Disrupting Recovery as a Linear Path of Progress

As a traumatized person, I don’t believe exclusively in clock-time, nor do I believe in static, unchanging memories or a linear path to recovery; my memories and my stories change all the time, my perspective changes all the time, and I learn new information about brains and bodies and trauma all the time. And sometimes I compare stories with my twin, and we remember things differently. But neither one of us has a memory that is inherently more reliable or trustworthy than the other – our memories may not always be “right” or “correct” but they are nevertheless true.

Everything I am fluctuates. I identify as one thing, and then another. I identify as nothing. Sometimes I feel grateful, sometimes angry and lost. Sometimes I feel bitter, other times calm and soft. Sometimes I feel judgemental, other times compassionate. And this is an incomplete list of emotions that I generally experience all within a single day. And neither is better than the others. My emotions contain information, which I can use wisely if I listen.

Perhaps one delight in being a non-binary borderline is the necessity of re-navigating some of the binaries I’ve been taught to believe in (intentionally or not). As someone with BPD, I have a tendency to fall toward black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, and in my connections and perceptions of others, I’ve still got a bad habit of idealization and devaluation; and while there are valid reasons for developing these thought habits, which are a form of coping in a confusing, painful world, I know that neither side can be fully true.

Some of the other false binaries I’m unlearning in recovery are: well/unwell, healthy/unhealthy, sane/crazy, forward/backward, vulnerable/insensitive, and whole/broken.

Instead, I must dare myself to look outside of the sharp lines, and find the softness and blurred pigmentations and greys and pastels and anything other than black-and-white.

I drew this diagram in an effort to help show some of our ideas of healing and recovery, vs. the messy realities.


If I don’t believe in one kind of time or one true memory, I also cannot believe in recovery as a steady, linear path of progression. I cannot believe that I have only one story to live, and to tell. I am in recovery, but I am not “getting better” or “getting worse.” I’m recovering, but I don’t expect to be “recovered.” I’m healing, but I don’t expect to be “healed.” I am whole and disabled all at once.

And if I don’t believe in a linear, progressive recovery, then I can’t believe in relapses or setbacks either. And if I don’t believe in relapses or setbacks? Then I really can’t believe in failures.

The image below is a page from Girl in Need of A Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality by Merri Lisa Johnson.


One reason I think binaries like well/unwell and healthy/unhealthy are false is that they can only be defined by the individual (if at all) – there is no single way to be well, or to be unwell. Health looks and feels different to each of us. The choices I make in recovery are not the same choices I’d want every borderline, or every recovering alcoholic, or every traumatized person, or every disabled person to make.

I want to let go of being “fixed” because I am not broken and “fixed” because I am not static; I want to let go of the idea of an upward, forward trajectory of healing. I want process, not progress, spirals not lines, learning lessons not mistakes, the confusing complex wonderful scary magic flesh dirt sky daydream not “good” and “bad”; I want to be okay with knowing all my thoughts & feelings & words are rough drafts.

If “sane” and “crazy” cannot be perfectly defined, if they are an untrue binary, then what does recovery look like? What does a life worth living look like? Where do the lines shift, and blur, and erase? Is it completely within our control?

I want to be able to trust my non-chronological memories, their distortions and details and lack of details, to know there is meaning, there is story/stories, regardless of whether or not I can zoom in, zoom out, focus exactly when and where I want to (or block the shutter when I don’t want to see/remember); regardless of whether or not there is one single truth in memory, one explanation, one way out.

So, maybe integration is not necessarily a goal, or at least not the end, and certainly not something that can happen only once. Maybe integration is not a fixed, constant way of being and moving through the world and understanding my own psyche and habits and creative processes; maybe integration cannot be fully achieved and complete, and permanent. I do think integration can happen, I just think it happens in different ways throughout recovery, looks and feels different to each individual, and cannot be defined and held onto.

I can’t tell a story of a) this is how I got sick, b) this is what it was like, and c) this is how I got better. Because that’s not how illness, craziness, and recovery are happening for me.

When I think about BPD stories, getting sober stories, healing stories, mad stories, trauma stories, I think: I don’t want to hear anymore triumphant tales of overcoming trauma and transcending pain, of becoming enlightened and whole; nor do I wish to hear anymore stories romanticizing or sensationalizing depression, dissociation, psychosis, or suicide / suicidal feelings (and no more ostracization or abandonment of those of us who experience these things to various degrees). But what I do want are the honest messes, the vulnerabilities and defense mechanisms and fears; the stuff that happens in the middle and on the edges; I want complexity and nuance and questions. I want becoming, not being. I want everything unfinished.

Continuingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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