The tagline on my email says it all: “Be a hope receiver today to be a hope giver tomorrow.” But I didn’t always have hope. Far from it.
From the time I was in high school in the early 1970s, all I wanted to do was die. I didn’t believe in suicide because of my faith, so I was not actively trying to end my life. But despite beginning my recovery and working as a peer support specialist, I felt like I wanted to die for more than 20 years.
That began to change in 2003 when I attended a conference in Lansing, Michigan, where Mary Ellen Copeland spoke about WRAP. Michigan didn’t have WRAP groups at that time, but I knew I wanted to attend, so I went back to my agency and wrote a proposal to bring WRAP to Michigan. That helped fund my participation in a WRAP correspondence class, and I began to buy every WRAP book I could get my hands on.
In WRAP for Life, I found a plan for suicide prevention. I learned that I could replace the negative thought, “I want to die,” with the positive thoughts, “I deserve to live” and “I choose to live.” I said those phrases for six months straight, and I have not wanted to die since then. My WRAP journey had begun.
In 2004, I traveled to Vermont to attend a WRAP facilitator training. Mary Ellen kept talking about hope and how there was much to hope for. That opened the door for me to write about my recovery. I prayed to Jesus and asked him to give me a message to go with my recovery story. As I sat down at my computer, I began to type: It took a lot of hope givers to get me where I am today. It took me being a hope receiver to act on what the hope believers believed I could do. I also saw that, to recover at all, I had ignored the hope stealers.
Let me give you just one example. After my divorce, I wanted to return to college even though I had been told I had a mental illness. In fact, when I went to a mental health agency for career counseling and college assessment, their report was that I couldn’t get a college degree or even pass a college exam. I didn’t know what to think about that at the time, but now I recognize them as first-degree hope stealers!
Fortunately, I had enough hope givers to encourage me at that difficult time. My parents insisted that I could do whatever I wanted, even with my mental illness. So I became a hope receiver. I applied at Oakland University and was accepted.
College wasn’t easy for me. In addition to my disability, I was a single mother to my three small sons. While in college, I was also hospitalized for six weeks. After being hospitalized, I lost my hope and courage to finish college.
When I went to Dr. Bob Payne, my training instructor, to tell him I was not returning to college, he asked me to sign up for his class in the fall and bring my high school yearbook. I decided to be a hope receiver and return to college based on his hope for me. He saw in my yearbook that I had been in a speech contest and a talent show and that I had been on the swim team and in many of the school plays. By showing me my own past accomplishments, he reinforced for me that I had the personal experience I needed to become a mental health motivational speaker.
I received my degree in human resource development with an emphasis in training just a year and a half after I was hospitalized. Since 2003, I have been a consumer education specialist at the Oakland County (MI) Community Mental Health Authority. I became an advanced level WRAP facilitator in 2007. I teach people every day to receive hope. I help them learn to give hope. I advise them to steer clear of hope stealers!
Telling My Story
Since 2003, I have won five awards. The first was for accomplishing my goals and dreams of graduating from college and getting my dream job as a recovery educator. The other four were mostly for my “Catching Hope” presentation, including awards from organizations such as Eli Lilly and the National Council for Behavioral Health.
I teach WRAP and WRAP facilitator training for Oakland County and for the State of Michigan, which now offers WRAP training to all peer support specialists. But I’m nowhere near done learning about and living WRAP.
I’ve made a new WRAP plan almost every year since 2003 as my recovery progresses and my life circumstances change. I have, with Mary Ellen’s support and permission, created two WRAP PowerPoint presentations that I deliver in Michigan and around the country. One, called “Defeating Loneliness with WRAP,” is based on The Loneliness Workbook, and another, called “Worry Less with WRAP,” is based on The Worry Control Workbook. Loneliness and worry reared their ugly characteristics in my life, so I read Mary Ellen’s books on the subjects, applied her suggestions to my life, and reaped the benefits before putting the presentations together.
Each time I develop a presentation, I live the topic for a couple of years so that I have a story to tell. I want to be able to prove that what WRAP teaches and what I present really works. So far, WRAP has never failed me! And neither has Mary Ellen. She was instrumental in helping me address the trauma I have experienced in my life. She encouraged and supported me to work with my doctor to reduce my dependence on antipsychotic medications that were causing disturbing facial movements.
I know that each person’s recovery journey is unique, but everyone can benefit from WRAP. Everywhere I go and at every training I do, regardless of the topic, I refer people to the WRAP and Recovery Books website and the resources you can find there.
Mary Ellen may retire in some ways, but her caring spirit and her ideas and their impact never will! I wish her well on this next chapter in her life. Thank you, Mary Ellen, for being one of my biggest hope givers and for being a hope giver to so many others. Because of you and WRAP, I have quite a story to tell!
Sherri Rushman is an Advanced Level WRAP Facilitator and Consumer Education Specialist OCCMHA in Auburn Hills, MI.