John Woodruff’s WRAP Story

I thought I’d share my story. I shared it with Recovery To Practice three years ago, so updated the dates (and added a shameless plug for WRAP Around the World and Life Is Amazing Consulting)… hard to believe I’m three years older. Happy Birthday of WRAP and thank you to all of the amazing people with whom I have connected over these past 13 years where my life has been lived in wellness and lived in WRAP.

“I grew up in a tiny town in northern Minnesota. No one knew I left the house at night and wandered the short blocks of our town- traversing from streetlight to streetlight, leaving a cone of light to dip into the darkness in the middle of the block and then back into yet another cone of light at the next corner. Thirteen years ago I felt my entire life was just a series of those wanderings… and I didn’t want to be around anymore. I was stuck in the darkness in the middle of the block.

Upon the suggestion of a kind person with my healthcare provider, Kaiser, I picked up a small red book, Wellness Recovery Action Plan® written by Mary Ellen Copeland, and considered visiting the Kaiser WRAP® group. It was a six-week group where folks were collectively working on their plans.

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan®, better known as WRAP®, is a system for self-managing uncomfortable and often painful physical and emotional challenges. WRAP® over the last eighteen years has taken hold across the world in every aspect of mental health services for people seeking wellness. Developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD., WRAP® is a different way- simple, safe, non-invasive and self-directed. People like it. The research shows that it works. WRAP® is now listed in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.

I figured not much else worked in my life why not go? I approached that first meeting with every fear imaginable. I’d never done anything like this. I felt insecure, hopeless and exhausted from trying to pretend that I wasn’t. Would others make fun of me? Would I be judged? Not sure how, but I entered the room expecting to flee within minutes. I hoped no one knew who I was because I did not want to be tracked down after I left.

Wonder of wonders. Others were working on their own stuff. I wasn’t the only one with the feelings I had. No one judged me. I could just be me. That dreaded fear and loathing slipped away. I discovered I was in charge of my life- no one else. I let go of the blame and shame I had clung to for comfort and support. I learned about healthy, fun and enjoyable activities that helped me as I navigated my life, many were things like riding a bicycle, which were ignored and forgotten for many years. I discovered my voice and was able to advocate for my wellness because I knew what worked for me. I crafted a unique support system that helps me along the way. Ultimately I realized I hope thrives in my life, I believe that things get better. I was amazed to find people sharing stories that explained hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy, and support as concepts continually operating in their lives of wellness and recovery. We were allowed to share our truths. It was certainly OK for many truths to be in the room. Judgment wasn’t there. Others clearly would support me, should I ask for that support.

We worked on what are called Wellness Tools. Talk about fun. Wellness Tools are those fun activities and things I did in the past or ones I might want to try. They help me feel better when I’m not doing well. Often they are free or inexpensive. At first I was having a bit of trouble thinking of anything I enjoyed- go figure. Then I remembered I enjoyed jigsaw puzzles as a kid. I tried a 50-piece puzzle. It was a picture of puppy dogs. Yup, you guessed it; I still like to get lost working on puzzles. I tackle 5,000-piece puzzles now.
We started working on the six sections of a Wellness Recovery Action Plan®-

  1. Daily Maintenance Plan includes three lists: The first describes me when I’m well, for example the talkative person I am. The second is a list of the most important things I do on a daily basis when I am well, like talking with at least one friend. The third is a list of the many things I might consider to do to avoid the stressors that pop up some days, such as going for a walk and checking out the sky.
  2. Triggers and Triggers Action Plan- Triggers are external events or circumstances in my life that initiate some negative reactions from me like hearing the siren of a police car (the story behind sirens is because of the negative circumstances surrounding when I dropped my trousers as a joke on Main Street in Salt Lake City during the 1970’s). A Trigger Action Plan is the list of activities I know I might do to respond in a different fashion than in the past to the Triggers. I find these Actions in my Wellness Toolbox that we worked on in the beginning.
  3. Early Warning Signs and Early Warning Signs Action Plan: Early Warning Signs are those subtle signs that come from within me that let me know that I’m beginning to not be doing so well with the world around me. I negotiate with the clock in the morning, not wanting to get out of bed when the alarm goes off… an Early Warning Sign for me. Once again, after identifying my Early Warning Signs, I worked on an Early Warning Signs Action Plan that nips those things in the bud and gets me back to living the way I enjoy in my Daily Maintenance Plan.
  4. When Things Are Breaking Down and When Things Are Breaking Down Action Plan: These, too, are signs, but unlike Early Warning Signs, they are more severe, and if unattended to, might lead to others needing to care for me. An example from my life is how I remove myself from any social activities and avoid contact with others. I now know that is a wake-up call for me. I go to my Action Plan for When Things Are Breaking Down. This plan differs from the others. I don’t have as many options and I must do everything in the plan and keep doing them until I am feeling better.
  5. Crisis Planning: I don’t know about others, but I prefer to not go through life waiting for a bad stuff to happen. I am not prepared for someone else to predict, determine, or claim that my life will be one crisis followed by another. In our WRAP® group I began to re-think crisis and see it as something that life can throw at me and is a wonderful opportunity for growth and change. I know some don’t see it that way, but I hold onto my truth about this topic. I love working on this section, because I am able to bring into play the things I have learned about myself from the past and from others. Then I am able to share it with the ones I select to be my supporters, should I ever have to be supported at a time when I might not make good decisions for myself, like when I got the phone call that my brother, Twain, had suddenly and unexpectedly died. I’ll share the nine parts of this section:

    What I’m Like When I’m Feeling Well
    Indicators That Others Need To Take Over
    Supporters
    Medications
    Treatments
    Home/Community Care/Respite Centers
    Treatment Facilities
    Help From Others
    Indicators That The Plan Is No Longer Needed

  6. Post Crisis Plan: Whenever life has come at me (or I have chosen to take on life), I found I needed to ease myself back toward living the way I was when I was at the peak of my wellness. This last section of WRAP® is the only section I work on when I’m not at my best. As I work toward wellness I am able to focus on addressing the issues that came up during my crisis and creating a timetable for resuming the responsibilities I have in my life, for example gradually going back to work.

That first WRAP® group at Kaiser was amazing. I was no longer that wounded, labeled person who doctors told would never work again. I trained to become a WRAP® facilitator and began facilitating ongoing WRAP® groups in Alameda County, California. A few years later I trained to be an Advanced Level WRAP® facilitator, a trainer of WRAP® facilitators. Just in time for New Years 2012 I moved to the Sacramento area. I am married and we own a home that has a pool and a hot tub- now that makes me happy.

I work and I love every moment. I mended fences in family relationships, thrill to bicycle riding and hiking, and love my movies. Those bright cone-shaped lights and dark passages in between are no longer a description of my life. And WRAP® is why.”

Many questions about WRAP® are answered at http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com and http://www.copelandcenter.org.

Circle the dates of August 24-26, 2015 on calendars. WRAP® Around the World meets at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. Attendees from around the world will gather to network and celebrate the innovative ways WRAP® is promoting recovery, wellness and system transformation. To learn more or register go to http://copelandcenter.com/wrap-around-world-2015.

About the author: John Woodruff, a Copeland Center Educator and Certified Advanced Level WRAP® Facilitator, is the owner of Life Is Amazing Consulting- a firm devoted to the wellness all may share in WRAP® Workshops and Facilitator Trainings. Through his company he manages the literary estate of American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet- Christopher Morley (May 5, 1890 – March 28, 1957).

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