No Road to Recovery: Wellness as a Journey

When you’re sick, say, with a cold or the flu, you can’t wait till it’s over. From the moment you realize you’ve caught something, you look forward to the day it’s gone, over, finis. The first day you awaken without symptoms is the dawn after a long and restless night, the peaceful quiet after a thunderstorm. You are officially well and you know it, and the absoluteness of that simple truth comes as quite the relief.

Unfortunately, not all diseases or conditions are so mercifully uncomplicated as a 24-hour bug that comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Terminal diseases never really go away. They sleep, fitfully, like dragons napping, and we call it “remission.” And then there are lifelong incurable conditions which, while not always directly fatal, nevertheless follow us into our graves.

In these cases, that long-awaited day of perfect recovery never comes. The storm never ends, but merely subsides for awhile. There will always be good days and bad days, and rarely will the symptom forecast be reliable. There will always be that shadow of doubt following behind — no matter how faded or faint it may become, it will never quite disappear, not completely.

The thing to remember is this: everyone has good and bad days, because life is constant transformation. Nobody can avoid it. We love to illustrate the concept of change with a chrysalis, but the metaphor, though beautiful, becomes misleading when applied to the human experience of life.

Photo (c) Kim Berkley 2015We are not prone to one magical, mid-life metamorphosis, after which we are who we are for life. We change constantly, our lives rearranging around us with or without our say-so, the ground shifting under our feet when we least expect it. Life is dynamic and spectacularly unpredictable, for better and for worse.

Disease does not mark any of us as different. In the end, we are all dying of one thing or another. As Neil Gaiman once wrote,

Life is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.

Therefore, it is a mistake to see recovery as a destination, a fixed point in time to waste breath and minutes counting down to. Seeking total wellness as an ultimate goal, like a knight questing for the holy grail, is a fool’s errand. There is no road to recovery. Recovery is the road. It is a journey, an ongoing choice you make every single day to get better, grow stronger, and survive — or to find peace through mindfulness, understanding, and acceptance. Or perhaps a little of both.

This seems an obvious lesson in hindsight, and yet it has taken me the better part of a year to learn it. Realizing it was one thing; accepting it will be another. But I choose to try.

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