Recovery: A First Hand Perspective by Kerrie Walker

Broken bones, broken glass, broken home and broken promises, the unacceptable had now become the acceptable.  Physical and mental abuse, topped off with alcoholism, a progressive illness slowly stripped me of any worthwhile beliefs and the values I once possessed.
The consequences’ of my drinking rapidly became more serious, then began several attempts of getting sober.  Doctors, social workers and a CPN offered me medical treatment and support, I thought I was cured.  Ultimately over a period of nine years, my ability to sustain a lengthy period of abstinence became more of a struggle as my mental health deteriorated.


I was told “I wasn’t trying hard enough” or “You are going to lose your children if you don’t stop drinking”. Now, to any parent who has not experience addiction, you would think that last statement would be the catalyst to get sober.  What it did for me, was re-enforce the self loathing, shame and guilt that kept me in that dark lonely place that I now called my life.  I was on a downwards spiral of destruction and couldn’t see a way out.

I can’t say what changed on the morning of June 21st 2011 and I don’t need to know.  Broken bones, broken glass, broken home, and broken promises, what had finally broken was my spirit. I simply couldn’t go on like this any longer.  I was beaten.  I had been given what is called in Alcoholics anonymous “The gift of desparation”.

I entered the LEAP (Lothians & Edinburgh Abstinence Programme) treatment centre a broken woman; physically, mentally and spiritually bankrupt. “Addiction is a disease and recovery is possible” – these were words I had heard from medical professionals for so many years.  I was now being told these same words from therapists who were in recovery from addiction.  Living proof that I could turn my life around gave me the hope and inspiration I needed to start my journey of recovery.

“We may feel like the lowest of the low, we may have done some bad things, even some terrible things, but that doesn’t mean we choose to cross the line into the disease of addiction” Brenda Iliff – A Woman’s Guide To Recovery – Page 12

I began to understand that alcohol was only a symptom of my disease. It was me that was the problem; it was me that had to change. I began to work the twelve step programme of alcoholics anonymous into my daily life; gradually my thinking became healthier, I started to take back some control of my life.  I tried to accept life on life’s terms.  I take healthy risks to push myself so that I can grow in my recovery.  Helping others and giving back what has freely been given to me plays a major part in me getting well and staying well.

“It is recognized now that recovery is a process, a unique journey that is tailored to each individual.  Recovery ‘does not mean cure’, it does not mean stabilization or maintenance. Rather recovery is an attitude, a stance and a way of approaching the day’s challenges.” Patricia E. Deegan PhD – Recovery As A Journey Of The Heart

Mary Ellen Copeland
Mary Ellen Copeland

Two Key Concepts In Recovery

Personal Responsibility: Mary Ellen Copeland began studies of how people help themselves to get well, and stay well in 1989.  The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), looks at ways in which this can be achieved. While I was in the act of addiction, personal responsibility was certainly not high on my list of priorities.  I was incapable of even minor tasks.
The more I failed to keep on top of these things the more my mental health was affected.  ‘WRAP’ concentrates on facing issues in manageable chunks at your own pace.  Asking and accepting help is your responsbility.  Keeping yourself safe is also up to you and is based on making healthy choics such as: The company you keep, taking prescribed medication, diet and having a personal awareness regarding your triggers.  Setting yourself achievable goals and rewarding yourself are essential for growth.
Support: Getting the right kind of support has made all the difference in my personal recovery.  Knowing somebody else has walked the same path as me, experienced their own hell and was now living a full and happy sober life, gave me hope that I too could achieve the same thing.
“While mental health professionals can offer a particular limited kind of relationship and help foster hope, relationships with friends, family and the community are said to often be wider and of longer term importance” Recovery Approach – Wikipedia. Having a sponsor who has longer sobriety than me played a huge part in my own recovery

“Even today, I don’t always have belief in myself. There are times when I feel a little doubtful, but I am willing to do the work, no matter what.  God bless that woman who was my mentor, she just kept saying to me ‘life is not always easy, if you sit and wait for it to be easy, you’ll be waiting forever'” Brenda Iliff – A Woman’s Guide to Recovery – Page 47


Two Societal Influences Which Impact Mental Health Recovery

Employment: The stigma of mental health illness can have a negative impact on gaining employment. Lack of education regarding mental health can lead employers to believe that employees are less reliable and deemed more of a risk. I had a very supportive, gradual introduction back to work and this has enhanced my recovery as my confidence and self esteem has grown. Employers need to offer a mentally healthy environment

“Employment can provide a sense of meaning, structure, purpose and the next step in moving forward. Conroy described employment as ‘The Gateway To Citizenship'”  – National Economic & Social Forum [NESF] 2006 – Page 6


Housing and Homelessness: Four years ago I presented myself and my two children as homeless at the local housing office after leaving an abusive relationship.  I remember the treatment I received when asked if I had any addiction or mental health issues.  My children and I were placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation and offered no support.  At the beginning of this year I approached the council and explained our hosuing situation was having a negative impact on my recovery. I was listened to and was treated like a human being, a far cry from four years previous.

“The link between povery and heatlh is well documented, as is the link between health and housing, with increasing evidence suggesting that improved housing would actually mean improved health for many” Schroeder, D., Wolff, C. and Young, M. (2001) Effect of improved housing on illness in children under 5 years old in northern Malawi: cross sectional study, British Medical Journal.


Explanation of Possible Effects of Force and Trauma on Mental Health

 “Traumatic reactions occur when action is of no avail. When neither resistance nor escape is possible, the human system of self defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized” Judith Lewis Herman – Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror – Page 34

My children were without doubt the main casualties of both my addiction and the domestic violence they both witnessed.  The effects that this has had on them are classic, with signs and symptoms often seen in young children and youths; ability to re-evoke psychological memories, hypervigilence (always on guard), being easily startled, increased heart rate around what they perceive as danger (Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD –
Avoidance is another symptom and can be used as a copying mechanism and it can seem like the child has ‘wandered off’, isolating themselves from others is also common,  becoming withdrawn or displaying signs of aggression are typical to children who have experienced trauma.  Unfortunately, the earlier in life the trauma occurs, the more severe the long term consequences may last, leading to a range of issues in later life such as self harm and substance abuse. Trauma at any age will have an impact on you psychologically.


Two Key Factors Which Support Recovery

“Hope is the main determinant of one’s recovery. With hope, one can feel some sense of mental empowerment to change their lives” Life after the diagnosis; Recovery is possible –

Without hope comes dispair, I never want to feel that again.  I believe hope is the first step towards recovery. When you have some hope in your life, you can offer it to others who are in that dark lonely place, a place you have been where you only know despair.  For me, hope is truly a priceless gift that recovery can offer.

Self Management: Taking back control of your life is greatly rewarding and self management plays a major part.  Being responsible for yourself can some in many different ways.  Practical things such as, taking prescribed medication, taking care of personal hygene, housework, diet and paying bills all have a positive impact on your mental health.

“Recognising what triggers a crisis, compile an action plan” Self Management –

Being aware of your feelings and putting a plan into action to keep yourself safe, all contribute towards a healthy mind.  Like all other aspects of recovery, self management has a number of steps or guidelines on which to follow but, individualisation is key to the likelihood of success.