goose raking them to salvage its charred plumage. I've employed an eight-step process to arise from the ashes and create a great life that allows for my mental illness. 

In 2002 I was heading towards marriage with the love of my life. I was a workaholic technologist with a comfortable income. Anxiety disorders and a misdiagnosed mood disorder had troubled me since childhood. In 2012 I'm divorced; my mood disorder is more severe (ultra-rapid cycling, drug-resistant bipolar); my anxiety is worse; I'm going through menopause; I've been unable to work for years; my only income is a social security check that is 85% less than my last paycheck; and . . . my life is so good my friends and family are jealous. 

I travel full time. It's March and I'm in a stunning national park on the U.S./Mexico border for $6/night. I have no debt, no utilities, no rent, no mortgage, no storage fees, and no hookup/dumping fees. My income is spent primarily on high quality groceries, insurance, and fuel. I love outdoors activities and am proud to be living a greener life with extremely low water use and solar power. I have solid relationships with my parents, children, and grandchildren. 

My psychiatric service dog travels with me. We get the word out about two federal laws that give people with psychiatric disabilities the right to have trained service dogs accompany them wherever the public is allowed as well as the right to have untrained pets (emotional support animals) in no-pets housing without deposits or fees. This volunteer work is self-directed and self-financed. We visit clubhouses for the mentally ill and treatment facilities; we talk to groups and individuals. We have a website, a Facebook page, and a Google+ page. I have no boss, no bureaucracy, no bookkeeping (I don't fundraise or charge anything), and I set my own schedule. 

This hasn't cured me, but it has moderated my symptoms and given me a life well worth living. 

Want to work on your own recreational recovery? Here are the eight steps I used:

1. Forgive yourself for often failing or underachieving at everything in this list
2. Allow yourself sick time, but don't wait until treatment "works" (I'd STILL be waiting)
3. Study everything about your disorder and your individual experience of it
4. Examine your life, identify what doesn't work, and picture a better future: 

"I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want." --Mark Twain

5. Use positive psychology techniques to sculpt the foundation blocks of your new life:
  • Learn your strengths and find uses for them
  • Learn what creates flow in your life and create opportunities for it
  • Note and appreciate what you find good -- even on bad days
6. Discard what hurts and add what might help
7. Reduce the risk of major life changes:    
  • Avoid commitment to major changes until each idea has aged and been refined for months or years. You have to be able to live with them in sickness and in health.
    • Changes had to make sense to me in all parts of my cycling (up, down, and stable) before I would take an action that would cost a lot of money or narrow my options.  
  • Talk to people you respect about your plans 
    • I told my psychiatrist, my therapist, some friends and family. 
  • Live and test the ideas as much as possible before committing. 
  • For many months in my apartment I ...
  • stopped using my stove and microwave and used a single induction burner for all cooking
  • turned off the lights in my apartment and lived with LED lamps alone
  • used only a small amount of refrigerator space and left my freezer empty
  • used only water from measured containers for all my cleaning, cooking, and personal hygiene

8. Repeat all steps above over and over ... and never stop

For more information about service dogs and emotional support animals in the U.S.:
For more information about positive psychology: 

Joanne Shortell, Maeve's Service Human
call us using "call Maeve and Joanne" at

Joanne and Maeve (her psychiatric service poodle) help people with psychiatric disabilities discover their rights to emotional support animals in no-pets housing without pet deposits or pet fees and their rights to service dogs

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