• Gray Butler

On Days When You Are Backsliding Through Recovery

As many people who follow me know, I live with anxiety and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). While I document a lot of uplifting and powerful moments of recovery and healing, I very rarely talk about the negatives as they happen. Rarely do I ever present myself at my low moments and I think that can often give the impression that recovery and healing still has to look a certain way.

A lot of us talk about loving and being kind to ourselves but what does that mean when we only present one side of ourselves. This isn’t to say that every mentally ill person should put their most private aspects of their lives and recovery on display, but I do think it is powerful in discussions about healing to to document the not so pretty moments. I also think it is valuable to share how we cope and to acknowledge and show how healing truly is not linear.

I recently struggled with bouts of back sliding in my healing process. The past week I have felt internal turmoil, struggled with inexplicable lack of motivation, insecurities, cried over old relationships, suffered from emotional flashbacks, had my first panic attack in months, and had another brief resurgence of touch repulsion. And while the state I am is no where near as severe as it was when all of my symptoms bubbled up to the surface several months ago, I felt this overwhelming pressure that I believe many survivors and mentally ill folks face, to be constantly improving.

There is this pressure to feel as though we don’t want to fall a part, that we have to mask our behaviors, appear happy, appear put together. After all, some of us have gotten a lot of positive attention for doing well. Or some of us carry an immense fear of ever feeling as terrible as we once did. The burden of depression and anxiety hasn’t quite left the picture, there is a fear that our happy moments are fleeting. We feel as though we must be in constant motion. A lull in the process, a moment to decompress and relax sometimes feels like you’re just seconds away from being pulled back under.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true or that it always feels this way. But for many of us who have experienced debilitating depression, the fear that we will relapse can push us to over work ourselves in our healing process.

I know I carry shame about the days I feel stagnant and down. I know I still feel a self imposed cage around myself that prevents me from being totally honest with myself or peers about areas of my life that still aren't going well. I still, in my most anxious moments, worry that I am self destructive, that I am one mistake away from finding out that all of my work has just been one long period of stability before the inevitable fall back into depression. And despite the fact that very little in my life objectively points to this, the fear that it will happen is still there; most of my life that is what I have only known.

For survivors of childhood or long term abuse, it is important to understand that healing and healthy life style can feel like the most foreign experience to us. Quiet moments can trigger a panic response or be unsettling. Sometimes it’s going to suck, sometimes it’s going to feel unnerving and sometimes the comfort of chaos will call; some of us may even slide back into it. But that doesn’t mean that your whole process has gone out the window.

It doesn’t mean you will fall as far as you did before, it doesn’t mean that you will be left without the tools to pull yourself out. And it doesn’t mean that the journey will be as hard. Sometimes you deserve to rest; you deserve to let yourself fall apart. Because part of your healing process isn’t so much about avoiding ever feeling sad, anxious or scared again, it’s about cultivating the tools to handle those emotions. It’s about being able to navigate these emotions in healthier ways, and to understand their importance in our lives.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to fall apart. It’s okay to not always be doing something. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to simply exist. It’s okay to backslide. Sometimes there is value in going back to those dark places, touching the feeling and then find your way back. It’s also okay to not be good at practicing this right away. But I know that one day I will have a better handle on these skills, and that the act of acknowledging these facts is already a step in the right direction. One day you will also be better at these skills. So for now I’ll curl up and have a good cry, I’ll fall apart and come back together again with even more insight and confidence in my ability to wade through my own trauma.

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