There is a link, though it’s a stretch, between recovery and the building of nests that occurs to me on this fine spring day, and I’ll get there in a moment. Right now, life is blossoming out everywhere. The stunning medleys of the mockingbirds are in the air, and there’s much courting behavior among all the birds: the strutting, chest puffing and singing of males, the coy approaches and retreats of females. And of equal importance, they’re building nests for their future young.
I saw a crow sail up to a high spot in our neighbor’s spruce tree, not far from the towering line of eucalyptus where his kind usually hang out, a hundred feet above us. This crow carried a single thin, flexible twig much longer than his body. I wondered if that one strand was the first for weaving the nest. How do they begin – what holds the first piece in place? How long does it take to pick out and carry back all the twigs of just the right type – one strand at a time – until the whole structure is woven together? The crows know by instinct the intricate pattern to follow, exactly the materials to be used and the right shape and depth of the final product. The purpose it serves is just as clear.
I may lack the instinct, but I’ve been learning to put together the pattern, the structure to support a new life. And there’s my homely analogy. I’ve been weaving a nest for recovery, one strand at a time. Getting started and having that first piece stay in place has always been the hardest part. I’ve learned all sorts of methods, patterns and step by step pathways to get out of depression. Time after time, the whole thing unraveled, no matter how strong it appeared to be.
The problem of the various treatments I used was the way they handicapped my thinking from the outset. They were telling me how to stop something, to end addiction, to overcome depression, to reduce stress and anxiety. That’s aiming for a negative, and, as important as it has been to stop those plagues, I need to see the positive side too.
Recovering means coming back from a loss, regaining lost ground. It is an activity, surely as hard as they come, which will support the future, but it is not that future itself. I don’t want recovery to become a constant. If I assume I won’t ever be free of depression and that I am always threatened by its return, I will have to apply the techniques of recovery as long as I live. But I don’t want to think or live that way. I can’t accept recovery as a life sentence, anymore than I can accept depression.
I don’t want to understate or downplay the importance of recovery itself. It is a tremendous accomplishment. It has taken everything I had to keep going after so many failed attempts. I always knew there was a different self inside me that could live differently, however dim the memory of that person might be. Only a deep instinct to survive, a will to live, kept me going through so many years of depression.
I celebrate that will and can never forget all I’ve had to do to get this far. For the recovery to last, however, as the earlier ones did not, I have to break out of the mindset that recovery as a life of constant vigilance is as good as it gets. As long as I think that way, depression continues its dominance as the condition I am always trying to control. I have to turn my mind and feelings toward a life with new purpose, not just a life in recovery.
For one last shot at my metaphor, those birds don’t go about building their nests as part of therapy. They are building the means to nurture new life, to extend the species into the future. They are born with that simple and compelling drive.
The instinct in people to live is just as basic – though for us it can be warped into its opposite by a mind estranged from its own nature. But we also need more, an inner meaning to guide the spirit to fulfillment. And that is what I’m moving toward now.