A Perspective on the Recovery Process

Recovery is a process that takes place over time by regaining or restoring one’s life to healthy living and well-being. Recovery involves changing thinking and attitudes. It means action. It promotes emotional and spiritual growth. It begins with self-acceptance and self-change–mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s holistic in nature, involving the whole person and his/her life.

What most of us know about recovery is usually identified with a person who may be addicted to alcohol. Our focus, however, is mental illness. It has been widely accepted and promoted that mental illness is an incurable brain disease. Just as alcoholism has become accepted as a disease too. A disease is defined in the dictionary as any departure from health, whether mental or physical. If disease is a departure from health, then recovery is the act of restoration to health.

As stated above, mental illness has been accepted as an incurable disease. When we think of “incurable”, we find it defined in the dictionary as “a person diseased beyond hope of recovery and possibility of cure”. When we talk about “cure”, exactly what do we mean? The dictionary defines it as “to heal for that which is broken.” It states further that “diseases are cured, wounds are healed.” Additionally, when we think of “cure”, we think in terms of a health professional or doctor providing some medication or treatment that will affect healing or in this context “cure”.

Cure leads us to look outside ourselves for a treatment or medication. On the other hand, recovery leads us to look within ourselves to attitudes and thinking, and it requires action. Recovery promotes growth–emotional and spiritual, equally requiring action on the part of the “diseased” person. “Cure” usually applies to symptoms. Whereas, recovery applies to the entire person: thinking, attitudes, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, lifestyle, intimate relationships, career, employment and financial.

One area where people seem to have the biggest problem is in the spiritual area of recovery. Many people confuse this area with religion. It really doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Spirituality is simply a way of living. It’s the basis of moving from the negative to the positive. This means moving from fear to trust; self-pity to gratitude; resentment to acceptance; dishonesty to honesty. It helps us define the patterns in how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world we live in. These patterns guide our lives to be positive, healthy, fulfilling and life-giving or negative, self-defeating, and destructive.

Promoting a view of mental illness as incurable tends to promote the idea of disease and it becomes a process of negativity, self-defeating and destructive. For recovery to begin, people must hear and know that other people diagnosed with mental illness recovered. They must understand that one does not start with even a profound desire to recover, that others first began to nurture the recovery process within themselves.  Additionally, one must realize that it’s not necessary to have a college degree or a high school diploma to recover. It includes knowing that if others have done it then it’s possible for anyone to do it.

We have all heard of the person with an alcohol addiction that everyone gave up on and that person recovered. This same truth holds true for even a person considered most severely mentally ill that everyone believes is beyond hope of recovery. Anyone given an opportunity to recover and who acts on it stands a good chance of recovering. The recovery process includes the encouragement of others who have been through it and recovered and supporting those who are trying. Additionally, families and professionals need to provide support whenever a person diagnosed with mental illness falls short in the process.

There’s nothing magical in recovery. It takes commitment, work, perseverance, inspiration, and perspiration. Additionally, as stated above, it takes encouragement and support by a lot of people for anyone diagnosed with mental illness to succeed in the recovery process. Most of all, it takes time. It takes application and practice. It gives way to self-understanding, knowledge, and participation in life. The end result of recovery from the consequences of mental illness is no longer seen with shame and stigma. It is viewed with a grateful and humble heart for having experienced it.

Recovery is a process that brings with it pain and healing. It can’t be forced. It needs to be directed and influenced with the truth. It must be nurtured as you would nurture and care for a tiny seed that has been planted. It must be watered with understanding and love. It must be given the sunshine of kind words and enthusiasm. It must be allowed to grow and develop as a beautiful flower.

A Holistic View of Mental Health

There has been a lot written about a holistic connection to physical health. Written material on the holistic connection between mental illness and mental health is not readily available. However, holistic information applies and includes a view of mental illness and mental health.

"Holistic" means body, mind and spirit connections. Traditional mental health services do not consider this view. Historically, they do not consider cure or recovery either. Nevertheless, a holistic view is important as an alternative because it contributes to a person’s healing.

This view blends eastern and western philosophies to help us understand mental illness and mental health. Western philosophy’s belief, based on objective knowledge, is that genetics, biology, and/or environment cause mental illness, and that mental illness is incurable. However, eastern philosophy, based on subjective experience, regards mind, body and spirit connections not as separate but parts of the whole. A holistic view recognizes that healing is possible.

David McMillin, a mental health professional in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has studied this view and applies it in his work. David states, "Spirit is the life (life force), mind is the builder, and the physical is the result." He says the individual consists of mind, body and spirit.

Mr. McMillin further states, "The psyche or soul connects at definite anatomical centers in the physical body. For example, mind connects the physical body through the nervous system. The spiritual connections in the physical body are primarily through the glandular system, particularly the endocrine glands." Mr. McMillin further explains, "Another way of thinking about the soul is that it is the individual aspect of spirit. Conversely, spirit is the universal aspect of soul. Soul (psyche) is the part of us that grows and develops. Spirit is the universal creative life force of the soul’s development."

It is the spiritual force through which we have the ability to work, to affect change, to perform over a period of time and space in a materialistic world. Spirit is the force behind our lives. Spirit is a universal principle of life. Spirit is dynamic energy — the energy we bring to our lives that gives them a spark.

By blending eastern/western philosophies, we understand that illness happens when these holistic connections become disrupted through heredity or genetics, injury or trauma, meditation practices, deep study of religious beliefs or scripture for enlightenment, not using your energy constructively, environment, or the psyche (soul) of one person influencing the psyche (soul) of another. Disorder or illness occurs when the holistic connections are out of balance. Imbalances are responsible for physical and psychological illnesses. In the holistic view, mental illness has its origin when the spiritual and/or physical become imbalanced. However, order is inherent in disorder, making a return to health possible.

Chaplain Anton T. Boison, in his book The Exploration of the Inner World (1936), believed that "many problems of insanity are religious (spiritual) rather than medical problems, and that they cannot be successfully treated until they are so recognized. Mental disorders are not evils but problem solving experiences." He sees mental illness as an individual’s unhappy solution to life’s problems. (Note, Chaplain Boison himself was diagnosed with mental illness.)

Chaplain Boison also said that "our life situations present efforts at growth that create conflicts while striving to achieve better than where we are. A serious sense of inner disharmony and isolation from other people is the catalyst to our unhappy solutions. The experience for many is a make or break one." Furthermore, Mr. McMillin emphasizes that "sometimes the physical body (especially the nervous and glandular systems) are not able to handle the stress of life’s challenges and problems. Mental illness is one of the possible outcomes when the mental and spiritual connections in the body become overwhelmed by life’s distressing experiences."

In a physical sense, food provides the nutrients used for energy. The endocrine system utilizes chemical messengers to coordinate various activities of the body parts. There is a certain amount of overlap with the nervous system, which utilizes neurotransmitter substances creating excitability or inhibition causing neurons to either fire or not. Together these provide the necessary chemicals that energize our spiritual lives. Spirit is energy fueled by the endocrine system. It is the spiritual force by which we live.

Mind can be a destroyer as well as a builder. The operations of the mind influenced by information received through the nervous system by way of the senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell — forms thoughts interpreted into beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. These can be both negative and positive based on experience. They have a profound effect on us holistically, whether they are conscious or not. Together they can make us feel happy or sad, angry or peaceful, sick or healthy. Mental and physical health manifests by thinking, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes. Dr. Kidd of the Genetics Department at Yale University agrees that the mind is extraordinary. He says research in genetics has proven that "the brain is phenomenal and can be retrained to overcome genetic defects."

Illness means mind, body, and spirit function without the awareness of the other. For optimum health in a holistic view the mind, body, and spirit function harmoniously through self-knowledge brought into balance by the will. A holistic view means the individual begins the process of self-knowledge, and by the will brings these connections into balance to achieve mental and physical health. The two cannot be separated.

When people make holistic connections, achieving mental health goes beyond recovery or cure; it begins in the inner self and heals. This healing process transforms individuals and their lives as they become their new, healthy selves — physically, mentally, and spiritually. Going through the experiences and making the connections change lives for the better if it happens under the right circumstances. The physical result is that as people mature into responsible living brought into balance by the will, they grow into their true holistic selves.© (1995)