"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 09, 2015
Hope in Recovery
by Sarah Hancock

Author’s note: The following is the keynote speech I gave at the graduation ceremony for people completing their recovery-oriented mental health services at Project Enable, a division of Neighborhood House Association on October 2, 2015.

Boy! After hearing someone read a bio like that to describe me, you might think, “Well, I have nothing in common with her — standing up there with her Master’s degree, in her professional clothing. She has a car, a ring on her finger, a full-time job.…”

But the bio said nothing about the journey I’ve taken to get to this point in my life. The bio said nothing about my diagnosis, Schizoaffective Disorder — Bipolar type; two broken engagements; nothing about my repeatedly letting my family down for more than a decade; nothing about the command auditory hallucinations I endured for 12 years or the roughly 49 psychiatric hospitalizations, two institutionalizations, more than 100 Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments.

The bio said nothing about my crushed dreams, abusive living situations in which I’ve endured in crisis homes and group homes. It said nothing about the suicide attempt or the weight my heart carried — much like the one yours has carried.

It said nothing about the three times I started graduate school and failed, or about the hopelessness and despair which encircled, threatening to drag me down further into the depths of hell, through which I already walked. The bio said nothing about the loss of self-identity or about how skilled I’d become in hating myself and everything about my life.

I stand here before you polished. You cannot see the 12 years it took to learn how to live with my illness. You can only see me standing before you now. If I hadn’t said anything, you would be none the wiser. You might think, “Well, you’re different than me. I’m worse.” I’d like to suggest that we’re not that much different. I’m just further along the recovery journey than you are. You are at the gateway.

In 2009, I was at the gateway of my recovery journey. I was the one graduating from a mental health course. I was in your shoes. I had just met my first Peer Support Specialist who had taught me the five principles of recovery: hope; choice and accountability; empowerment; creating a recovery environment; and finding meaning and purpose in life — often through spirituality. During that course, NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class, I caught the vision on hope.

Hope is the foundation on which you build. Hope springs from recognizing that things can change. Hope is recognizing that on your recovery journey, your rearview mirror is smaller than your windshield for a reason.

Even the people who invented the car understood a very basic principle: In order to get anywhere in life, you must face forward. It’s okay and even important to occasionally look back and see where you have been — but to move forward, you must face forward and look up, watching the journey unfold ahead.

Choice and accountability is the second pillar of recovery. Take the wheel of your life. You’ve learned many wellness tools while in this program. Take a look at your Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) on a daily basis.

Choose to act on your WRAP. Some days will be more difficult than others — because you are human and life can be hard, very hard. Choose to take the wheel of your recovery journey. Steer where you want your life to go, acknowledge that with every choice you make, there will be consequences.

Sometimes we shudder when we hear the word consequences because for some reason we don’t focus on the positive consequences of our actions, like the feeling of self-respect that comes from taking a shower in the morning or the feeling of pride that comes when an employer chooses to call you for an interview.

Focus on what goes well, but more importantly, focus on why it went well. If you understand the why, you can make it go well again next time. In your recovery journey, you must take the wheel; no one can do it for you.

The third pillar of recovery is empowerment. You have control of the gas and the brake in your recovery journey. You can choose how fast you want to go and you also have the power to decide when it’s appropriate to slow down to be cautious or to enjoy the view.

Remembering to use your wellness tools on your recovery journey is just as important on life’s road as filling the tank, checking the oil, rotating the tires and regular maintenance.

Recovery is not a straight journey. I look at it more like an upward spiral. There are speed bumps, potholes and even detours. For that reason, it is always best to dream. Dream big.

Dreaming about your goals and the things you want to do in your life will help you through the rough and ugly times — because we know those times will come. But just like any journey, there will come a day when you will arrive and park at what you once thought was your destination.

In that moment, you will look back on how far you’ve come and realize that what you are a new and better person because of where you have been, what you have seen and the people you’ve met on your journey. Use your life’s lessons to lift others and create a recovery environment for others, the fourth pillar of recovery.

Recovery environments don’t spontaneously happen; they must be consciously created. Listen to the language you use to describe yourself. Look at the people you surround yourself with. Look at what you choose to do with your life to make recovery happen. Look at your dreams and goals.

Then break them down into smaller, bite-sized tasks so that maybe, just maybe you can achieve them, rather than beating yourself up with them.

Always remember: there is no deadline on potential. If you had told me seven years ago that I would be standing before you today — as the guest keynote speaker for your graduation — I would have either gotten mad at you for making fun of me and a life I could only dream about or laughed at the absurdity. But I kept dreaming, and look at where it got me.

The fifth pillar of recovery is finding meaning and purpose in your life. Many people find that through spirituality. Use your WRAP to create a map for your recovery journey. Develop whatever brings your hope. Strengthen whatever inspires you and then light the path for others like us to follow.

It took me 12 years to find the gateway to my recovery journey. Recovery doesn’t mean the end to an illness. Mental Illness is chronic. Recovery means rediscovering who you are and achieving what you would like to become. You are at the gateway of recovering your life. Here I stand six years into my recovery journey. Where will you be in six years?


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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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