why I don’t like the term “Recovery”

Disclaimer: If you find it empowering, that’s fantastic! I don’t want to shake that. Your mental health and well-being are much more important than my opinion. This is post is about my personal relationship with the term.

CW: potentially ableist language, references to death, descriptive imagery of quasi-suicidal feelings

I don’t like the term “Recovery” because it suggests that there’s something to recover.

Which works if it’s like: “Last week I sprained my ankle and for a day it hurt too much to put weight on it. Over time I was able to start moving it around and whatnot… and now I can get around the house no problem. Though to be honest it’s still a bit swollen and painful.”

That is recovery because I remember a time when my ankle didn’t hurt, wasn’t stiff, and I could walk normally. I have a sense of there being something I had, then lost, and an idea of what getting it back would be like.

And for some mental health experiences I think that might make sense. If it were just a matter of my father and both my grandmothers and my dog who was like a brother to me dying within 5 years of each other during my adolescence, then maybe there would’ve been something there before those traumatic experiences fucked everything up that I could try and recover!

But there’s not.

Because my parents didn’t know how to parent me in the ways I needed. Which isn’t really their fault. They didn’t get the parenting they needed. Probably because my grandparents didn’t get the parenting they needed either. Because… well, there are reasons why my great-grandparents left their homelands and came to the U.S., possibly with small children – or in the case of one of my great-grandmothers, completely alone. I don’t know the specifics, but I can look into what was happening during that time.

This isn’t about that. “Recovery” isn’t about that. It’s about my life and experiences.

Which were shit.

Not all of them. But the term “Recovery” suggests to me that I should be looking back at my life before those traumatic experiences to find something I want to recover. Most of what I see is darkness. Most of what I feel is pain. And the moments that aren’t are ones I can’t get back, because the people they belong to are dead. And to be honest they’re overshadowed by the pain. The sorrow. Grief? Anger? that horrible sensation of being alone and hungry gazing into the Abyss while some terrifying monster eats you from the inside and you’re drowning and all you can hear are your own cries…

Or we can go with the language my therapist used: she called it Complex PTSD. There’s not one or more easily identifiable traumatic experience(s) I could pinpoint and say yeah, before that was good, let’s recover that. Instead there was a childhood of emotional abuse and neglect.

When I look back at what I had, I’m grateful that on a material level there was never anything I needed and couldn’t access. Food, clothes, shelter, and healthcare were all there. I was safe for the most part, physically speaking. There were aspects of my education that could’ve been better, but they were offset by things that were better, so… I dunno. I’m just trying to acknowledge that I’ve always had financial security, and that’s extremely important. And my grandmother was awesome. And my mom did what she could – at least, she meant well, she just… I’d say she could’ve done better, but if that were true she probably would’ve done better, is all I’m saying.

My point is: I don’t see anything that I want to recover.

I see things I wish I could go back in time and change. I see things that make me sad, angry, wistful, nostalgic, grateful, or glad that part of my life is over. I see strengths and areas for growth and things I’m proud of and things I regret and experiences I’ve learned from.

And I see myself hanging on through all of it – yes, loving people supporting me (including my mom), that’s very important – but it’s the choices I make that guide me from one place to the next.

The choices I’ve made are why I’m breathing today.

So there really isn’t anything to recover. The things that would be worth recovering are still there – are more there now than they were in the past. There have been things for me to discover, maybe – like being able to acknowledge my own resilience – but not recover.

It feels more like I’m BUILDING something. It’s constructive. I’m in Constructory.

I’m looking back at all this pain and realizing it didn’t kill me. And if I could live through that, I can live through just about anything. I’m giving myself permission and acknowledging my ability to recognize when I need to “just hang on” for a while, and trusting myself to do it, and to get my feet back under me when there’s something to stand on again. I’m learning to reach out for help when I need it, (and figuring out who and how to ask,) and actually using that help constructively.

I’m looking back at the things that have made me feel alive – and the things that haven’t – and choosing what to keep, what to discard.

And unlike with my ankle, where I know what it’s like to walk normally, and I’m trying to get that back, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M BUILDING. It’s not something I had before, it’s something new and it’s both exciting and terrifying. For example, I was freaking out for much of the semester because I’d never felt so happy and it was great but it was also overwhelming. Like in April when I had a fantastic meeting with my advisor and he told me I was getting an A in music theory… then I sat on the stairs for an hour crying… and then I went to the library to do my homework.

I’m embracing and building upon my love of music. Composing. (and theory!)

I’m composing myself.

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Remember back in July when I said “If itโ€™s even possible to switch to composition, I could probably satisfy the requirements in a heartbeat, and love it.”?

Well, it turns out I was right. If by ‘heartbeat’ I mean about another year – that is, assuming I’m formally accepted to the program; I need to submit a new portfolio by July 1st. But this semester has been absolutely amazing! I feel happier and more alive than I’ve ever been! And more motivated than ever to do my schoolwork…

It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve spent a good deal of the semester feeling overwhelmed. But it’s manageable, and it’s mostly positive if that makes any sense? And I love it, the subject matter, the people, the sense of accomplishment when I figure something out… it’s all wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! And I’m always being inspired and getting new ideas.

Today program coordinator told me “When I talk to you about composing you’re happy. When I talk to you about theory you’re giddy.” He’s encouraging me to go for a doctorate in music theory. I’m kinda torn between “let me finish my master’s first” and “omg you mean I get to study more theory?!!!!” And, well, it could put me in a good position to teach, which I think I’d enjoy a great deal… I’d probably be able to ‘give back’ by teaching educators and therapists… But whatever happens with that, the point is RIGHT NOW I get to compose and analyze pieces over the summer and thoroughly enjoy school again!

The icing on the cake is that when we spoke with the person in charge of courses and registration and all that in the music department, she suggested ways some of my music therapy coursework could satisfy requirements for the composition degree. For example in this improvisation course we were making music all the time so that can count for 3 of the 4 credits of applied music that I need. I’m hoping also that all the composing we did in these other 2 courses will count for the independent study in composition – as much as I would love to actually do the study, the potential of having stuff I’ve already done count for it feels awesome! There’s one other requirement I want to see if I can substitute for, and then yeah I should be able to finish the degree in a year!

Well, assuming I can get someone to perform my piece in public and pass the comprehensive exam. But we’ll worry about that when the time comes. I still need to get in ๐Ÿ˜›