Last month, I had the opportunity to tour two drug and alcohol rehab centers. During these visits, I learned a lot about the different approaches currently being used for inpatient addiction treatment and I enjoyed seeing the steps that each program takes to best help the people they serve in a compassionate, personalized way. These experiences renewed my hope for people struggling with addictions and mental health issues, reminding me that people do recover. Unfortunately, not everyone would feel as hopeful as I did. Many people may feel a sense of hopelessness that so many people are struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
How do I know this? One of the most common questions that I am asked as a therapist is “How do you listen to people’s problems all day? Isn’t it depressing?” I suppose that if I viewed my job as listening to problems I may feel sad. But hearing about the struggles people are going through is only a small part of my what I do. A much larger part is working collaboratively with the person to find solutions that will help that person reach his or her goals. It’s all about perspective. We can focus on the problem or we can focus on the solution. When we focus on the negative in our life, we may think that our life is terrible and that there is nothing we can do to make it better. How do we get into this mindset? Hopelessness can result from a focus on the bad things that have happened in our lives, lack of knowledge of people who have overcome similar adversity or a lifelong habit of thinking negatively.
Some people may assume that positive thinking is the cure for hopelessness. However, I propose a different option. Realistic thinking tends to work better, as it can be difficult to think positively without having proof to back it up. When we think realistically, we use healthy problem-solving skills for the things we can change and apply acceptance to those things that we cannot change. This allows us to feel hopeful about living a meaningful life, even when we are faced with challenging situations.
In honor of National Recovery Month, I invite you to think about how your perception impacts how you view the world and the choices that you make. How do you maintain hope that you can make it through the tough times in your life, especially when your mind wants to focus on the negative? One of the ways that National Recovery Month attempts to do this is by planning events to “spread the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover” (www.recoverymonth.gov). Imagine how your life would be different if you focused on this hopeful message year-round.