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Former addict finds therapy and recovery in a garden
Steeped in crack cocaine and alcohol addictions, Federal Way resident John Wilson finally hit rock bottom in 2009.
“My life was pretty much unmanageable,” said Wilson, 53. “Physically, I was just a wreck. Mentally, I was having some very extreme thoughts going through my head.”
After staying at local recovery centers, Wilson sought treatment with Sound Mental Health in Seattle. He was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Many of Wilson’s mental health problems related to a lifetime of traumatic experiences including adoption, abuse and prison.
Mental health treatment, sobriety and spirituality have helped Wilson face these issues — and learn to deal with them in a healthier manner.
“I was masking my feelings by drinking and doing drugs,” Wilson said. “There were a lot of mental issues, a lot of things that were hidden that I really didn’t want to take a look at.”
Aside from multiple support groups, Wilson finds healing and solace at Sound Mental Health’s Recovery Garden. Mental health clients work the soil, plant seeds, maintain the garden and ultimately harvest the fruits of their labor.
Wilson, who was on hand to christen the newly renovated garden June 23, finds the garden to be calming, cultural and therapeutic.
“It gave me an opportunity to get out of the norm of what I’ve been doing for the last umpteen years, the behavioral patterns I have had,” Wilson said of the Recovery Garden. “To actually plant something and watch it grow and nurture it ... it’s a humbling feeling for me.”
A key to Wilson’s recovery is finding activities that promote personal growth and replace addictive behaviors, said John-Paul Sharp, mental health clinician and chemical dependency counselor at Sound Mental Health.
Participating in the Recovery Garden and exercise groups, for example, puts Wilson in a positive healing environment.
Treatment for addiction is not an exact science. Addicts experience a rewiring in the so-called “reward centers” of their brains and must divorce themselves from the relationship with these substances, Sharp said.
“He has to maintain a structure in his life that continues to compel this recovery process to occur,” Sharp said. “I see a huge difference from a year ago until now. ... These days, he’s the captain of his ship. He’s directing his life.”
Looking ahead, Wilson will attend adult education classes through the Multi-Service Center in Federal Way, which also manages the housing where he lives. Recovery is possible through patience, willpower and a permanent lifestyle change, he said.
“Until I was able to see and realize that I needed to make some changes in myself, I wasn’t able to understand that,” Wilson said. “My expectation is to stay sober and let life evolve and allow me to be able to handle it one day at a time, like a normal person would, if there’s a normal person out there.”
• According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in four U.S. adults — approximately 57.7 million — experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
• According to the U.S. Deptartment of Health and Human Services, fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a year.
• According to the National Mental Health Advisory Council, early treatment success rates for people with mental illnesses are between 60 to 80 percent.
Source: Sound Mental Health, www.smh.org