If you ask anyone in recovery from mental illness or addiction, “What was the key to your recovery?” you will get a variety of answers. Some will name a trusted friend or loved one who stuck by them, others will point to medication or therapy, and many will endorse personal qualities such as a strong faith or determination.
Each person will find some ideas that work well for them while other approaches just don’t. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most important keys to recovery. If I had only one chance to talk with someone about how to approach recovery, it would go something like this:
1. Find Hope
It’s often been said that recovery emerges from hope, so finding a sense of hope is often the first key to recovery. If you don’t believe that recovery is possible, then it will be very difficult for you. The clear message you need to hear is that recovery is a reality, and then everything else can build upon this foundation of hope.
2. Ask for Help
Between 30 and 80 percent of adults with mental illness never receive treatment. Many mistakenly believe there is no help for their condition. You must understand that help is available. Get opinions from others about which mental health providers in your area have good track records. Then take that critical step to call and make an appointment.
3. Get Informed
Once you have an accurate diagnosis, learn about your illness, its symptoms, and treatment options. Seek this information from reliable sources such as your health care providers, mental health agencies and reputable books and websites.
4. Engage in Treatment
Treatment does work and today more than ever there is an impressive array of proven talk therapies and medications to treat mental illnesses and addictions. Don’t be afraid to ask your health care providers about their qualifications, experience and the research supporting the types of treatment they recommend to you.
5. Seek Support
Support is critical in recovery; you really can’t make it without some help. Friends, family and health care professionals are essential components of your support team, and others from your work, school, or faith community may also be great sources of help. Also, learn about the role of peer support, where others in recovery can share their experience and valuable strategies they have learned through their own journey.
6. Develop a Plan
As Ben Franklin supposedly said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Without direction, it’s impossible to get from point A to point B. Your plan should include your overall goals and specific action steps for getting there. Your plan must be written down to make it “real” and so you won’t forget all the details. Give copies of your plan to your key supporters so they can help hold you accountable and keep encouraging you as you move forward. Prepare for possible crises by including emergency contacts.
7. Take Action
Nothing changes if nothing changes. The best laid plan will not work if you don’t put it into action. Like the tortoise, be slow but steady. Keep your support system close by for feedback and encouragement. Modify your plan as needed to keep it fresh, focused, and achievable. Give yourself time limits on tasks to keep you moving forward.
8. Reconnect with Life
Recovery requires a lot of work but it should also include some fun. Get back into interests and hobbies that your illness may have taken away from you. Seek and find joy, meaning and satisfaction through physical activity, faith, work, learning, art, music, nature, good nutrition, relaxation, humor, and supportive relationships. Don’t always rely on others to praise you for your good work; reward yourself regularly with simple, enjoyable activities for making progress in your recovery.
9. Stick With It
Don’t ever give up. Setbacks will happen, but learning from them and readjusting your plan will make things a little easier the next time around and will actually improve your odds of eventual success. A slip really isn’t a fall, so don’t be too hard on yourself when the inevitable challenge comes along. Keep going and recognize that recovery is more like a marathon than a sprint; it’s a long haul but with support and endurance, you will make it.
10. Help Others
Give back by helping someone else. Share your story, your challenges, and your victories. Both you and the person you help will benefit. They will grow by learning about and considering the strategies that were helpful for you. You will also be strengthened by the personal satisfaction that comes from helping someone else on their path to recovery.