An Important Recovery Step: Self-Responsibility

Self-responsibility is an important step in recovery.  What does it mean to be responsible for your self? One of the first steps is to just accept yourself the way you are. Sometimes we're not very happy with our lives, but we cannot make them any better if we don’t first accept ourselves and our lives as we are.

When we begin to accept ourselves, it's important to understand that blaming others, chemical imbalances, genes, or conditions and circumstances must stop. It's easy to blame our illnesses on something or somebody. The hard part is accepting and taking responsibility for our illnesses.  You might be thinking, "Well, does that mean I begin to blame myself if nothing or nobody else is at fault?" No, that's not what this means at all. It's just that if you are going to improve and recover, the blame game must end. This just puts us in a better frame of mind to begin to make changes in our selves; it helps us begin to take control back of our lives.

It’s important to understand that circumstances and conditions, and even others can and do contribute to episodes of what is called mental illness. When I think I have no control over things around me, I begin to lose control of my feelings, thoughts and actions. My feelings, thoughts and actions may begin to escalate and without insight I am overwhelmed and my inner world collapses, which brings on relapse.

We have all heard of the principle "know thyself.” When I begin to accept and stop blaming, then I am able to start to know myself. I can then take a personal inventory of myself so I can see areas where I need to improve. This helps me take responsibility for my own recovery. This is how we begin to get insight into our condition.

It’s also important to understand that what is called mental illness is just like any other illness. When we see it as an extraordinary illness to other illnesses, this view keeps us helpless to be able to do anything about it. As we change our thinking about it and give it the same importance as a cold, the flu, a sore throat, a toothache, then we are not powerless to help ourselves. Even people with other chronic illnesses that may be life threatening, such as heart disease or cancer, have to keep their illness in perspective so that they can still live as satisfying and productive a life as possible. It’s about taking the extraordinary and making it ordinary, such as getting to the point where you see it as an interruption in your life rather than robbing you of your life.

Using this insight as an example, how does one take responsibility for mental illness without blame and begin to view it as any other illness? Well, when I get a cold or sore throat, I begin feeling achy, my throat is scratchy, my nose begins to run. What circumstances or conditions contributed to it? I may have been around a friend or loved one who had a sore throat; I may have been where it was drafty; I may have overworked myself and let myself run down.

Even someone with heart disease needs to take responsibility for the illness as well. They must look at their life style and how it contributed to their heart disease. They may have to ask what circumstances and conditions contributed to it? Being a workaholic and taking work home; eating rich and fatty foods; lack of exercise; not managing reaction to stress; ignoring the warning signs.

Any number of things may have contributed to it and this gives me an awareness of how I may have become sick. When I gain insight as to cause then I can take steps toward prevention. Are relapses triggered by my reaction to stress? When I miss a night of sleep, does it cause a manic high? Do I isolate from friends and not answer the telephone when they call?  Do I feel guilty thinking that I caused a disaster that I read about in the newspaper? When this happens, do I hear voices blaming me and telling me to hurt myself?

There are things that we can do to gain back self-control. As we take responsibility for the illness and our lives, we become self-reliant and competent. Recovery is learned through a process of perspiration, inspiration, hard work, relapse, setbacks, and gains.  For instance, in order to manage my reaction to stress, I can take a class on how to handle stress through meditation, relaxation, yoga, tai chi or I can see a therapist. When I miss a night of sleep, I can do something about it as well.  I can make sure everything I need for the next day is laid out and ready to go in the morning, such as breakfast, lunch in the refrigerator, select clothes to wear the next day.  I can take a bath and play quiet music in the background.  I can read something inspirational.  I don’t need to  stimulate my mind further by watching television or listening to loud music.  Rather than isolate, I can call a friend and talk on the phone; I can meet a friend for a cup of coffee; I can invite a friend over. 

When I think that I caused a disaster that I read about and feel guilty, then I need to do a reality check.  I may need to sit down with paper and pencil and read through the article again.  Did it happen in New York City and I live in Chicago?  “I didn’t cause a disaster when I haven’t been in the city at the time the disaster happened.”  I might write out this statement in large letters so that I can read it whenever I feel guilty about the disaster.  I can also read it aloud to myself when I hear voices.  I can divert my attention from  the voices by listening to music.  I can work a crossword puzzle or call a friend on the phone.  I can also get some peer support or talk this through with my therapist as well.  

What’s really important is that you realize there are techniques, strategies, and skills that you can learn from others or develop yourself.  By applying them, you gain experience and eventually can increase your recovery and reduce relapse.   This is called prevention.  Recovery takes time.  While you’re learning you may still relapse.  This is only a setback and is not permanent.  Relapses are only temporary.  It’s important that you continue doing the work of recovery, and not give up on yourself.  It helps to have a strong, natural support system as well to provide mutual support during this period.  In time, you’ll find yourself back in the place you were prior to the relapse.  Remember recovery takes time; it’s faith (belief that you can do it) and works (application of techniques, strategies, and skills) that get you where you want to be; and it’s support.

The following are the steps outlined in this column:

I.      Self-responsibility is necessary in recovery.

2.    Begin by accepting yourself the way you are and where you are.

3.    Stop the blame game.

4.    Begin to use the principle "know thyself' by taking a personal inventory of yourself.

5.    Change your belief about mental illness by treating it as an ordinary illness that is common to  anyone in society.

6.    Take back self-control by learning and applying techniques, strategies, and skills.

Remember, recovery is possible when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves.


Faith and Recovery

We have all heard the phrase “you have to have faith”. When I heard that, I didn’t understand what it meant or how it applied to my desire to recover from a mental illness. Thus, began my search to understand “faith”.
FAITH AND RECOVERY What does faith have to do with recovery? Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “unquestioning belief; complete trust or confidence; loyalty.”
Further, I found a definition of faith in scripture in Hebrews 11: 1 as follows: “NOW FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR, THE CONVICTION OF THINGS NOT SEEN.”
This last definition is the one that is of particular interest. To begin the process of recovery — while we are ill — we must start to develop this kind of faith or belief, and that is a belief that we can recover. Recovery is not possible for anyone without first faith [belief] that recovery is possible. To even begin to recover, we must start “believing” that it is possible. The faith [belief] [in recovery] is the assurance of the thing [recovery] hoped for, the conviction of things [recovery] not seen.
In other words, we have to believe in recovery before we ever even see the results of recovery. The old cliche “seeing is believing,” in this case must be turned around to “believing is seeing.” We must believe in the thing hoped for first before we ever experience seeing the thing hoped for.
How do we develop faith or belief? Faith is achieved through repeating affirmations. The process of repeating affirmations to oneself is the principle of auto-suggestion. Through the repeated use of this principle, we will convince our subconscious mind that we believe we will experience the results of the affirmations [beliefs].
FAITH is a state of mind which we develop at WILL through the application of affirmations using the principle of auto-suggestion. The only way anyone can develop faith at will is through repeating affirmations.
We all have faith — negative or positive. Every day we act on or exercise our faith or beliefs — negative or positive. Our behaviors, illnesses, poverty, prosperity, relationships, feelings, self-image, etc. are all a direct result of our faith or beliefs, whether they are conscious or subliminal.
To illustrate, we have all at one time or another said to ourselves, “I feel rotten. I just can’t get myself going.” Or, “I’m really afraid if I go to work I will make a mistake and get fired.” Because we have repeatedly affirmed [told] ourselves that we feel rotten and can’t get going, our behavior is influenced and we may choose to lie in bed all day. Or when we tell ourselves repeatedly that we are afraid to go to work because if we make a mistake we will get fired, we tend to choose not to go out and look for work.
Consequently, if we tell ourselves we feel rotten and just can’t get going, but get out of bed and go shopping or to work, we may find ourselves dragging and complaining to everyone around us how rotten we feel. We may go out and find a job in spite of telling ourselves we are afraid to work because if we make a mistake we will be fired. More than likely, we will have feelings and thoughts of fear, experience anxiety and confusion and, as a result, we may make mistakes which further reinforce our negative belief. Quite frankly, we may even lose our jobs because our faith [belief] can will it to happen.
These examples illustrate “negative faith,” disbelief, doubt, faithlessness, and denial in the good things in life that we are all entitled to. On the other hand, when we take the time to discover our negative faith or beliefs and develop opposite, positive beliefs by repeating positive affirmations, we can change how we think, how we feel, how we eat, our self-image, self-esteem, or anything we choose to change about ourselves.
If you tend to say, “I feel rotten,” try saying repeatedly, I feel terrific and happy” and learn to ignore the rotten feelings that you have as a result of telling yourself “I feel rotten,” and in time you will notice that you do feel terrific and happy.
Consequently, our belief or disbelief in recovery does affect our mental health. If we do not believe we can achieve recovery, nothing that any doctor or treatment does will have any real, heating effect.  If we choose to disbelieve that recovery is possible all the medications, therapy, or assistance won’t do any good because our belief system will prevent us from responding positively to treatment.
When I was diagnosed with a mental illness I was told that I would be mentally ill the rest of my life and would have to take medication; that I would be in and out of mental hospitals; and that I had an incurable disease caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. If I had repeated this to myself, it would have become a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as we always live up to our affirmations or faith [beliefs]. Instead, I set out on a course to discover how to heal and recover. This action brought about my recovery from mental illness.
As you continue to meet or read about your peers who have recovered and as you take time to develop skills and techniques used by your recovered peers, you too can live up to a new self-fulfilling prophecy of recovery.
Let’s affirm together repeatedly “I am recovering. I believe that what my peers have achieved, gives me the hope that I can too. Today I choose to recover.” ©