For most of my life, I have been focused on what I thought was recovery. I fought to undo the damage of repeated childhood trauma. I searched for ways to erase the impacts of growing up in a cult. I was tired of becoming someone different to meet the expectations of each person I met. I was at the end of my rope with the inevitable paralysis that occurred when I was together with people who held opposite expectations for who I was. I was on the hunt for the me I was before all of my childhood changed me. And I wanted to rid myself of all the untrue versions of myself that gave life to my voices.
I worked with various therapists off and on for years. I bought and read more self help books than I can remember. I explored the depths of my subconscious with the help of the archetypes of the Tarot. And while I often made some strides forward, I never found the pure, untraumatized version of me. The negative thought loops; the intrusive, hostile voices were never silenced and the anxiety and depression were never far away. Life always had a way of unraveling and my progress would evaporate and I would be left starting over again.
I don’t know how many times I lived through that cycle. It took a major mental health crisis to break it. I wouldn’t even want to know where the count ended before I finally realized, I had been chasing a mythical being. My desperation forced me to shift my focus from finding an undamaged version myself to learning who I am in the present tense and what I need to nurture my entire wellness.
For me, recovery hasn’t been about getting rid of the voices, the depression, the anxiety, or even finding the real pure essence of myself.
It started with daring to be vulnerable and allowing my therapist to get to know the me I hated. I exposed my darkest secrets of shame and learned to see those experiences through the lense of compassion and grace. I learned to see myself as I was in those days – young, naive, and over sheltered.
For me, recovery has been about learning to respond in a way to life’s events that keeps me safe. It has been about learning the difference between having and hearing my voices and giving them a voice, about learning to listen to the message behind the commands to harm myself and the screaming. It’s been about learning to reach out to others to validate their judgmentalness when they are critical. Groups like this and working with my therapist have been critical to my healing. It’s also been about taking meds to provide myself with a safety net while I am learning.
And through all of that, I have been getting to know Ellie. Not the mythical one I spent a lifetime searching for, but the Ellie that is here in the present moment.
I still have anxiety. My voices still inhabit my headspace. We are learning to live and work together. Some days it goes smoother than others, and that is the same for everyone. The difference is I now have tools to help me; I know that I don’t have to face anything alone. And that in a nutshell sums up recovery for me.
Ellie, they/them, Portland, Oregon