“Taking care of your mental health gives you the ability to cope and live with stress. Positive mental health helps you live to your full potential.” – Dr. Rach Rohaidy
Recovery Beyond Peer Lead, Olga, sat down with us to discuss the importance of mental health and share parts of her journey. Born and raised in Ukraine, Olga moved to the United States in 2016 to join the University of Maryland’s tennis team. This monumental change took a toll on her well-being and affected her confidence in herself. Olga remembers, “It felt like being released into the wild without making my own decisions before that [attending college in the USA].” This move across the globe made her feel unprepared and unsure of her emotions. “There was a lot going on”, Olga explains, “I wasn’t processing it, I felt more and more overwhelmed, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Olga began isolating herself from the tennis team. Her teammates noticed a change in behavior and suggested she address the issue. She says, “I had to deal with it, it’s the toughest thing to figure out. What’s the best approach? How do you deal with your own anxiety? How do you not be so tough on yourself? It’s interesting because you realize a lot of it is from you beating yourself up. But how do you not do it? How do you stay kind to yourself?” Knowing she had to work on her mental health, Olga began seeing a psychiatrist, got a formal diagnosis, and began taking medication. That wasn’t the end of her struggles, “I was holding onto my diagnosis too much, I wasn’t working through it in a healthy manner. It was almost a crutch. […] I realized later, I also struggled with substance use disorder and went through tough relationships in college and with my teammates.”
Olga knew she was still relying on substances to cope with feelings. She explains, “I decided to blame everything on substances. I thought, ‘Once I quit, things are gonna get better.’ And it’s true, after I got sober things got better. But over the first year I realized there’s much more to it. My substance use was just my way of avoiding dealing with those things.” When asked about the importance of mental health, Olga responded, “To me, taking care of my mental health is everything. Everything I have can just fall apart easily if I don’t take care of my mental health. People say that a lot about sobriety. But for me, first, you also have to take care of your mental health. Otherwise, you have so many things around you. It’s so easy to slip if you’re not in a good mental state. It’s the most important thing.”
Olga has a toolbox of mental health strategies that she refers to when faced with challenges. This mental health toolbox includes meditation, exercise, and connection. Olga emphasizes the value of consistency, which means that you can start small and make changes over time to create habits. She stresses the importance of seeking out help and support when needed, as well as exercising and participating in relationship-building activities. She elaborates, “It’s essential to build connections and to feel like you are a part of the community, and that there are people that understand and will be there for you even when things get tough.” For example, Olga has included events such as Recovery Beyond sporting events as part of her weekly routine. These activities have encouraged her to try new sports (such as climbing) and lean on relationships with others in the Recovery Beyond community. She describes Recovery Beyond as an essential part of taking care of her mental health and recovery. Mental health is just as important as physical health and wellness. Olga explains, “You have a disease [depression], you have to try to take care of it and keep it under control. It’s possible, there are ways to do it, same as diabetes – there’s medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. It’s the same for depression, little by little you have to figure out how to keep it under control.”
Dr. Rach Rohaidy, a psychiatrist with Baptist Health, mirrored this in a recent webinar with Advanced Recovery Systems. Dr. Rohaidy advocated for meditation, exercising, volunteering, and relationship building to improve mental health. She recommends small amounts at first and building up to these habits. If you know someone struggling with their mental health, Dr. Rohaidy emphasizes that open lines of communication are crucial; sit with someone, be an ear for someone. If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, here’s a list of community mental health resources.
“Hi, my name’s Kyle and I’m an alcoholic…”
I’ve said those words countless times in meetings, to counselors, and mental health professionals. During certain phases of the substance abuse recovery journey, I think it is incredibly valuable to deeply and fundamentally accept your personal failures. Failure to do so is wildly dangerous and a quick road to relapse. Accepting the depth and severity of my own actions and flaws allowed me to change my thinking and my relationship with alcohol. I’m thankful to have been able to walk that path.
It took a while before I began to feel stifled by the labels: addict, alcoholic, failure. It took some more time to identify my unhappiness with substance abuse recovery programs; the unhappiness I finally identified was the fundamental hopelessness at their core. They seem to be built on the idea that addicts are broken and can never be whole again. Built on the idea that management of symptoms is our best outcome and only option. As I spent more time in recovery and realized the strength of the connection between substance abuse and mental health, I began to wonder if there wasn’t a better way for addicts to think about themselves. Shame, guilt, and fear are powerful motivators, valuable tools for some addicts to help avoid relapse…but I felt that there had to be something more.
During my time in in-patient recovery with the VA I began to glimpse that something. I, and a few others, started meeting up every day to play volleyball and began to invite others to join us. Watching veterans and addicts playing their hearts out and laughing with new friends without a thought for their failures finally brought it all into focus.
“Hi, I’m Kyle, and I like volleyball and relaxed afternoons with friends. I like putting down the weight of my failures and enjoying activities not because they keep me sober, but because there is a huge part of me and every other addict that has NOTHING to do with our substance abuse.”
Within the substance abuse recovery community, EVERYTHING has to do with addiction. Every meeting, every call, every question asked. Addiction is all-consuming, but part of the recovery journey is to discover and re-discover the parts of ourselves to which drugs and alcohol are completely irrelevant.
After completing my time in in-patient recovery, I returned to the Seattle area and began to try and find a group that could match my ideals and hopes for the future. Thankfully, I found Recovery Beyond.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and start friendships. I’ve climbed mountains I hadn’t and learned to play tennis. I’ve begun to enjoy parts of my life I thought I might never be able to and parts I’d left behind.
I’ve walked the road of recovery for a long time now, and now I’m where I’d like to be, beyond.
Name: Sarah Farrens
From: Spanaway, WA
A Little Bit About Sarah
For Sarah, a native of Spanaway, motherhood was the best motivation to turn her life around. “I have these two beautiful children (Ally is 5 and Bubba is 3) that I wasn’t being the best mom too, so I was willing to try anything,” she said of joining the Climbing Out climb team. 30-day-programs had failed her before, and she had to hit rock bottom before finding her way here. “[The Climb Team] is a commitment I’m sticking to!” she says, “It is a healthy replacement that gets me motivated to be strong and healthy.” Her goals outside of the climb itself include pursuing a career as a substance abuse counselor while becoming the best mom to her kids.
Two days ago, on August 8th, 2018, Sarah did the unthinkable. She stood atop Mt. Rainier. 14,410ft, the tallest peak in Washington, and a great metaphor for what she has come to accomplish this last year. We couldn’t be more proud of her. A year ago to the day, she was on another relapse. Today she tells us she feels like a whole new person, a better mom, a better friend, and a now one heck of a mountain climber! She did it!
On August 7th, hours before her summit climb, we interviewed Sarah about her experience being on this team. Here is what she had to say.
RBP: What is the main thing you’ve been given from this climb team?
Sarah: “A family and a network of support. These people are my family now. I’ve never had relationships like this. I can trust and be trusted now. Also, I have healthy muscles and am so much happier than before, so that’s nice too!”
RBP: Do you think you would have the same success without this program?
Sarah: “I don’t think so. The outdoors brings some sort of peace to me. The ability to breathe. The ability to get outside yourself. I love how small it makes you feel; it puts things in perspective. And mountain climbing can be kind of messy too, but it’s a good mess. A mess where I can meet myself in a “whole” way. The reason I started drinking is that I was so insecure. I felt like a mess. You get a lot of things in addiction you wouldn’t normally get in sober life. Now I have more time and the confidence to do things. I’ve been like “Woah, I can do this without all of that” (addiction). It gives me something different to seek.”
RBP: Why do you climb?
Sarah: “A year ago, I could barely get out of bed in the morning ya know. Now I get to do something like this (points to Mt. Rainier from Camp Muir). I am excited to share this with my kids and for them to know that mommy did this for them. I want to show them how to do life right. I want them to see they can do things!”
RBP: Do your kids realize what you’re doing right now?
Sarah: “When I tell them I’m climbing that mountain (points to Mt. Rainier), they say “you’re doing what Mom? How do you do that? How do you get up there?” They know that mommy is climbing mountains, but I don’t think they fully get it (she laughs)”
RBP: What is this giving them? Why are you doing this?
Sarah: “I want to show them, and myself that I can stick with things. That I can work hard and accomplish great things. I want them to know that I would climb to the top of a mountain for them each and every day.”
RBP: What do you think has been the biggest change they’ve seen in you as their mom?
Sarah: “That their mommy is there for them now and that there is mental stability in the home. I can be there now, I am present, and I can take care fo them as their mom. We can move forward as a family, whereas last year I couldn’t do that. This means the world to me.”
Please consider supporting Sarah and the other climber’s like her by joining our Community Of Compassion.
Stories of Recovery
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