What if I told you that I have recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, bulimia, self-harm, Social Anxiety Disorder, and alcoholism - and that there was one tiny thing that was the key to recovering from them all?
You might think I had become a magician, “discovered” religion, or was a compulsive liar. But none of those things played a part (although becoming a wizard might have been cool.)
It may surprise you to learn that it was neither therapy nor medication that helped me to start and stay on my path of recovery and self-development. Although therapy played a huge role in helping me recover, it was not the secret weapon I carried around constantly that ensured I made progress every single day.
The Downward Spiral
Before I found the key, my approach to my problems was to dwell in self-pity, self-criticism, sadness, and shame. When I felt bad, I would just hurt myself more. Then, I’d curse myself for doing that and being unable to cope with life. I’d tell myself all sorts of heart-breaking things, like I didn’t deserve to live.
The more negative I was, the further down the spiral I fell, until I would get completely stuck at the bottom, suffocating and unable to rise. The only thing I could do from there was cry continuously and hope that my own tears would eventually drown me.
The next day, I would invariably feel hopeless, helpless and even more ashamed. And only getting so drunk that I would fall asleep for most of the day would break the cycle enough for me to carry on with my messy life until the next inevitable crisis.
The Golden Key To Freedom
But I discovered a key that would change the whole trajectory of my life to one of constant improvement and recovery. It’s both a motto and a mindset, and it’s such a little piece of advice that you wouldn’t think it would have changed anything. But, applied correctly, it has a profound effect.
So what is the key?
JUST DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.
The first time I used the key was when I was headed into a downward spiral. Instead of allowing myself to fall, I called the Samaritans (the UK’s anonymous crisis helpline). I talked and talked until I was distanced enough from the precipice of the spiral that I could pull back and go to bed.
It was a wonderful revelation to wake the next day not feeling even worse than I had before. Although I didn’t feel great, I wasn’t feeling even more ashamed and hopeless like I usually did. I had done the right thing.
My next right thing was to admit plainly to my problems. Although I’d been diagnosed with BPD, I’d denied I had it. I hadn’t read the books on it that my father had bought me. So, I read one of the books and I looked up the treatment for it. I realized I did have this disorder and the treatment for it was exactly what I needed.
So, I did the next right thing and asked for help. Although I was afraid, starting to work on my BPD was very freeing. I could finally see how my disorder worked and what I could do to start changing it.
I applied the key to all my other problems. Instead of wallowing in them, denying them, running away from them, or believing I couldn’t change them, I started to learn about them. And then, doing the next right thing, I started to work on them.
How To Apply The Key
Note the subtle wording of the key. It does not say: “Just do the right thing.” That would be akin to saying: “Just pull yourself together!” or some equally unrealistic and shaming message for people mired in their problems.
All the key asks is that you do the “next” right thing, allowing you leeway for mistakes, letting you take as big or small steps as you need to. So, although I used the key as a constant pointer for moving forward, some progress was slow, while other problems were easier to manage and let go of.
For example, I relapsed when trying to recover from my alcoholism. But my “next right thing” was not beating myself up, but getting back on the horse and trying again.
Note that this key is like an arrow — it only points one way: forwards. If you fall back into old patterns, the key does not criticize you; it just asks that you do the “next” right thing for yourself.
Recovering from any mental health problem is hard, but you can apply the key when things are tough to make them better. When you make mistakes, as we all do, your “next right thing” could be to forgive yourself, learn, and move on.
Depending on your feelings in the moment, you can choose how large or small the “next right thing” is. It can be something as simple as getting some fresh air or hydrating, or as large as sharing something big in a therapy session. All it must be is a positive thing for your mental health and recovery.
The secret to the success of the key is to never put it down, no matter what happens. Because if you keep committing to doing the next right thing, you will move forwards, no matter how many steps back you take. If you just do the next right thing in your life, everything will shift in the right direction.
The Magic of The Key
Deciding to follow the key enabled me to not only recover from my problems, but allowed me to develop in more amazing ways than I could ever have imagined as that girl wishing her own tears would drown her.
After keeping the key close to my heart, I have become a therapist, I’ve written best-selling self-help books, and I was the chair of an addiction charity. I am more than “OK” — I’m a helpful, confident, self-respecting, loving person.
And no matter how challenging, or difficult doing the next right thing is, you will always be rewarded for doing it.
Sometimes you’ll be rewarded with something external. If not, you’ll always be rewarded inside. You’ll feel the inner peace of mind that comes with the integrity of sticking to your values in a tough situation, or the knowledge that you’ve done something to help yourself grow as an individual. You will be rewarded, always.
Today I decided that the next right thing was writing this article and sharing my story. I may be rewarded by some of you wanting to read my other work. I may not be. But I will be rewarded by knowing I’ve shared some hope and shown you that you can recover from anything, no matter how serious, and even go on to thrive in wonderful ways.
I’m rewarded by knowing that some of you will take the golden key and it will change your lives, just as it has for me and for clients I have given it to.
Please take the key. It’s free. It’s freeing. Just Do The Next Right Thing.