Finding our lost pieces


Recovery is the practice of finding and claiming the lost pieces of ourselves.[1]

I love this definition because, even though recovery is often seen as belonging to mental health or addiction issues, this statement applies to everyone.  Seriously, do you know anyone who hasn’t lost parts of themselves as they have moved through life?   Love, fear, expectations, trying to please others, reactions to traumatic events, addictions, and a myriad of other reasons lead us to give up hopes, dreams, and images of self.   Some of us have more issues than others and more pieces to recover, but we are all on a continuum of doing this work. When we understand that mental health is something that happens on a continuum, it allows us to see our commonality with our friends and family who may have more serious mental health or addiction issues.   We are all humans experiencing different states of wellness.

This definition also highlights the intentional nature of recovery. It is not an accident or a spontaneous remission or a quirk.  It is a practice – a practice of putting activities into place that increase the probability of finding our lost pieces and our wellness. Most of us have a clear idea of what it means to practice piano or practice tennis. What does it mean to practice wellness and recovery? We begin to identify the things that contribute to our wellness and we do them on a regular basis.  It also might mean identifying the things that sabotage our wellness and working to eliminate those from our lives.  Small acts can tip the balance: reaching out to other people for support; having hope that things can change; eating real food; getting enough rest; spending time with others in recovery; avoiding stressful situations, and incorporating meditation or other mindfulness practices into the day.

I also like this definition because it applies to healing our culture, not just individuals. Recovery, after all, does not happen in a vacuum.  Can we even have healthy individuals if our culture is not healthy?  It may be time to think about the pieces we have lost as a culture and how we can recover them.   Just for starters:

Can we reclaim living in communities where people know and support each other?

Can we reclaim being citizens instead of consumers whose only purpose is to buy stuff?

Can we reclaim respect for the planet (the only one we have) that keeps us alive?

Can we create a culture (a whole culture, not just pockets of resistance)  that facilitates health and wellness instead of  dis-ease?  What would that look like?


[1] I am indebted to one of the participants in the Colorado Mental Wellness Network’s Peer Specialist training program for suggesting this definition.


  1. Debra MacKillop
    August 25, 2013

    This is very well written. Thank you. There’s a piece I think is important in seeing health and recovery on a continuum, and making it part of our every day practices and existence, and that is forgiveness of ourselves. The recovery process inevitably will have “bumps along the road” throughout life. We take steps backwards at times, even have to start over, on our recovery journey. This is normal, expected, and an important part of recovery. People so often get stuck in a self-critical place when they feel they “made a mistake.” The discouragement and regret can lead to an unraveling of their recovery process. We need to be kinder to ourselves, and to experience support, encouragement and compassion from others. When that happens, we hopefully can move forward, and we are better able to offer that support to others as well on their recovery journey.

  2. Mike L
    August 25, 2013

    Thanks Joann! Love it as always.

  3. Amanda Kearney-Smith
    August 26, 2013

    You are so thoughtful and eloquent Joann, I hope you are prepping for NaNoWriMo b/c you need to get a book out there! You’ve brought up a lot of points that my “pessimistic-self” is thinking, NO! we cannot reclaim respect for our planet! Not unless we eliminate half the population of close-minded thinkers who think our earth is here for us to destroy it!!! But then I regain my composure and thank God for the people who do care, and while there aren’t as many, they’re out there and I know many of them (sometimes I think – all of them).

    Something that happened recently made me realize how much I take for granted “my” way of thinking – my in-laws were in town from the Midwest and after 5-6 days I couldn’t figure out why our recyclables weren’t overflowing, even with just the two of us we will have like 4 bags of recyclables for every 1 bag of garbage, now there are 4 of us, plus others in and out. It puzzled me, we were certainly running out of toilet paper, food, and everything else. Then I saw my father-in-law throwing away his Coke bottle (they brought them as I refuse to buy bottled anything) in the garbage and almost had a heart attack. Duh, they don’t recycle at home so why would they at my house!?!?! It brought to my attention yet again that just because I, and everyone I know, recycle doesn’t mean everyone does. And low and behold I’ve noticed this last week that many of our neighbors don’t have the recycling service! Its something that is soooo easy to do and hopefully makes an impact and people still won’t do that!

    Again, I want to go to the place of, we are doomed… but as an advocate for mental health, I should know that people have notions about things and those notions are hard to change. But not impossible! Therefore, I think maybe I should start educating my neighbors about the impact of recycling? Wow, this was a long rant, but what will it take for people to wake up!? And recycling is such a easy one, its win-win for everybody!

    Were you looking for a definitive answer here Joann? 🙂 Just kidding. How did our leaders before us do it? Are we all just too lazy or self-centered? I think it must be bigger than that. Even if we impact a few people in our lifetimes either by something we say or leading by example, that has a ripple effect, right?

    • Joann Calabrese
      August 27, 2013

      Amanda, I think it is a balancing act of knowing how bad things are and simultaneosly holding hope that things can be different. And then of course we should take whatever personal actions we can to make that hope a reality. Jane Goodall, who I heard speak in Denver in the spring, begins many of her talks by asking the question, “How is it that the (seemingly) most intelligent animal on the planet is destroying the only home that it has?” What is the clouded thinking that allows that to happen? She spends about half of her talk explaining what a critical point we are at environmentally and the last half of her talk explaining how hopeful she is about all the small positive changes she is seeing, especially projects involving young people. Jane Goodall has been on the front lines for quite a while now and if she can feel hopeful, than I can too.


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