What Happens After Recovery

Photo by Yuan Thirdy on Unsplash

I started my adolescence with all this fire and verve. All these goals and plans and dreams, and oh my god, I laughed at adults who told me “I hope you make it.”

Hope? I would.

I memorized New York City street maps, because someday, I’d leave Minnesota. I told adults who asked me if I wanted to be a mother that I would only bear children “after I was done living.” I was too greedy for the world to tether myself. I installed a computer with one working program (a word processor) and typed 250 pages about a girl who wanted to lead. I carried notebooks with me, and asked for books on writing for my thirteenth birthday. I registered for classes that I was technically too young for, and didn’t give away my age (until my classmates asked me join them for a drink, and I had to say catch you in five years). I was going to be a writer. It was the only thing I was going to be.

I’ve written so much about the something that happened my freshman year of college. Depression and anxiety caught up with me, and carved me from the inside out. I got the help you get when you’ve got warriors in your corner (meds, talk therapy, coping mechanisms, etc.), but I didn’t get unstuck. Like silt in a river, I drifted, and settled beneath the current. I stayed like this for years.

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Movies and memoirs tell us there’s one big moment for us to change ourselves, but I have a theory that we’ll all do this many times during our lives. Rise from a waking sleep, and realize this life is no longer our own.

I spoke with a woman who is reaching the end of her career and still preparing for her next act. She told me that she’s never regretted her choice to pursue what she was passionate about, not even when the money didn’t follow, not even when the dream jobs became untenable. When I told her I was still trying to figure out how to pursue mine, she said, “You need enough drive to understand your passion and understand how to follow it. And don’t ever delay your goals for a man.

Elsewhere, I read an essay by a brilliant writer I admire, “I used to be a woman who did things. I was a doer, a maker, a builder.” I read that, and remembered the younger version of myself who assumed, at twenty five, that that’s who I’d be by now.

This isn’t about regret (although, to sing Sinatra, I’ve had a few) or some misplaced “I thought I’d have done x, y, and z by twenty-five” (we’re not expected to deliver in our first act), but rather about what happens when you start to feel the weight of time building.

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When I was a teenager, my favorite song was Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.” A beautiful, and terrifying song. I rolled one lyric over and over, trying to make sense of it. “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse.” He’s said that this album was his first attempt to hold both life and death in the palm of one hand. When you listen to it at fourteen, you can’t understand all that pain. I held that line so close, because even though I knew (they way you only can when you’re fourteen, sixteen, eighteen) I’d never lose sight of my dreams, the idea that I might haunted me.

About eighteen months ago, somebody asked me what my dream was, and I laughed at them. We’re still asking those questions like they matter? We haven’t all given up and given in to the grind? Twelve months ago, someone else asked me the same question, someone in a bar who I’ll never see again, and I felt the way you do when you drink champagne on an empty stomach — all fizz and light and warmth in your fingers and your cheeks. It’s been seven years since I was prescribed my first antidepressant.

Now, I talk about dreams like maybe they’re worth holding on to. I have a partner who started talking to me about them like they matter, and what’s crazier than that is I’m starting to believe him. Maybe having hope has value. Maybe living the life I want is possible. Like maybe they have value.

I’ve been coming out of the fog for well over a year now. Survival is only one part of recovery. Reclaiming hope, reclaiming possibility, reclaiming not just the ability to, but the courage to dream, reclaiming my right to want something out of my life is the second. It only comes after you learn how to survive.

Recovering your hope is like driving through the night. The earth starts to roll towards the sun again, and then there, where there was only black, there’s the horizon.

Clean and endless and before you again.


I wrote this for you. If it resonated, let me know! Leave a comment, give me applause. If you like my style, join me where I’m most comfortable, my home. Here, I tell stories about mental health, books, travel, writing, and the experience of becoming.

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