In my opinion, one of the hardest things about “re-learning” how to live life and take care of yourself through recovery is finding balance. For much of the time one is in treatment, the day is simply JUST treatment. But leaving the world of formalized and center-based treatment back into the world of outpatient appointments and mostly free weeks results in a lot to be determined and time to be filled.
It is something I talked about so much with my therapist and my treatment team. It is a vocabulary word that has been a staple in my language for the past 5 months.
What the hell is balance.
I can’t say I have done a perfect job moving from IOP to outpatient and balancing recovery and life from the get-go. But I also didn’t expect that I would.
If I learned ONLY one thing in treatment (which is far from the truth…I learned more than I can communicate), then it would be that I cannot expect perfection because it is realistic, possible, human. I would disappoint myself literally every time if I expected to be perfect. Never in my life have I or will I be perfect. This transition is no different. In fact, the lack of perfection is what makes it so successful.
I have had to sit down and talk to myself. I have had to tell myself that “yes, I can eat that. I will be okay.” I have had to make a conscious decision to order the hard thing that would have been so easy to avoid. I have tried new things. I have internally fought and won. I have internally fought and lost. But I have kept going and corrected and worked my ass off for the recovery that I so want and love.
That is what balance is to me. It is realizing that I am going to have a few bad days…maybe more than a few. But that I can persist anyway. It is relearning what life in the “real world” is like… with the constant daily challenges that I was somewhat sheltered from in treatment. It is picking the hard things because I know I can… and more than that… that I have to. It is realizing the mental difficulties are all worth it because they get smaller and smaller with exposure.
And it is giving myself grace for the days when I have more trouble. For the days when I need some help. And for the moments when I question it all and keep going anyway.
As much as I try to blog at least once a week… it doesn’t always happen. And this one is going to be a doozy because it’s been a while and so much change has happened in my life lately.
So change used to suck and it was scary and unknown and terrifying and I thought I was going to die. Guess what? I don’t feel like that anymore. If I did… these past two weeks would have left me six-feet-under…maybe more.
As spring officially begins (but no one informed the weather because it’s not cooperating to be honest), change has come to my life as well. For the past 291 days I have been either in a treatment center, in between treatment centers, fighting treatment centers, fighting myself for being in a treatment center, or fighting ed while in a treatment center… but last Friday, I took my last steps into and out of of my Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and made my transition to the “real world.”
I’ll be honest… that on paper doesn’t sound like much. But it is. And I try not to tell people they are wrong, but if you are thinking right now “that sounds easy. You just have more free days,” you are wrong. Flat out fucking wrong. Because along with leaving a treatment center, even one at IOP level, comes leaving the security of a place where you can go multiple days a week for a few hours and be surrounded by others who genuinely get it. It means (if you are like me and went to a center in a different state) packing up and moving yourself 3 plus hours back to your college town and trying to fit back into the place where you used to be…. but this time, without a prevalent eating disorder. It means being somewhere were you can’t see your treatment friends outside of a center even if you wanted to because they aren’t there with you… at all. It means facing questions about where you were and what you are doing that you may or may not want to answer. It means finding a new balance. It means so much more accountability for your own recovery and fear that you might mess up. It means trying to make a place for yourself all over again. And it is scary.
But it is also necessary. It is life. There comes a day when we all need to leave the metaphorical nest of an eating disorder treatment center. Hopefully, you have tested your wings a bit before you do… but you never really know if you can fly without taking the leap. You have to throw yourself out of the nest and trust you will be able to soar sometimes and just ride the wind other times. But either way, the only option is out and it’s up to you to remove both your feet from the edge and go.
And go I did.
In the week since I left treatment, there have been so many emotions. I cried with happiness as I looked over at my boyfriend one evening and realized I didn’t have to leave again the next morning. I cried with sadness as I read our treatment group chat and realized I wouldn’t be able to join in on any of the activities because I am three hours away. I dealt successfully with some ED thoughts as they (not surprisingly) tried to convince me to do something I didn’t want (or would) do, and then felt guilty for having the thoughts in the first place. (But, they will be there sometimes, and it is not whether I have the thoughts but what I do with them that matters the most.) I have struggled (and still do) with insecurities going back to work and feeling like I am annoying and disliked by a co-worker. But then told myself that it doesn’t really matter anyway, because I am being me. And then told myself it again…and again… and again… an still do. I’ve felt apathetic. I’ve felt confused. I’ve felt scared I was slipping because I didn’t write down my food the next morning and make sure I had enough even though I was eating when hungry and all. I’ve felt lonely. I’ve felt immense joy. I’ve felt loose and free and fun loving and then uptight and worried. But all of these things are just feelings. And I am still here. I am still living. I am still recovering. I am still doing my best to push towards what I want most… a life free from ED.
My journey is not yet over. There is so much more to come. And I have miles left to travel. But it’s begun a new chapter. And that new chapter starts with me here. Living a free life where I used to be consumed by an eating disorder.
Recovery is a journey. One in which one changes and discovers oneself. One does a lot of introspection. But it is not a journey walked completely in solitude.
Often, I feel like I don’t acknowledge all the ways in which others have helped me along my path this far. I feel conceited in saying so, but it’s true. I focus a lot on me. Me me me. And that’s okay–I’m here to recovery ME–but I find it meaningful to take a bit to reflect on how much I care about those around me. I may feel lonely sometimes, but I am never alone.
To my parents:
I cut you out of my treatment for a while. I thought I would be better off doing it all on my own. I was wrong.
You love me unconditionally and only want the best for me. And though we do not always agree, (as is the case with most family relationships) you will always be there for me.
I am so thankful.
To my wonderful treatment friends:
I wouldn’t have made it this far without you. I owe much of my recovery to you.
The amount of strength that fills the room when we are together is immeasurable. Its effects enumerable. And my gratitude incommunicable. You saw me when I tried to be invisible. You helped me when I was crying in a corner and losing all my shit over something I don’t even remember anymore. You listened to my curse heavy rants and nodded along. You validated me and got me and held me up and pushed me down when I needed to sit my ass on the floor and get a hold of myself. You laughed by my side through the good bits and held my hand and hugged me through the unbearable. You understand in ways only those on this journey can.
I am so immensely thankful for you all. I love you all dearly and you have touched my life in a way I will never, ever forget.
To my child hood and high school, long distance best friends:
You mean so much to me. You check in on me when I’ve gone MIA because I suck at texting and communicating on a regular basis and often mentally reply and never send a physical text.
You support me in my recovery even if I don’t actually see you. You send me reassuring messages and talk to me about my character and how I am capable of more.
You offer to come see me and don’t get angry when I say I can’t do that because I am too depressed or self-conscious or I have been crying for 48 hours straight.
You love me anyway. You love me with my flaws. You see me for me. You show me I have worth. I can’t say thank you enough.
You’ve seen me through it all and not judged me. You accepted me when I *finally* told you about my eating disorder and then pushed me in my recovery.
You told me I was fucking insane when I needed to hear it and reassured me that some of my fears were unfounded.
You did it all from afar.
You are individuals I admire so greatly and respect immensely. I love you.
To the men’s cross-country/track team that has accepted me unconditionally:
I was trying to figure out how to anonymously address you all. Because you all mean so much to me. And “the men’s cross-country/track team” doesn’t seem fitting–albeit true. Because you are so much more than just people who run in circles and to address you in that manner seems a bit…dissatisfying.
I know we met because I am dating one of your own, but you’ve all become some of my best friends and most trusted confidants. You saw me before I started this journey. You saw me when I was about to give up all over again. You saw me in my hope and joy and in my depression when even smiling was too much work.
You’ve pushed me in ways you can’t know. I’ve been challenged a lot simply because I’ve been exposed to so much. I’ve had to learn how to go with the crazy flow and deal with teasing and embarrassment and being the subject of attention and getting yelled at across a room or cafeteria or outdoor space or whatever.
And though I still feel like I don’t really fit in (because I feel so different in my abilities… read I can’t run for shit anymore and I am not allowed to anyway…) I’m beginning to see how that is false. And the more time I spend with you, the more I begin to believe it as well. I love y’all so much.
To my boyfriend, who has stuck by me through it all:
I don’t know if I would be here without you. I really don’t. I don’t know if I would have gone back to the treatment center far away. I don’t know if I would have pushed myself as I have. I don’t know if I would be at this point in my recovery.
Because you told me you believed in me through it all. I could keep going when I didn’t believe in myself because someone still did–you did. And you still do. You tell me you are proud of me for all I have done, you notice how I have grown, you encourage me when I need it, and you hold me and tell me it is going to be okay when I don’t think it ever will.
You’ve loved me through all my changes and assured me that my physical ones were okay (even though I still don’t believe you because it will only ever sink it when I believe it from myself). You remind me that I am not loved or worthy based on how I appear, but who I am and all that I have to offer and can do. You’ve been there for me, long distance or not, and stuck by my side through this wild ride…and seem to want to take on what is still to come of it. And when I curl into a ball and cry and start to believe I am a horrible human being and deserve nothing in the world, you hold me for a bit, ask if there is anything you can do, accept it when I say no, and then offer to watch a show or do something fun or go someplace with me to make me feel better.
You’re my recovery hero and you have helped me realize that I DO deserve recovery and love and happiness and respect. I love you for that, but, most of all, I love you for you: the wonderful, caring, inspirational, thoughtful you.
I searched Pinterest for a while looking for topics on which to write. But I didn’t find any. I couldn’t seem to get my mind around any of them. I wanted to write some post about something deep and whatever, but you know what… I don’t need to and I am not going to.
Life is kind of a whirlwind. Recovery is more of a tornado. I often feel like I’m being whipped around in circles from one thing to another and then back again. But, interestingly enough, I’ve come to like it a bit. It’s a lot more interesting and satisfying than the perpetual depression of my eating disorder. I don’t mean to say it’s all good things in the tornado. Occasionally, I whirl by the Wicked Witch of the West and have a moment of fear and anxiety. But then I somehow land in Oz among the flowers and there’s a period of calm again–or as calm as it really can be in recovery.
It’s interesting though, because there is a lot of freedom in fear. It sucks, of course. But if you do whatever you fear, and then you do it again, and again, and again, and you keep going, the fear leaves and you just have freedom. It’s a process and it takes a LONG time. But each time you do the thing you fear and you make it to the other side, you get a little bit more space from the fright. You get a little bit more free.
Yesterday night, as I was preparing for bed, I pulled of my shirt and I stood in front of the mirror in my sports bra and I brushed my teeth. I looked at myself straight-on in the mirror and let my eyes wash over my body. I let them run over the shape of my stomach and my arms and my chest and let the feelings come. I noticed the thoughts that usually come with looking at my exposed body–the judgements and criticisms and slight sense of discomfort.
But I smiled instead of covering up again and just kept looking. I did it because I needed to and because I physically couldn’t put a shirt back on with a toothbrush in my mouth… but mostly because I needed to do it. Because it kind of doesn’t matter what thoughts come to me. They are only thoughts. They do not mean that I am any less of a person. And I may not believe that entirely just yet, but I stood through the discomfort anyway and embraced it.
It sucked a little bit. It sucked to not like everything I saw. But I only dislike it because of a standard I have in my head that is absolutely ridiculous. I will never fit the standard that society holds for me and that, therefore, I have in my mind is correct.
But it isn’t correct. It is warped and unachievable and unhealthy (at least for me). And that’s the way it is–like it or not.
I keep thinking about a poem I read the other day. It’s entitled “Enough” and it reads:
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
I think it spoke to me because I am so ready for it all to be “enough.” But what I like so much about this poem is that it finds enough in the simple. Breathing is enough. Sitting is enough. Being is enough.
Stop refusing life. Stop refusing to open yourself up to the world. Let just being be enough. Let being YOU be enough.
So standing in front of that mirror yesterday night, or putting on clothes this morning that didn’t hide my curves, or eating a before breakfast snack because my body was hungry, or looking down and seeing my stomach and my thighs and my body, I remember that I am enough. I might not completely believe it yet, but I tell myself it anyway. I’m not lying. I may feel like I am sometimes; I may not agree with the statement; I may try to refute and disprove it, but it is true none-the-less.
I am enough. You are enough. And I’ve had enough of “refusing life.”
because choices have sacrifices and, inevitably, that means giving up something that you want for something that you want more.
I found those words in a White Collar episode of all places. But I wrote them down, because the message is one of utter truth.
When I heard this, I immediately thought of my eating disorder.
But wait, I thought I had broken up with that bitch? I did. I have. But the thing about break ups is you can still want. You can still want that which you KNOW you cannot have. But if you really look at it…do you really want that relationship back or are you just missing the feeling that came along with it?
For me, it is the feeling.
I miss the feeling of “safety” which was going back to my anorexia. I miss feeling like I had all the willpower in the world and like I could control my life. I miss feeling like I was special because I had this “friend” who was steering me to “success.”
All of these feelings were lies. They were elaborate concoctions of my disordered mind that told me I had it all. But, in all actuality, I had nothing. I didn’t have control, willpower, success, safety. I was slowly dying. I was starving my soul.
Maybe I am grieving my loss. I am grieving the loss of the image I have of what I want to look like, because I know it will never happen unless I begin to slowly die all over again (which is NOT an option). I am grieving the loss of my coping tool for all the fucking shit life throws at you. I am grieving the loss of an identity I held for so so many years. I am grieving the loss of the control I thought I had. I am grieving the loss of the feelings I had in my disorder.
The thing is, I remember all of these feelings that I liked… but I also look back and see all the misery. I remember (and still experience) the depression. I see the shit I put myself through and the tired, sick form of myself. I see the way I pretended to have it all together and then cried to myself in the shower so no one could tell. I remember the fear I had walking into a college cafeteria, party, club, etc. I remember the constant worry and thoughts about food and weight and exercise. I remember the darkness and how I couldn’t have cared less about life. I remember feeling the intense secrecy of it all. I remember feeling the pain. I see the scars that illustrate the points I thought there were no other options and it was all my fault. I remember how I really did feel like I was falling into a hole I would never leave.
“Choices have sacrifices and, inevitably, that means giving up something you want for something you want more.”
I want those feelings of control, identity, success, safety. But I want recovery more.
I’m giving up my wants for the ones I want more. Because life is a gift, and I want to really live it.