This January marks my eight-year anniversary working at MHMR Tarrant.  I was hired as the Program Director for the Youth Recovery Campus.  The Campus provides outpatient substance use disorder treatment for boys and girls age 13-17 and residential treatment for boys.  The boys in the residential program live at the Campus facility for 45-60 days, attend school on-site, and work on their substance use, family and living issues.  Most of these youths are referred to us through juvenile probation; they have spent time in the Tarrant County Juvenile Services facility on Kimbo road and were assessed as having a substance use problem, primarily marijuana although many are moving up to harder drugs.

These boys are not the cute little kids whose people’s hearts empathize with, motivating them to help because they see innocent victims.  These boys have already started down the path of offending and stepping outside the bounds of legality, members of gangs, the ones who violate society’s laws.  What I can tell you from my experience is that none of these children started out life wanting to be in that facility or be affiliated with a gang or break the law.  I’ve listened to so many stories about horrific trauma, abuse, neglect, daily survival, brokenness and heartbreak.  In their eyes I saw goodness, the desire to be heard and to matter to someone.  My conversation with each boy I counseled always started with acknowledgement of some positive trait they possessed before we talked about anything else.  I keep the handwritten notes thanking me for saying something kind and supportive to them.

While the circumstances of their lives were not their fault, arrival at our facility signaled a change in perspective.  The boys that had the greatest chance of rising above the trauma and dysfunction of their past were the ones that began to take responsibility for their future.  I could see the awareness happen, the change in demeanor and attitude, introspective thinking about choices, acting based on thought rather than reacting based on emotion.  These young men had an exceedingly better chance of changing their future than the ones that continued to blame people, places and things for their problems.

For whatever reason, many of us may find ourselves at this same crossroad of self-awareness.  Life is not fair, and we may not have been given the best of circumstances to begin with.  But when that moment happens, the onus falls on our shoulders and we become the navigator of our life journey.   We can choose to abandon our victim role, accept responsibility for our future and make different choices in our lives.  Or, heartbreakingly, we can choose to remain the victim, accepting our fate and making the same bad choices over and over again, wondering why nothing changes.  At that point, we become a volunteer in our own misery.  We might be miserable but it’s a known, changing behavior takes hard work and courage.  I’ve been there, scared to death and acting anyway.  It was hard work, but I can tell you that every step of recovery is worth it.

As I quoted in my last blog on recovery and the principle of hope, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders is a “process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” 

Recovery is also person-driven. As stated: “Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals. Individuals optimize their autonomy and independence to the greatest extent possible by leading, controlling, and exercising choice over the services and supports that assist their recovery and resilience. In so doing, they are empowered and provided the resources to make informed decisions, initiate recovery, build on their strengths, and gain or regain control over their lives.”

Making the decision to be responsible for your life, choices, actions and consequences is key to successful mind-full living.  The paradox for me was that freedom came from accepting responsibility.  May you find that same freedom.

If you or someone you know needs help from substance use disorder or mental illness, call or text MHMR Tarrant’s 24/7 ICARE at 800-866-2045.