Category Archives: New Life
I celebrated my five year anniversary in recovery last week. Five years home from The Center for Change. I left that day thinking I could never maintain recovery and now five years later, I wouldn’t say I’m recovered but I would say I’m definantly in solid recovery. CFC has a tradition of having clients write a letter of hope when they leave to read to the current clients. I thought I would share a new letter of hope for anyone that needs it now five years later.
I am writing this letter now after five years in recovery. It doesn’t make me an expert by any means on what it means to be in recovery nor does it mean I can offer advice that you absolutely must follow to get well but I can tell you what has worked for me. As I learned five years ago listening to other women talk about their lives I learned that as much as we like to believe we are unique individuals there are certain things that we all have in common. And I hope what I share hits on those commonalities.
Hope. You must live and breathe hope. If you become hopeless you have given up and you will relapse. You must believe that you can recover. You must believe that you will beat the odds and be one of the ones who lives in full recovery. When you are lying in bed awake in the middle of the night and the hopeless feelings creep in, get out of bed and pull out whatever it is that makes you feel hopeful. Maybe it’s a picture album, maybe it’s a book of quotes, perhaps it’s your goodbye book, maybe it’s the Bible or maybe it’s watching your children sleep or holding your dog. Whatever it is allow it to remind you that there is hope in this world – your job is to hold onto it.
Know that recovery is a choice. You did not choose to get sick but you absolutely 100% can choose to get better. What this looks like may look different depending on where you are in recovery. Choosing wellness in the beginning of recovery simply means showing up to meals and eating what is placed in front of you. In five years the choices may be choosing to continue to eat intuitively when you’ve gained 10 pounds on a medication or making the decision that it’s time to tell the secrets you’ve kept hidden for almost ten years. The bottom line is, is that you must choose recovery each and every day.
Sometimes it is tempting to sub out the eating disorder for another self destructive behavior. You must learn that all things that harm you must go. The suicide attempts must go and so must the cutting. Holding onto remnants of self-destructive behaviors does not mean you are in recovery even if your eating is perfect. You cannot be in recovery until you give up everything that you do to harm yourself. Recovery requires that you to take care of your body.
I firmly believe that recovery does not require you to love your body. It requires you to care for it and to tolerate it but you do not have to LOVE all parts of it. If you are waiting to recover until you love your body or even like it you may wait forever. They say body image is the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place and for me I’m not sure I’ll ever even like what I look like. But I can take care of myself anyways. I can even dress as I want and take time to style my hair. Accepting your body must be the goal. It’s a bonus if you end up liking it or even loving it.
Recovery is a long and winding road. No two people’s journey’s are the same. If you are still struggling don’t despair. There is hope. There is always hope. And if you are in the tedious stages of beginning recovery. It gets better. It gets easier. And if you are like me – feeling lost in sort of a middle ground, stick it out. I have to believe that I’ll feel like I have more solid footing eventually. But overall, I must remember and so must everyone reading this that recovery is worth it. It’s always worth it.
I was at a women’s health fair this past weekend and I stopped by the domestic violence/sexual assault prevention and support booth. I picked up little ribbons that signified support and somehow ended up telling the women there that I had PTSD from being abused. This was a big step for me. One to admit it out loud and two to tell someone else. What happened next though stunned me more and it’s something I have been left thinking about since then.
The woman who runs the center responded to my telling her of my history by saying – “oh you’re a survivor!”. This completely stopped me in my tracks. A survivor? Me. No certainly not. I don’t deserve to have that title. Plus to say you are a survivor means that you had to have survived something significant. Yes I was abused and yes I’m here but survived it…that makes it sound like it was important or something.
I have a hard time wrapping my head around these facts. Denial? Yes, most defiantly. I’ve been in enough therapy to know it when I see it. I don’t know if I’m ready to look at my past and see it for what it was. At times I am. I can sometimes say parts of it out loud like I did initially to the woman but then I balk and retreat away from my story.
I’m closer to accepting it and being able to process it in therapy than I ever have been before. Perhaps it’s time to start that work. I’ve done very little trauma work.. And so I leave for Wichita in a few hours (psychiatrist, dietitian and therapist) and perhaps today in my session I’ll start talking. And if I go in with at least somewhat of the beginnings of the belief that I am a survivor it will go that much better.
I recently read this blog from momastery.com. I haven’t talked much in detail about my brief college years on here and I will one day but for now I wanted to share this blog because in many, many ways it sums up what I felt during that time and what I feel now looking back. There are some distinct differences (I had a net – a net that ultimately saved me) but also many frightening similarities. So please take a look at:
I’m turning 25 next Monday (the 28th). I’ve always loved my birthday. I love gifts. I love ripping open presents and finding out what’s inside. I don’t really care if it’s something from the dollar bin at target or something expensive from my Amazon wishlist I just love the feeling of tearing back the paper and seeing something I know I’ll cherish. I’m a stuff girl. I like my things and you can say that my apartment (soon to be house!) is more than a little cluttered. I keep what people give me.
Having said that – this birthday is not one I’m particularly looking forward to. Twenty-five sounds old to me. A quarter of a decade. An age where it is assumed most people are through college, moving through graduate school, married, looking towards children, working on a career or doing a dozen other “adult’ like things. And me? I’m just not there yet.
Perhaps more unsettling is that I just can’t seem to add up the number of birthdays to 25. There was 16 spent on the field at Thursday band practice where the entire band sang to me, there was 17 at the Neeowallh marching band competition where my cousin tried hard to make it special but let’s be honest that whole school year just totally sucked, 18 was pretty lame also lost among band things but I did buy a lottery ticket, 19 was spent at college with the JACKASS, 20 was spent at college as well on a pretty sad day (but I wore a nice outfit I remember) and oh yeah 21 and 22. Those were the treatment birthdays.
Those are the two years I get hung up on. Where I loose the two years. Honestly, it seems to me like I should be turning 23 instead of 25. It’s not that those two birthday’s weren’t special. They were oh so special. My friends and family ensure that they were. My 21st birthday at Laureate was so unlike any other 21st birthday but was what I needed then. I spent it in a safe environment making flubber with other treatment friends, visiting with family who made a special trip to see me and even included a beautiful “cake” (see picture below – the nurse about had a heart-attack). I was very ill but I was happy. Happier than I had been for the past several birthdays. I had nutrition in my body, I felt safe and I had a future to look forward to. But the fact of the matter was – I was locked away from the world. Literally.
And then 22. That was at The Center for Change. Again, this birthday was special and unique. A memory I’ll probably cherish forever. I started the day on caution (basically isolation) but the girls made signs and hung them everywhere, sang “My Favorite Things” to me and passed me secret message throughout the day. My family left phone messages and I got off isolation late in the day and opened tons of well thought out perfect presents.
So the birthdays? They were great but nothing can erase the fact of the matter that I wasn’t living. I was existing and somedays fighting with the very people who were trying to keep me alive. And more days than not of those two years I either wanted to be dead or were making choices that were getting me one step closer to death. So you see I feel like I lost two years. I had two great birthdays but I really didn’t get to live into 21 and 22. And so when people ask me my age I often forget and do have to pause and think “oh yeah…I’m 24 almost 25”.
I could say that I’ll pretend that this is my 23rd birthday and forget that I’m turning 25 but I don’t think I’ll do that. I think it dishonors my past but more importantly I think it forces me to minimize the deadly consequences of my eating disorder. I’ve been too close to stepping back over that ledge into anorexia lately and I need to remember that the reality is that an eating disorder takes away life. Years of life because it wasn’t only those two years I lost. I really lost all the way from 16 on up. I just was coexisting with an eating disorder and the world instead of being hospitalized.
So I’ll blow out my candles and remember that I’m 25. I’m 25 not 23 because I lost some years to an eating disorder. But I’m also 25 because I survived. Because I found my way OUT of an eating disorder. Otherwise I wouldn’t be celebrating this birthday at all. I wouldn’t be celebrating any birthday. So there is a two edged sword to this birthday – both a celebration of life and a stark reminder of time lost. And I need both.
I’ve gotten some questions/suggestions lately that perhaps I should pursue therapy. I’m not offended in the slightest. I think most of the comments came from a fairly good place and therapy ceased to embarrass me a long time ago. Because the truth is that I do see a therapist. Twice a week right now but this is actually the least amount of treatment I’ve had in four years.
In January 2009, after ending an abusive relationship I began seeing a therapist (a really crappy one but that’s another story). I was humiliated and embarrassed that my anxiety had become such that I couldn’t function in everyday life and that I had to seek professional help. The whole idea that I was seeing a “shrink” embarrassed me beyond belief to the point I went at great lengths to hide the fact from my college classmates that I was driving an hour once a week to seek help. I truly believed that it was “just anxiety” that was causing my obvious decline in my mental health but instead of getting better from treatment I felt downhill. Fast.
In September of 2009 I entered treatment for anorexia at Laureate’s eating disorder program. I stayed for ten months going through inpatient, residential, transitional living and back to inpatient for another short stint. I left OK (where Laureate is located). This was in July 2010. By September 2010 I was hospitalized again this time at The Center for Change in Orem Utah. This treatment stay was focused on my eating disorder and my PTSD. I left in February 2011 (after five and a half months) in a much better place, stable mentally for the first time in many years and armed with coping skills.
The next two years were rough. I was in and out of the psychiatric hospital. For a stretch of time I was in every month. In December of 2011 I went to Washington DC to The Psychiatric Institute of Washington’s Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I learned a lot here but it also opened a lot of wounds and closed memories and so my cycle in and out of the hospital continued until July of 2012. This is when my service dog Ben entered my life.
Since Ben arrived I have been stable. I have not had to be hospitalized for my eating disorder, self-harm, depression, anxiety or PTSD. I receive the least treatment I have in four years, simply seeing my wonderful therapist twice a week.
I tell you all of this because like I mentioned at one time I was so filled with shame that I was in therapy. I saw it as a weakness, an embarrassment, a sign of failure and something that made me somehow “less than” everyone else in my life. I went so far as to tell professors when leaving college to go to treatment that it was due to heart problems (not a lie at that point my heart was severely compromised due to my eating disorder) instead of due to my anorexia (however they probably guessed anyways).
Therapy is so stigmatized. Especially by young people. I believe that this is due to a number of factors but a primarily one being the lack of information regarding mental health. This not only harms those who struggle with diagnosed mental illnesses but also those who need help but refuse to seek it out of shame. The media does not help. Crimes (such as the recent Naval Yard shooting) are blamed on mental illness. Yes, this may be the cause however the media fails to mention that the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are in no ways violent or dangerous. How can someone feel unashamed of their mental struggles when they unintentionally compare themselves to a deranged man who killed many people?
The reality is that seeking help is a sign of strength. I never would have believed this four years ago but working through treatment and recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Much harder than making straight A’s in high-school, much harder than transitioning to college and much much harder than staying stuck in my illnesses.
So yes, I see a therapist and no I am not ashamed. Not anymore and I can say this:
I am Kate. I have PTSD, depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. I see a therapist. I have been hospitalized for my mental illness. I have a psychiatric service dog who without I would not be able to function. But I am no less a person because of these things.
Dear Unnamed Abuser,
I know you read my blog. I also know you read my tumblr so you are now reading this. Someday I will speak out about what you did to me. This is not a threat. It is a promise to myself and to all the other survivors of sexual abuse, assault and rape. I won’t mention you by name for many reasons one of which is that your name itself deserves no time on my lips.
I know you have not forgotten me. I don’t know if I haunt your nightmares or your dreams or am just a fleeting thought but your presence on my blog and tumblr proves that you have not let me go. Good.
Think of me when you read about women raped, beaten and abused.
Think of me when you see women and men give impassioned speeches about how the young men in this country must change, must own up to their actions and above all must never hurt a woman.
Think of me when you visit my tumblr and see the quotes I post there about letting go of my past and know that it is you I am freeing myself from and I have never felt more empowered than I am right now as I go through this process.
Think of me as you go to church and present a sparkling clean image to everyone around you. Know that unless you tell the truth that image will forever be tarnished by acts you can never undo and only ask for forgiveness for.
Think of me when you return to where we spent the majority of our time. Look around and remember how that time is darkened by the acts you committed. Know that for you that place will never be the pure mecca you thought you created.
Think of me if you have a daughter. Look at her and wonder how you could have committed those acts against a woman. Look at that tiny beautiful face and pledge never to hurt another woman (or person) so long as you live.
Think of me when you read of women who have moved mountains, and who have beaten unspeakable odds.
Think of me when you read of women of strength, of power, of influence.
Think of me when you hear the word survivor and especially when you hear the word warrior.
At some point I stopped counting the months. At some point I stopped celebrating them. The first year I was home from CFC I celebrated (and usually blogged about – check the archives if you are interested) each month I was home from CFC. One month, I would type into my faceboook status leaving the world to guess. Two, then three and finally the big one SIX MONTHS HOME IN RECOVERY. I shared then because I had stopped hiding behind any facades. I had a two year gap on my profile from when I was in treatment, no answers from well meaning (or not so) people when they asked what I was doing (I actually started spouting off ‘finding myself’ if I got too irritated) and of course I’d started this blog. Hard to hide when you have a blog with your real name attached …And that was just it I didn’t want to hide anymore. So I didn’t. And I shared each of those milestones on here….seven months.eights months. nine months….ONE YEAR.
And after a year I continued celebrating. I didn’t count the months on facebook or on my blog. In fact, I didn’t count them for myself unless I delibratingly stopped and thought. There was a rough patch. A long one right after six month mark and into the year and a half mark while I waited for Benny to arrive. It’s seems like I spent more time in the psych. hospital than out while we tried to get me mentally stabilized and diagnose me correctly and a short stay at a trauma facility. But I never relapsed back into my eating disorder. I came close a couple of times but somehow I kept a hold of my recovery.
And then this year I celebrated my two year recovery anniversary – this past February actually. My parents and I went out to dinner (how appropriate and wonderful way to mark a recovery from an eating disorder). They gave me a sweet gift and so did Ben (:D).
And so I’ve continued. I’m not counting the months anymore. I suspect I’ll always mark the year. Maybe not publicly Maybe not with anyone else but to me February 22nd (or aroundish there) will always be a day of rebirth. But the moments, the minutes, the months that I stay in recovery? Oh, I let those fly by.
Except I stopped the other day. I was handing cash to a person in a drive-through and I looked down at my left wrist where I have a tattoo that says hope with the o replaced by the eating disorder recovery symbol and was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. And as I drove away from the drive-through I replayed it in my head. Slowly.
I. Am. In. Recovery. From. An. Eating. Disorder. That. Almost. Killed. Me.
I’m here. Handing cash to a person through a little window. Driving with the windows down and a dog’s head stuck out the back. Bad music coming from the radio. Not in a sterile hospital room. Not running laps around the block. Not dead. I am in recovery.
There are a thousand other scenarios that could be taking place today had I not stumbled onto hope and held onto it and let it lead me into recovery. But I did hold on. I did make it here. And I realized that yes, I do celebrate my recovery once a year perhaps it is something I should remind myself more often how precious it is. Not only is the reminder tattooed on my wrist it is around me in every way. All I have to do is look.
Ben is my service dog. I need to make that clear before I go much further. I have various mental health issues and Ben is trained to helped mitigate these. And his help is invaluable. I can honestly say he has saved my life.
Since January however Ben has begun to exhibit some growling behavior. His growling has occurred on several occasions which worries and upsets me. Growling is an unacceptable behavior for a service dog and not one which I desire to have my dog exhibit even if the growl presents no real agression. I have worked with Ben extensively on this and while it has improved I am not willing to continue to work him in environments that may cause him to growl. In addition, Ben began to display a laziness and a relectantness to do the task I ask and he is trained to do to help me mitigate my disability. After long talks with my mentor (who has trained her own service dog and we work very well together brainstorming and learning), parents and others in my life it has been decided that Ben will have less duties. He will not be retired because Ben will still be working in certain situations He has very, very strong strengths that it would be a shame to loose and it will be easy for me to avoid his triggers. Unfortunately this would leave me with a dog that does not perform vital tasks for me that include grounding skills that allow me to function to the best of my ability. Luckingly, I have a dog in my life who is ready to enter this role.
This dog is my dog Shona. Shona is a force to be reconded with. She entered my life at a little less than a year in between my treatment stays. She was what motivated me to continue to fight and to find a reason to live. She had a long puppyhood filled with jumping, hyperness and a generally high activity level. However, she has this very, very strong bond with me and has since day one. Now at almost four years old Shona is showing signs of being a mature dog that six months ago I wasn’t even seeing. She listens, heels, stays, comes and is beginning to perform vital tasks on cue. I have evaluated her with the help of those in my life and Shona is now entering the status of “service dog in training”. She has made several public outings and so far it appears that she may fill in the spots where Benny is lacking. I will continue to very, very closely monitor her progress but right now Shona is on the way to becoming my second service dog.
You may be asking why you donated money for me to receive a dog that is not performing the way he should. But without your support many, many things would not have happened in my life. Let me list these for you.
1) I have stayed out of the hospital for nine months now. This was unheard of before Ben entered my life. He has given me stability in my mental health. That is worth so much more than I could ever express to you.
2) He has shown me where my life is going. He has given me a path and a purpose to follow.
3) He has brought me back to training. He has led me to the Kennel Club where I am developing a community, a place to spend my time and my love for dogs and training.
4) He has made it possible for me to train my own dog. I have learned so much from Ben. He has been my teacher. Someday I plan to train service dogs. Ben is and always will be the best teacher.
5) He has shown me that I desire to go get a certificate in professional dog training. I will be starting that this summer. This is something I have always, always, wanted to do. To know where my life is going and I am going to be doing something that utilizes my passion is absolutely astounding and amazing.
So please, please know that you who donated money truly saved my life. Without the gift of Benny I don’t even know if I would be here. I was dangerously close to ending my life when this dog entered my life. And he is going to continue to stay here. He will be my service dog, he will simply have the help of another dog. And I get the blessing of having two extremely talented and intuitive dogs in my life.
Sorry for the delay in postings things in my life have been moving along at a faster clip than what I’m used to but what perhaps will be my new normal. This weekend my parents, Ben and I traveled to Fulton MO to see my brother, Chris, graduate from college with a degree in philosophy. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I saw his college, his home, met his friends and watched him walk across the stage and through the columns (a tradition his college has).
Ben did well. He is still in transition but Shona was not ready to attend graduation or go on a road trip quite yet so Ben went. And honestly, this would have been Ben’s strength anyways so even if Shona was fully trained this would have been an area where I would have chosen for him to go.
I’ll go into deeper detail about my own feelings from the experience but I want this post to honor his accomplishment. So here are a few pictures from his day.
And Chris – to make up for your commencement speaker: