As a person in long-term recovery from complex trauma and substance use disorder, I believe my experiences have shaped who I am today in a positive way.
Had I not experienced addiction to such an acute state I wouldn’t know the depths of what life is comparable to now: freedom, autonomy, agency, self-direction, and passion. It’s like I am describing two sides of the same coin: one side is dark and desolate with no meaning in life and the other has color, laughter, meaning and purpose. From my experiences in recovery I have finally felt true joy. However, I don’t believe that would’ve been possible without therapy.
The first few years of my recovery felt pretty miserable. Sure, there was relief from not waking up so hungover that I needed a drink to steady me. But that novelty soon wore off. Sitting in church basements with my new friends was marginally better than a life in addiction, but only just. I knew there had to be more. That’s why I started a blog, moved to the US and created a life that made me excited to get up every day — a life that is based on the belief that recovery is what you make it.
Had it not been for my move I wouldn’t have also reflected upon changing my relationship with how I was recovering. It seemed incongruent to change my life by moving countries, but not change what felt like a stagnant recovery. I decided to move away from 12-step recovery in favor of therapy.
My first session felt like taking a gasp of fresh air. I learned that I had untreated complex trauma and that in order to recover I had to gain agency, autonomy, and build my self-esteem. Through therapy, I learned more effective coping strategies that were rooted in building capacity and resiliency, but also the belief that I have the ability to make sound and healthful decisions. I was encouraged to trust myself, develop my intuition and to build an identity. Too much of my former identity was linked to 12-step recovery and my history. I didn’t want to define myself by my addiction — or label myself by the pejorative term “alcoholic” — being the only thing about me; I wanted to define myself as my recovery being my superpower. And that is what therapy gave me: the confidence and the support to believe in myself and my abilities.
It’s surprising looking back since I last wrote my biography, I have come so far since my last drink in March 2012. I moved continents, to a place where I didn’t know anyone or have anywhere to live. I set up a business that uses my recovery experiences to help others find recovery and start to believe in themselves, and I help organizations hone their voice to become visible to the people who need them. I bought a house, adopted a dog, and grew the most epic vegetable garden. I decided to take another huge leap of faith in December 2019 and applied to grad school. I’m delighted to say that despite a 1:3 admit rate, I’ll be starting my studies toward my Master’s in Social Work in the fall of 2020. I want to use my experience to help people clinically to find the kind of freedom I have found in therapy and recovery.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I