— Faces of Recovery Follow-up Article
I first heard about Faces of Recovery in 2016 when a good friend of mine was set to speak. As I sat in the audience listening, I remember thinking to myself “I want to do that someday.” To be in a place both mentally and physically where my story could set an example and hopefully inspire others along their journey. Fast forward 3 years and yet another lengthy stay at an inpatient facility and here I was, being asked to speak at the upcoming event in 2019.
Being asked to be a part of this event was such an honour, and incredibly humbling. To be honest, I wasn’t totally surprised when I was approached with the idea. My recovery post-treatment had been going especially well, and I was both shocked and proud of my success up until that point. Therefore, once being asked to speak, it felt as though I had a true goal to work towards because I still felt a little lost looking into the future. All the effort I had been putting into recovery would be put on a metaphorical pedestal for others to see. I had to stay on track and strong in my recovery to avoid feeling like a fraud when I was up on stage speaking. Leading up to Faces of Recovery my whole world centred around life in recovery (as it should), and I loved every second of it. When I wanted to engage in behaviours, I would simply remind myself that in order to be a “Face of Recovery” I must in fact, be in recovery and therefore not engaging in symptoms. Knowing I had this goal of speaking, recovery seemed to come naturally to me.
Leading up to the event my anxiety grew stronger each day and sitting down to write my speech was daunting. How was I supposed to sum up my journey in ten minutes or less? I was overwhelmed with what to include and what to leave out. How honest am I allowed or supposed to be? What part of my story is most important? What is the main message I’d like to get across to the audience? The questions that were rolling around in my mind seemed never-ending. Luckily, after speaking with my therapist, my nerves calmed down when she suggested I simply write from the heart, be honest about the good, bad and ugly. To write as though I am only speaking to one person in the room and what is one thing I’d like for them to take away from listening.
I was the first to speak at the event and being on stage speaking my truth was absolutely terrifying. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend the entire day beforehand pacing my apartment. Despite all the anxiety and fear leading up to it, speaking at Faces of Recovery was by far the most liberating, empowering and validating thing I’ve done to date. There is no way to describe how great that night was other than exhilarating. Family and friends from out of town weathered a snowstorm to hear me speak that night. Fellow warriors I spent months in treatment alongside came from all over Ontario to support me. Seeing current and former members of my treatment team in the audience filled me with such pride to look out and be able to show them that ‘I made it.’ Even to this day it feels like a dream.
Allowing myself be vulnerable and share my journey in front of a room full of (mostly) strangers, turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated it to be. Putting my recovery on display faired to be quite therapeutic. I proved to myself that I am capable of not only recovery, but also that it’s okay to take up time and space. That was a concept I struggled with for a while, however once I was on that stage, I welcomed the idea and began to understand that I am worthy of it. Afterwards, I had a friend thank me for inviting him. He stated that he now had a better understanding of recovery and all the ups and downs that come with it. Him and other friends learned my weaknesses, my struggles and my truth. They came to better grasp the phrase “recovery is not linear” and with them realizing that, I found it was much easier to be honest with them moving forward and it has strengthened our relationships.
Leaving the theatre afterwards I was on cloud nine and I felt invincible. However, that did not last long. The next day I felt an emotional crash set in that I wasn’t expecting. The goal of being able to speak, that I had been working towards for months had come and gone. Now what? It was as though I no longer had a purpose. I had lost my reason ‘why’. I felt like I had hit a peak in my recovery and it was all down hill from there. Now that everyone knew I was (in their words) recovered, it felt like permission to no longer put effort in or focus on my recovery, which in the end took its’ toll on me for a quite some time.
Looking back, I wish I had not considered this event to be such a pinnacle point in my recovery. Of course it is something I am incredibly proud of, however if I could do it again, I would spend less time trying to be perfect leading up to it. I would ensure that I had outside goals that didn’t revolve around recovery to fall back on afterwards. I wouldn’t worry as much about being an inspiration, but instead about being true to myself, my emotions and my struggle, because that’s the truly inspiring part.
Listening to the other speakers who were further along than I was in their recovery was really comforting. It was nice to hear that it does get better and won’t always be so difficult and exhausting. I learned that maybe the voice in my head will never go away no matter how far along I am, but that I will learn how to turn the volume down and stand up to it.
Faces of Recovery really opened my eyes to my strength, my progress and it also showed me my weaknesses and the areas I still need to improve upon, which I am grateful for as it only makes me stronger. I proved to myself that if I want to succeed, I can and I will. I have the power to make my own dreams, no matter how big or small, come true. I made a promise to myself in 2016 that I would one day get to be a ‘Face of Recovery’ and speak at this event, and in 2019 I made that dream come true.