September is National Recovery Month. It is a month to focus on mental health and addictions. It is a time to celebrate those who recover and to remember those who have lost their lives due to their conditions. This year’s theme as designated by SAMSHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) was “Join the Voice for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities”.
My kickoff for the month was the Vancouver/Portland Hands Across the Bridge. These events are to raise awareness for and celebrate people in recovery. The Portland event tallied a collective experience of over 4000 years of recovery. That is a LOT of people making the decision to do the next right thing day after day!
I also went to the Hands Across the Bridge-Marion and Polk County 2017 event. There weren’t as many participants yet it was well attended. There was food and music and many local support services. The participants walked up on the bridge and dropped flowers into the Willamette River as a symbol of our recovery and also in memory of our fellow friends in recovery who have left the earth.
In Oregon we also have Problem Gambling Awareness Day. It was on September 29th in honor of Bobby Hafemann. Bobby ended his life due to the loneliness and hopelessness he struggled with because of his problem gambling 22 years ago. Many are unaware that gamblers have the highest statistics for completed suicides of any other addiction. The message for all gamblers is that there is HOPE and HELP. Treatment works. This years campaign is “Take a Break”. Signage encourages gamblers to take a break for just one day and if you aren’t able to stop for just a day, that could be a sign that maybe there is a problem. Pick up the phone and reach out, help is available for all Oregonians.
September is also National Suicide Awareness month. There are numerous events around the Nation. Portland and Salem hold their Out of the Darkness community walk to bring awareness to Suicide Prevention in the first weeks of October. Veterans are promoting the message of “Be There” for their annual suicide prevention and awareness campaign. 22 Veterans a day ending their own lives is too many.
I myself have struggled with suicidal ideation as a symptom of withdrawals from opiates and benzodiazepines and also as symptom in my battle with gambling. Knowing the statistics for gamblers and for those coming off benzodiazepines I feel pretty blessed to still be upright and breathing. I am grateful that my natural intrinsic will to survive has been stronger than my occasional thoughts of being overwhelmed with life. Yet I know that doesn’t always work in the long term unless one learns how to manage life better. The symptoms of the disease can be treated while death is permanent. Suicide is not a solution and it can be prevented. Pick up the phone and call the National Suicide Prevention line. Be there for a friend. Participate in one of the activities in your local area to bring awareness to suicide being a preventable condition!
The month ended with the 4th Annual Bridgeway Recovery 2017 Run/Walk for Recovery event held in Salem, Oregon. This event is to raise awareness and help end the stigma for those suffering with a mental health disorder or an addiction. Bridgeway wants to help connect those that need help with the help they deserve. They realize how difficult reaching out can be due to the stigma associated with these problems. The shame that most people feel can prevent them from seeking help until their lives are in critical danger. There is hope and change is possible. Recovery does happen when you get treatment and utilize the tools available.
Bridgeway Services is a new style of recovery services. They are a Patient-Centered Primary Care Home (PCPCH). They provide counseling, detoxification from drugs and alcohol, inpatient treatment and regular medical care as part of a holistic method of treating those struggling with their mental health and substance abuse disorders. They provide a trauma informed care approach, which is having the understanding that most all patients are having a response to previous trauma.
Each of these events was a challenge for me to participate in due to my social anxiety. Left to my own devices and decisions, I would not have gone. I was encouraged to face my fear knowing there were others there to help me and I had tools to use. I am at in-patient treatment and my treatment team said immersion is a powerful tool. I was allowed my camera. It was a tool to keep me stay grounded. It helps me focus when overwhelmed with sensations from being around so many people and so much traffic.
What you see here is the result of my ability to use my tools and function and gain some self-esteem. By having access to my camera I was able to engage with people while using a tool which allowed me to stay in my own personal space. I also had the time of finding the settings and focusing for my shots. I also engaged in a bit of exercise and enjoyed fresh air and had a few interactions with animals and nature. All these activities were mindfully noticed and utilized to assist me in staying in the moment. Some of this I have learned over time, and some of it is new skills I’ve learned since being in treatment.
I hope you see some of the themes I noticed from these activities. They are signs of recovery that are obvious and obscure. For one thing…there are many people in large groups. The struggle with mental illness and addiction is quite lonely. Getting among others and having a good time while doing it is a sure sign of recovery. Being out in public and not having shame to be associated with things such as addiction, mental health disorders, prior felonies is powerful and shows strength.
How about evidence of families? That too is an area that often is surrounded with challenges for this population. Yet there were many moms and dads with their kids and even a few grandmas and grandpas too. Signs that said “Recovery is getting my dad back”.
Then there are the bridges. So many bridges! Recovery means having a lot of courage and stamina to leave old ways and old behaviors in search of a new path. For many people it means feeling like being on a different planet because of all they’ve lost and where they landed. Yet here these folks are out in the hundreds to hold hands or run or walk across a bridge to shake off the old and embrace the new. They are smiling. They are challenging themselves. They are pushing themselves when they are uncomfortable. I was so proud of all these people and I thanked them over and over and over. As each one passed me and I took their smiling face reddened photos I felt their courage and their hope. They were doing it. They were winning, just by being there! They were the winners, each one of them.
Recovery and Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Awareness aren’t to be recognized only in September. It is a daily thing. One day at a time. Stop the stigma. Have an awareness and become educated about mental illness and substance abuse disorder and learn how to be of help. A simple kindness and a nudge in the right direction can really make a difference. Recovery is a lifelong journey. It requires learning tools on a daily basis to live with things I can’t change throughout my life. I will always be learning new skills. Sometimes I need a little more help, some new tools, a better understanding of my condition. That’s why I am at treatment. To get what I need. Thanks Bridgeway!