While illness can be easily defined as the presence of symptoms that yield a specific diagnosis, the term recovery is more ambiguous. Is recovery merely the absence of the symptoms that led to the diagnosis? A parallel would equate health with the absence of illness, but our personal experience and expert scholarship is clear that health is much more than the absence of illness. The primary concern I explore in my work is trauma, especially recovery from trauma through the process of reconstructing personal meaning. Thus understanding component parts of recovery is important.

Component parts are greater than characteristics. For example, here are some characteristics of recovery:

  • Recovery is an individual and unique process.
  • Recovery can happen without a cure.
  • Recovery is a struggle.
  • Recovery does not happen in a smooth fashion, but rather an irregular fashion, with steps forward and steps backward.
  • Recovery takes trial and error to accomplish.

These characteristics help us see recovery more clearly but do not allow us to define goals or objectives within recovery.

A synthesis for recovery tasks was outlined by Mary Leamy, Victoria Bird, Clair Le Boutillier, Julie Williams and Mike Slade in 2011[1], and that synthesis is the foundation for my own conception of the tasks of recovery and how they dovetail with meaning reconstruction. Here are those component parts:

  1. Recovery requires connectedness. Isolation rarely allows recovery because isolation removes us from the necessary emotional and instrumental support we receive from other people. Being part of a community of recovering individuals has been valued for many forms of recovery. In terms of meaning reconstruction, recreating meaning is a narrative process akin to storytelling, and we tell stories to another person. Connectedness to another is necessary for our meaning-making to unfold.
  2. Recovery requires hope and optimism about the future. Recovery involves a belief in the likelihood of change, having the dream of a new possible self, and being hopeful in the presence of that which speaks against change. Making new meaning is also grounded in bringing a perspective to the past that is fresh and different. Allowing that meaning to exist within a tentative narrative is the concrete statement of hope and faith.
  3. Recovery means building a new identity. That new identity will be clear of shame, and stigma, and betrayal. Instead, the new identity will be built and defined by the person within relationship to another, where tentative explorations into who I might be can be attempted and considered. That process resembles an artist looking at the painting, then looking at the subject to be painted. Am I capturing the image? The vision? Am I doing it justice?
  4. Recovery will be firmly rooted in meaning. Meaning will permeate all aspects of life, from social roles, to spirituality, to the past, and to the future. New structures, new scaffolds, will be set up and spoken into being. Meaning will be so solid that a return to the old view will not be possible. New meanings will alter past events irrevocably.
  5. Recovery requires personal empowerment. Empowerment is stamina of personal resolve, and it includes responsibility for recovery, a control over one's response to circumstances and situations, and a clear vision of one's own strengths. New meanings will give texture and color to the new path ahead, and push back the darkness behind.

[1] Leamy, M., Bird, V., Le Boutillier, C., Williams, J., and Slade, M. (2011). Conceptual framework for personal recovery in mental health: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 199, 445-452. Doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp. 110.083733