By Jennifer Hill, Program Coordinator
As I move forward in my career, I reflect on this message shared by Helen Keller. Growing up with a “severe learning disability” in a traumatic home, I heard “You can’t…” constantly. This message shaped my identity. As a child, I looked up to Helen Keller. If she learned to read and write, maybe I could too. So I read books about her backwards and slowly because that’s how the words made sense to my brain. Because of the shame heaped on me at that time, I tried to hide my different ways of processing and conveying information. I was successful at pretending to be like everyone else and covered up my limitations or so I thought. I learned to not ask for help lest my secret be discovered.
In recovery I’m always learning, mostly from my peers. They have inspired me to try to embrace my differences and face these limitations head on. So I went ahead and had another cognitive evaluation which was really frightening. This time it was a very different experience. Surrounded by supporters, I saw within the report opportunities and strengths as well as the dreaded limitations. With hope, we all worked on a plan to make the most of my abilities and that led me forward to an old goal. It was a major shift in my perspective. Recovery has offered me an identity based on seeing strengths and a family of choice. I’ve started to realize that having a different brain isn’t a bad thing and that exhausting myself trying to “be good enough” hasn’t been helpful.
I share this story with the hope that you might too see obstacles or limitations as opportunities to take a different path. Recovery has many pathways. Fourteen years ago, a traffic stop led me to fight discrimination against people with mental health conditions and addictions. It has been a wonderful road fueled by amazing people. I thank you all for your wisdom and passion.