When I started my mental health advocacy work, it was behind closed doors as a facilitator for NAMI Connections. It was the only place I felt completely safe to open my fence to allow a select few to come in.

I had been told I was a valuable member of this group, but my value was in large part because of this group. Open dialogues about mutual struggles. Learning productive ways to cope through our challenges. But more than anything, celebrating one another’s triumphs.

Recovery victories come in all shapes and sizes. They are all worth celebrating. They are all worth us taking a moment of pause to recognize we did something we once thought we couldn’t.

In my advocacy, I find myself surrounded by others in recovery. We all have our own journeys that we take at different paces through different terrains. Sometimes our paths intersect. Other times they’re miles apart.

My journey isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine.

The day someone in a Connections meeting told me that I looked like I had it all figured out, I felt more like a failure than ever before.

If I am making my own recovery present as shiny and easily attainable, then I am clearly doing something wrong. More than anything I’m doing a disservice to my peers if I’m creating unrealistic expectations that will most likely damage their own recoveries. Sending this message that I did it and you can too, you SHOULD be able to.

Recovery is hard. Recovery is ongoing. Recovery is not linear.

Recovery is all about looking in that mirror when all I want to do is look away. Accepting the reality of who I am, especially the parts I don’t like. It’s looking at my battle wounds to understand what lessons I can learn from them; it’s finding comfort in my discomfort.

Along the way I learned my top value was authenticity. The root of the greatest pain in my lifetime was when I acted in opposition to that. It was always out of fear that my most authentic self wouldn’t be accepted or would be attacked. And both happen all the time.

Recovery for me is making that choice in every moment that it presents itself; to be my authentic self or be something I’m not because that’s what others want of me. To appear as that person who figured it all out, or admit everyday is a struggle in some way.

The day a childhood friend I had always envied for their perceived perfection messaged me and said “me too,” I had never felt more of a success. Showing my hardships somehow made others feel safe to show theirs.

I can stand in front of everyone and say “I am no better than you; I am you.” I definitely don’t have it all figured out. But I’m okay with it. I still have so much personal growth ahead of me which is both daunting and exciting.

I’m learning my recovery and my value is not necessarily in what I give to others but in how they have made me feel safe enough to break down my fence and allow everyone in.

For this I thank you.

Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and social media blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. #LauraKaponeris1in5.