Finding and staying on the road to recovery is not easy. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help—from peers, doctors, and God.
By Karl Shallowhorn
Thirty-five years later, I still remember staring out the window at the lit-up signs above the opening to the parking ramp across from the mental health unit where I had my first inpatient stay: IN. OUT. I was delusional at the time, and I was convinced that that was where I would be dragged into hell.
It’s been a rough road since then, with hospitalization after hospitalization along with substance abuse characterizing a long, dark period of what I call my “wilderness” years. There are two key elements that I believe helped me to get through those difficult times. First, I never blamed God. I’ve heard of many who have, who feel that their unhappy circumstance was being visited upon them by a harshly judgmental deity. Second, I’ve always tried my best to believe that recovery is possible. Mind you, there have been many days when I had my doubts, but I still kept trying to move forward.
The practice of prayer has helped me to remain motivated. Of course, it wasn’t like I would just pray and magical things would happen; I put in a considerable amount of hard work and patience. I also practice meditation regularly to help me deal with the day-to-day stressors of life. I find that by taking a brief amount of time to begin my day in silence, and being still, I feel better mentally and emotionally. It can take time to be able to become accustomed to this discipline, but it has produced great results for me, especially in times when I experience anxiety.
Over the years I have been able to turn my life around, and I attribute this to my efforts to practice spiritual principles in the areas of self-care, God, society, and service:
I have been able to turn my life around, and I attribute this to my efforts to practice spiritual principles in the areas of self-care, God, society, and service.
I try to embrace the concept of wellness. By discontinuing alcohol and illicit substances, as well as utilizing medication, exercise, a healthy support system, and continued education about my mental health, I am strengthening myself in body and in mind. I also work to manage stressors that can act as triggers for my bipolar disorder.
I pray, meditate, and attend church regularly. This is my practice; I do not proselytize or pressure other people, and I believe there are many different spiritual paths that have the same central message of love and forgiveness. I know from my own experience that there are many people living with bipolar as well as other mental health challenges who practice spirituality to gain strength and courage along this journey called life. Spiritual practices are but one piece in the recovery equation; the key is to find what works for you.
The intersection between mental health and spirituality intrigues me. Western culture has its own take on mental health, and a lot of stigma exists. On the other hand, there are other cultures that have very different perspectives on mental health. Learning about other societies’ approaches has served to enlighten and broaden my views.
Several years ago I joined the counseling profession and began to “give back” as a credentialed alcoholism counselor. I also started working in my community to educate others on the facts about mental health and to try to help address stigma. My experiences have taught me that the therapeutic value of one person with a lived experience helping another is invaluable—to everyone involved.
My first official counseling position was in the same mental health center where I had undergone my very first hospitalization. When I entered the office I had been assigned, I realized it was right below the room on the locked ward where I had stayed so long ago. I walked up to the window and looked outside. The same parking ramp was there, and I said to myself, “I must be coming out of hell.”
My prayers had been answered.
Printed as “Spirituality: Going in to get out,” Summer 2016
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