Happy holidays to everyone in the WRAP community! We hope you have a peaceful season of celebration and that you find time for personal wellness.

This month’s article is from Izzy Wilson. She is an advocate and activist for people who have been marginalized, and she currently volunteers with a network of helping and change agencies and works for the performing arts center where she lives.

By Izzy Wilson, Certified WRAP Facilitator 

I walked into my Peer Support Specialist (PSS) training in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a frigid January day in 2016. I was fresh out of incarceration and in forced (but welcomed) rehabilitation for substance use disorder (SUD). But SUD was only one of many labels I had been assigned.

I had been in therapy since I was very young. Unfortunately, the kind of childhood environment that I experienced (chock-full of addiction, mental illness, and abuse) comes with immature, maladaptive behaviors that are 100 percent survival based, and I seemed to frequently revert to immature coping mechanisms—so much so that I was emotionally 4 years old (or whatever age the flashback/nightmare/memory was from) and often had tantrums or other age-inappropriate behaviors.

As background, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at age 12, after significant childhood trauma.

I self-harmed until adulthood as a means of redirecting my brain to physical pain and away from the psychological tortures of my thoughts. The body attends to the immediate threat first.

It was this and other behaviors during my adolescence that prompted me to go to college for clinical psychology, with formerly only an eighth-grade education. (I had dropped out of school in eighth grade and later received my GED.) I needed to fix myself, and I made inroads toward that through my college education. Knowing both sides of a clinical desk empowered me.

As a freshman in college, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I, not otherwise specified (NOS), moved to a “high functioning status for my BPD,” and later further diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). When you affix to that a few physical conditions, I found myself with more labels than a Campbell’s soup can!

Years later, there I was, in the rehabilitation program and attending PSS training. I’d lost all but a few members of my family, my partner, my home and belongings, and all my friends. I was terrified I would relapse or become manic or depressed and spiral again. I was living in a sober house, but I wasn’t supported, didn’t tap into resources well, and desperately needed a tool for self-efficacy or I would be back in an institution.

Fortunately, I had a small army of support and was able to lean on my loved ones. But the balance I’d cultivated to handle adverse situations seemed to crumble. When I started finding my way out of that dark tunnel, I had to review many areas of my life, especially how I responded to the crisis. I realized that although I believed I was emotionally well, I was not. 

For me, being emotionally well meant I was able to be productive, stay connected to people, and feel as though each day was an accomplishment. What I learned was that my emotional wellness was tied to “doing” for others, solving other people’s problems, and ignoring my own needs. I was depleted of emotional kindness to myself. 

To gain a better grip on my emotions and my ability to become emotionally healthy, I took a deep dive into what was lacking in my life. This reflection challenged me to update my WRAP and take more proactive steps to create a better life. 

I began tuning into my own needs and what I needed to support myself on a daily basis. Whereas I used to stuff my feelings down and not allow them to be known or expressed, I began allowing myself to feel my emotions—sit with them, process them, and honor them. Once I began to make this practice a priority, I began to feel lighter and more emotionally safe and well. 

I started letting go of the shame. I stopped viewing my emotions as something “wrong” and began accepting them as part of my core self. 

I also began challenging myself to stay in the present. Because of the pain and adverse experiences in my life, I often found myself intertwining a current challenge with the pain of past experiences, sending me down a dark tunnel. 

Maintaining mindfulness, sitting with the feelings and emotions, and practicing meditation allows me to process the feelings and then release them. 

The more I face my emotions and express them, the healthier I become. Far too often, I have been told to “let it go” or that I was too emotional or too sensitive. 

Now, I embrace my emotional wellness, because I know there’s no shame in my feelings and emotions, but rather a freedom in feeling whatever I feel. 

If I ignore my emotions, I’m not holding myself in unconditional high regard. I am learning every day that I have a right to express my feelings, making me a healthier member of the human race. I will continue to challenge myself to be my most authentic self and to be proud of that person. My WRAP has helped me strengthen my emotional wellness, and I’m grateful for its place in my life.