Guest post by Dana Foglesong, recovery and integration specialist in the DCF Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
There was a time in my life I felt my only options were death or a miserable existence; death seemed more appealing. I struggled to maintain a life in the community after being diagnosed with a mental illness. My pain was so deep that I had lost all hope. Hope is a powerful, yet tricky thing. Hope is a necessary motivator to take personal responsibility for your life, to overcome obstacles, and to move forward.
Hope has a way of building momentum to push us through even the darkest days and roadblocks in our lives. A spark of hope was lit within me when I had the opportunity to work with a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist as part of my treatment. My peer specialist struggled with similar intense emotions and experiences, but was living successfully in recovery with a family, job and home. He was living proof that possibilities existed for my life despite a diagnosis. Through his support, encouragement, and strengths based coaching, I was able to reclaim my life.
Today, hundreds of people in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions work within our systems as peer specialists. I am one of them. We are often on the front lines of engaging individuals who have been labelled difficult to reach. We see the person first, not the illness. We help our peers focus on their resiliency instead of fragility. We provide support from the perspective of having shared similar life experiences and intimately understand the pain, loss and desperation those experiences bring. We are able to say with confidence, “I am the evidence that you can recover, so have hope and hold on.”
During Recovery Month, my hope is that we start changing the narrative about people living with mental health and substance use challenges. Recovery is achievable no matter the person or condition. The evidence is all around us. Peer Specialists are just one example. Perhaps you are someone who has overcome great challenges related to mental health or addiction issues. If so, I encourage you to share your story. Your story of recovery may be what sparks hope in someone else to keep fighting for a better future. If you are someone who is lacking hope, I encourage you to reach out for support. In the midst of the storm it can be easy to believe the lie that we are alone and that no one cares.
The truth is there is hope, so hold on because possibilities exist.