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ReWrite Chapter 5

Here’s author, Ben Sledge, discussing recovery tactics in Chapter 5 of ReWrite along with Victoria sharing insights from her recovery journey:

Questions to Answer:

Did you identify with the “Ready to Change” or “Not Ready to Change” lists in the chapter?
What environmental changes do you feel you would assist your recovery?
What other tactics were you drawn to implement in your recovery?

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@nyntje and I keep reading the book and here’s what we took away from this chapter:

  • “Willpower doesn’t work”

The description about thinking that willpower is the solution is relatable to both of us. Promising that someone will stop self-harm just because they decided it is an illusion. It is not enough to be able to change, because urges will keep happening and it’s still hard to resist against them. It doesn’t mean someone doesn’t want to recover, but sometimes they didn’t find a healthier coping mechanism yet.

Trying to recover only with willpower is a way to sabotage ourselves. We discussed the fact that we can be trapped in a circle when we keep thinking: “Tomorrow, I’ll do better”. We can be full of motivation and resolution to succeed, but without changing anything in our environment, we just keep going back to self-harm and addictive habits. When we’re in that mindset focused on willpower as being the ultimate solution, we believe in radical and magical changes, which is a belief that can be very strong and hard to let go.

During the conversation, we discussed the fact that self-harm and eating disorders are similar at least because we need to live with the tools and objects that turned to be a threat to us: anything that could be used to self-harm / food. It’s a different way to recover than avoiding a substance in particular, like with drugs or alcohol for example. Approcahing may not be the same.

  • “You have to want to change”

We both felt like this part of the book can be stressful to read, especially the 2 lists that can be perceived as kind of checklists. It can be disturbing to feel like we don’t match with what is written. We thought - as it’s also indicated in the book - that this could be explored later on, more individually, with the workbook.

We agreed that deciding to recover is important, but it raises the question of how this decision manifests to someone. Oftentimes we imagine that as something similar to a kind of revelation, but we both think that this kind of decision is a process - something that is built progressively.

We also agreed on the fact that some elements in the checklists may not be necessary at first to actually be on a road towards recovery. For example: we can feel like recovery is difficult and impossible to reach, so we don’t feel ready to do the efforts it requires. But the more little steps we take, the more we’ll progress and realize that we’re doing great. The less recovery will appear to be like a giant mountain impossible to overcome. And that’s something we can only realize through experience, by trying actively to change our habits. As we progress, we start to see differences between our first perception of recovery and what it really implies practically.

  • “Environment vs. willpower”

Changing our environment can be done for the better, but it’s also very frightening. As it is written in the chapter, this fear can be the proof that changes would be absolutely worth it. Reading about the importance of our environment lets us think about what we need to change in the way we’re living but also in our relationships. This part of the book comforted us in what we thought before about the necessity of improving our environment.

We identified some changes that are needed - even if this will be explored in the workbook, we already discussed a little the question of the environment. We discussed relationship changes, especially at two levels: the need to reach out and be surrounded by people who are physically close and available in case of emergency. But also the need to take some distance with toxic people - in our case, some family members. We eventually discussed something we are both facing with our parents: the pressure of being honest with them by explaining why we are not emotionally able to visit them at their home, which is likely to be like dropping a bomb in our families, but also something needed for our own mental health. There is a tension between what is needed but the perspective of these changes (and the outcomes) are scary.

  • “Vulnerability”

It feels like this topic has been covered a lot already, and we’re more familiar with it as being part of HS community.

“You cannot demand vulnerability of the community and your fans without doing it yourself": we agree that being vulnerable publicly is one of the most beautiful yet difficult things to do. But it is true that we have to apply the advice we give to ourselves first. It is at the same time very terrifying but also very rewarding to accept to be vulnerable and share about our struggles with others. By doing this, we allow the people who listen to us to actually support us. It is worth the risk.

In a different chapter, we also discussed already about practicing vulnerability through creativity, and especially the fact that what we create always shows something about ourselves.

We also agreed that sharing our own story can be helpful to others, but it’s never an obligation and we can always choose what we share or not, and with who.

Practicing vulnerability also depends on which person we are talking with. We discussed several examples of people’s reactions that led us to have one-sided conversations. Which didn’t help in understanding why we tried to be vulnerable in the first place. In our opinion, and based on our own experiences, people’s reactions can also be annoying when they absolutely want to relate to what we decide to share. This can lead to some deep misunderstandings, stigmas and discourage us from sharing in the future.

  • “The power of your story”

We discussed the narration of some novels (example: Harry Potter) and art in general, when a story is shared from the perspective of a character. It allows us, as a reader/viewer/listener, to actually appreciate a story through someone’s perspective. But it’s also interesting to think that the same story could have been written in many different ways depending on which character is creating the narrative (which is also depending on the author’s point of view). In this perspective, it’s interesting to see that the same artwork could be interpreted in many different ways depending on who’s looking at it and their own story. The same can be applied to events and situations of all kinds. It shows the importance of our own perspective on our personal experiences and which narration we create.

About mentorship: we both agreed that this kind of relationship can be very interesting, because it doesn’t happen in an official/professional context but is still focused on growth and support. We discussed what we’re both doing with this ReWrite lecture and how it helps both of us, at different levels and in different ways. Whether it’s about mutual accountability, practicing vulnerability, providing to each other some insights we wouldn’t necessarily have without our discussions.

In this part of the book, it is mentioned that self-harm after recovery can be perceived as a chapter of our life. We discussed the limits of this statement. Especially about the fact that unhealthy coping mechanisms, including addictions, can become a kind of vulnerability that stays with us throughout our life. We can’t prevent obstacles from happening. But our capacity to resist against the temptation of relapsing can always grow stronger. Being tempted by self-harm may always be here, even just as an automatic thought. But it doesn’t mean that we are doomed to listen to it for a lifetime.

  • “Community”

We discussed a little about the experiment explained in this chapter that was made to determine the relation between socializing and addictive behaviors. We wondered if the outcomes would have been the same with different circumstances. For example: seeing the reactions of the rats in a different environment a few days later; putting the bottle containing the drugs first, then adding the second one; or what if rats that were already addicted to drugs were added to the experiment?

These questions raised the subject of feeling alone while being part of a community or surrounded by people. A difference between rats and us - at least hypothetically - is that as human beings we have a capacity to feel alone and isolated while we’re not physically alone. And this can actually trigger our anxiety and desire to cope in an unhealthy way (“I have everything to be happy, but…”). For example, we can feel totally disconnected from a meeting with friends and they wouldn’t notice it. We agreed on the fact that there is a difference between isolation and lack of community. In other words, between solitude and loneliness, the first one being a physical state of being alone, the second one being how we feel about our environment - whether we are actually alone or not.

We shared about similar experiences of loneliness that we experienced with our loved ones, especially our family. It was about being pressured in regards to our studies and receiving high expectations from our parents, while they didn’t really acknowledge how we really felt about that, and without allowing a little space for failure.

  • “Service”

We didn’t really discuss that point - except through understanding how being a volunteer could be helpful, but also the importance of being in a solid structure where the staff will play a role of mentors and provide a safety net for the volunteers.

  • “Distraction can become passion”

Distraction can be useful, but also dangerous when we are perfectionist. During the process of creating or learning something, our expectations towards ourselves can be high - even unrealistic -, so if we fail at reaching them, it can trigger our anxiety and our desire to harm ourselves. If we struggle with self-confidence, it can also become a reason to blame ourselves and relapse.

“The key to recovery is all about pause”: we both experienced this literally, with self-harm and eating disorders, as a way to delay our urges to cope.

  • “Recovery communities: 12-step”

We both don’t really know about these communities - only common representations on TV/series.

We both don’t really consider the idea of trying to be in a 12-step community one day because we don’t feel like this could be helpful to us. One of us had an experience in a therapeutic group that wasn’t helpful but increased the idea that “others are going through things that are worse, so why am I here?” - Groups can be helpful for some, but also counterproductive for others, or in specific circumstances. It depends on what we need at the moment to help us heal and recover.

  • “Counseling/Professional help”

One of us is currently receiving professional help. We discussed a little about the fears related to the idea of trying therapy, all the inner walls that we can have, also the difficulty to actually be honest and vulnerable in therapy. Yet we both agree on the importance of seeking professional help when it’s needed.

The fact that this chapter reminds us that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of strength is also very important. Sometimes, we can resist the idea of counseling because we see it as a way to admit a failure while it’s actually a mark of strength to reach out.