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Gaining Independence in Recovery


This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 2013 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) National Convention in San Antonio, Texas. It was my mom’s idea for the two of us to go. She doesn’t have a diagnosed mental disorder, but I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder five years ago, and my family recognized that I was having mental health issues ten years ago. My mom, along with my family, is now my strongest advocate.

After securing a good treatment team almost three years ago, I have been on the road to recovery from both substance abuse and mental illness, and have gained greater independence as a result of my own hard work and all the support I have. The NAMI Convention was a wonderful experience where I got to see many high-functioning people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, and learn new things about my own experience and how I can achieve even greater independence.

Realizing that I was suffering from substance abuse and addiction, in addition to serious mental health issues, was hard for me to accept at first. I had done nothing to deserve a mental illness or addiction issues. Nonetheless, I was given the responsibility of having to come to terms with them and learn how to manage them. It was not an easy task, and is still not. It has been at least ten years and counting since I began dealing with these issues, and I still have major work to do with regard to them.

As a result of these burdens, I have had to sacrifice a lot of independence and have been dependent on other people, such as my family, for basic human needs. While I was being treated for marijuana dependence and different treatment centers were trying to diagnose and treat me, I obviously could not hold down a job and support myself to live independently. I was just struggling to live. I had a lot of issues to deal with and there was a lot of therapy that needed to be done and still needs to be done. I had to process a partially troubled childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, and put it in perspective. There was a lot I still needed to learn about socialization that I had missed out on, and other cognitive issues I had to educate myself about and manage due to my illnesses.

After my first round of treatment centers, I was able to live in my own apartment for almost two years in Orlando, Florida. However, I never felt at home there and wasn’t getting the quality of treatment I needed. I relapsed again on marijuana and was using for four months until I informed my parents, and we came up with the plan to send me to a treatment center in the Los Angeles area. The experience at that treatment center (and others before that) was quite negative due to a lack of qualified professionals working there. It wasn’t until I got referred to both a very qualified, intelligent, compassionate psychiatrist and case manager that I was able to get on the road to real recovery and independence.

After spending about a year-and-a-half going from sober living to sober living, I finally lobbied for my parents to let me get my own place again. In addition, I was able to take driving lessons so I could get my license again and start driving again after five years of not driving. I had started taking various classes at colleges so I would be engaged in things I cared about, like poetry, music, and multimedia. Just being around people was hard to deal with (I suffer from social anxiety), and some of the things that happened, which I viewed as unfair and wrong, caused me to unhealthily obsess. However, I have also had many positive experiences at school and have made some good connections.

Even though I have been living in my own apartment again for almost two years now and have a car, there have been times that I felt very dependent because of mental and emotional issues I was having. I was constantly calling people, mostly my family, for emotional support, even though I had a good psychiatrist and case manager. There were periods of crisis, and I had to enroll in the Adult Partial Program at UCLA, which was an outpatient program, where I spent several days a week and multiple hours a day going to different support groups and talking to different mental health professionals. It was actually a very positive experience for me because I believed and felt that the employees there were actually qualified to help me with my problems, and cared about helping me more than chastising me. Even though the ultimate responsibility fell on me, I received a lot of help from others to help me gain more independence.

Through California’s Department of Rehabilitation and Jewish Vocational Services, I was able to get an internship at a small radio station for a month, which was something to put on my resume after years of not working. Then my psychiatrist referred me to another internship where I am currently working and putting skills to use. I also continued taking classes at a community college so I would have structure and be involved in things I am interested in and around other people with similar interests.

Coming to my own realization that I need to stay clean and sober in order to remain successful has also been essential for gaining greater independence. After being in denial for several years, I can now say that both marijuana and alcohol (in addition to other drugs) are an impediment for my life and never help me. Even though they remain a temptation, realizing that I don’t want them has been huge in being able to maintain sobriety.

Despite many bumps in the road, I can confidently say that I have made significant progress over the past six years since I first went to rehab and began seriously addressing my addiction and mental health issues. I am on the road to even greater independence. If I keep working hard for myself and get quality mental health care, this will continue and even increase. I can never know exactly what my future will hold and how challenging it will be, but staying optimistic and trying my best are the best things I can do.

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Filed under: Addiction, Mental Illness, Recovery, Substance Abuse, Treatment · Tags: Addiction, independence, mental health, mental illness, sober, sobriety, Treatment

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