Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Lived Experience of People Recovering from Substance Addiction and Mental Health Issues

The Lived Experience of People Recovering from Substance Addiction and Mental Health Issues

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Recovery from a substance or mental health issue is much more complex than it may first seem. When people use the term lived experience, they often mean recovery history.

A person’s account of healing includes their personal ‘stance’ on healing, mental health symptoms, time and energy invested, and lessons learned along the way.

I cannot help but cite the greatest, Mohammad Ali. After political exile from boxing, Ali was slower on his feet than he once was when he first started his career. Ali had to learn to lean on his strengths and re-tune his strategy in the ring to reclaim the title.

He learned to depend on the ropes. In doing so, Ali coined the famous iconic ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy. Instead of dancing like a butterfly, Ali relied on the ropes when his ‘bee’-like feet began to slow.

All people have strengths and weaknesses. These change throughout a lifetime and recovery. The real challenging work in recovery is learning enough self-awareness to amplify your most significant power.

At the same time, protect yourself from weak points. I recommend looking to your lived experience to gain insight and self-awareness.

A big part of the peer process is sharing with other peers. Peers share their ward stories, life challenges, and insights learned along the way to healing. The sharing process helps to establish trust in the recovery process.

As information and accounts between peers diffuse, people involved in learning appropriate self-disclosure develop further insight into their condition. The more insight gained, the more likely the peer will move forward in their recovery without incident.

Learning appropriate self-disclosure has its benefits too. When communicated accurately, information and self-disclosed pieces of lived experience provide vital knowledge of the self to the listener struggling with a similar problem.

For peers in recovery, life lessons can help others struggling with similar issues avoid misfortune and tragedy in their life. How? In a world of increasing disasters and unfortunate circumstances, people need to learn from their experiences and their peers’ experiences.

Sadly, today more than ever, information about people is weaponised. People are afraid of others passing judgment. Most of us have already discovered only some people are willing to hold space for you or your issue.

Holding space means being non-judgemental. Doing so makes it possible for peers to share their lived experiences and be authentic. Authenticity and knowing your truth will impact healing.

Anytime the truth or lesson learned is distorted, your fellow peers will do a disservice. After all, how can someone hope to reduce the same risks and avoid making the same mistakes without all the facts?

In today’s world, authenticity has become a scarcity. I learned early on that people appreciate honesty and transparency. There is no question I have purposefully strived to be as transparent and authentic as possible in my work. Authenticity and personal truth have particular values in the peer world.

In recovery, the level of openness, transparency, and ‘truth’ measures a person’s lived Experience. Please make no mistake about it. Lived experience is a commodity with value and worth.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in my recovery was how to best package, sell, and brand my Lived Experience. In this sense, I also learned how to elevate myself from my lived experience, as my stories are bought and sold by other peers.

Peers often write books and blogs and speak and attend conferences. These are opportunities to read about other people in recovery. Peers are interested in learning about Lived Experience and will go to lengths to invest time, energy, and money in the process. 

My books, all the J. PETERS memoirs, and even my blog entries are purchasable, downloadable, and ready to be disseminated worldwide. Monetisation makes sharing your lived experience with other peers more of an incentive.

Money and accumulating wealth and fame are something many peers want for themselves. As people buy your recovery brand, the transaction legitimates your value as a member of the recovery community.

I encourage all people with lived experience to truly see the value and worth of their stories. 

Max E. Guttman, LCSW  is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.


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