The Role of Values in Recovery

[Image description: Featured image is in a bright white room with high ceilings and a tall window. Plants frame the room. A woman sits in the window, while her friends sit below her on a white shag carpet, a couch, and chair, around a black table]

CN: Contains descriptions of disordered thinking and suicide/suicidal ideation

Shout outs this week go to Tessa Reed, Noah Wingren, Karry Carr, Arizona Foster, Sarah Kabakoff, Matthew Sweere, Elisa McGovern, and Craig Dunigan for helping to support this project and Zach.

When we are deep in our illness and disordered thinking, we can be blind to the impact we have on others. We can be convinced that we do not matter, that our voices are powerless and meaningless, that we hold no power, and that our presence has no impact on those around us. Or perhaps we believe that we have a negative impact, and it would be better if we weren’t here. Therapy and a commitment to recovery challenges us to rethink this, to reframe that mindset, and to see the ways in which not only the world impacts us, but we impact the world.

In the four years since I have begun my own journey towards recovery, and when in the midst of episodes of my own mental illnesses, I have often struggled with a sincere belief that I am bad–evil, even. As someone who has also struggled with chronic suicidal ideation, I have asked myself if I would somehow remedy the wrongs of this innate evil by ending my own life, if I could atone for whatever “sins” I had committed by passing from this world into the next. After telling my therapist this many times, and after approaching it first by asking me to challenge this belief, he asked me how my death would solve anything. He said that if I truly believe that I am inherently bad, how will my death atone for it? How am I making up for any wrongs I may have committed by killing myself?

For the first time, I was forced to truly confront the impact of my life and presence on those around me, and to ask myself what that impact was. Rather than being absorbed entirely by my own faulty thinking, his questions helped me to reframe this belief, not to just challenge it, but to ask myself how I can do something positive instead of negative with those thoughts.

Ending my life would not change the feeling I had deep inside of myself that I was inherently bad or evil. It would never rid me of the guilt and shame I carried everywhere with me, and it certainly wouldn’t change the negative impact I felt I had on others into something good. Only by asking myself what my values were, and how I could work to enact positive change not just in my own life, but in those around me, could I change those deep-seated feelings of guilt and shame–could I make myself feel better about my life and my role in the lives of others and the world around me.

Assessing our values, asking ourselves how we can be of service to our families, friends, and communities, how we can become a part of something bigger than ourselves–these are an often unmentioned but important part of recovery from mental illness. To change the narrative from what is wrong with us to what is right with us and how we can use that to enact positive change, to create a real and lasting difference in our lives so that we may help others to do so.

Mental illness can be an isolating experience. Both because of stigma and shame, and because our disordered thinking can lead us to have a distorted view of ourselves and the impact of our presence on our communities, our friends, and our families. To change that, we must look beyond ourselves, we must ask ourselves what matters to us, what we want out of life, what and who we wish to serve, what we wish to be a part of beyond ourselves, so that we can understand the importance of our own lives, of our ability to use our strengths for good.

I cannot rid myself of guilt and shame by punishing myself. I cannot change the heavy weight of that burden by ending my life. Such an action would only shift it to others. Rather, if I believe that I have something to atone for, I do this by working to recognize and honor the good in me, to maximize my strengths and use them for the good of my community, to work hard on my own recovery and acknowledge my weaknesses so that I may lessen the harm I cause to not just myself but to those around me, and to use my privilege to benefit those who do not have it. I rid myself of guilt and shame by using what resources I have to the betterment of my community, by finding ways in which to use those resources to support others as effectively as I can, and by working to educate myself on my own biases and prejudices so that I may be more effective in my work as a student, community member, and clinician-in-training.

None of us are islands unto ourselves, though our disordered thinking may try to convince us otherwise. Believe in the power of your life and your presence. And use it for good.

Moving forward in recovery and wellness together,

Zach Reinstatler

If you would like to support this project and Zach in his recovery and education to become a therapist/clinician, you can best do so through a monthly contribution on our Patreon. Even 1 dollar goes a long way in helping this project and Zach.

As always, it must be noted that Zach is not a mental health professional. If you are in need of assistance, please seek out a licensed professional in your area. If you are in crisis, please contact the appropriate emergency services.

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