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.
Today has been exactly two years since I left The Center for Change. When you leave CFC each girl writes a letter of hope and reads it to the girls. Last year on my first year anniversary I wrote a second letter and now on my second anniversary I write another one.
Recovery. Two years of recovery. I never thought I would see this day. When I walked out of my last residential treatment stay two years ago I did so hesitantly I had been assured by my therapist that I had changed. That I had found hope. She believed that I was going to live but I wasn’t certain. The world was so new and still so terrifying. And last year when I wrote this letter? I was still living in terror 99% of the time. Hope was there yes but my grasp on it was so fragile that I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital for suicidal thoughts which really just translates to hopelessness.
So where am I today? Where do I stand? I have hope tattooed across my wrist as a reminder to never loose it and for the first time in my life I live with hope more than I live without it. How did that happen? I’m not exactly sure. I wish I could tell you so perhaps if you live without hope you could maybe have a fool proof formula to escape from the dark (God knows I wanted one). I suppose it was a combination of letting myself crawl towards the light instead of existing in the comforting but terrifying darkness and simply beginning to forge a life for myself.
Today, I have begun to scrape away at the walls I have formed around my heart and my existence to create some semblance of living instead of merely existing. I’m learning that living in recovery is much, much different that living into it. Living in recovery means making the right choices to prevent falls or picking myself up after the fall and going on. It means living a life focused on recovery because it is the only thing I can only focus on else it will all go to pieces. In contrast, living into recovery means living life focused on life while being in recovery. My focus in not solely on recovery but instead on living. On creating a world that exists outside of appointments and coping skills. Yes, those things exists in my life but they are integrated into my life instead of the main parts of my life.
For me, (and I can only speak for me) living into recovery looks much different than shaping my life around recovery. Recovery is my life and it is becoming more and more seamless and integrated. I’m not totally there yet but in the last few months I’m can see where my future is headed. And it is a future that I can only picture while living in recovery. Yet recovery is no longer separated from my life. They are becoming integrated into one. Life is beginning to equal recovery and I can see no way around it whereas before I could hardly imagine a lifetime of living in recovery.
So, where do I go from here? I keep learning how to live into recovery and create a life that is fulfilled through passions and dreams instead of avoidance and hiding. And what hope do I have to offer? I suppose the only hope I have to offer is this: I’m a different person now than I was two years ago, one year ago, one month ago. I have changed and the changes have been good. We avoid change because we are scared of it but without change how can one reach the light? I have learned that without moving and changing I can’t move from the terror of the past into the possibility of the future. So, reach for the light. I have and I’m discovering just how much I am beginning to enjoy living in the light.
Filed under coping skills, eating disorder, eating disorders, Hope, Identity, life events, New Life, PTSD, Recovery, survivor, the past, trauma
At the end of this month is National Eating Awareness Week (NEDA week). This month I am going to focus my blog on eating disorder awareness, what it is like to have an eating disorder and share some bits of my own journey.
I wrote a Letter of Hope last year as I was leaving CFC. Everyone does and then shares it with the community during their goodbye ceremony. They are powerful letters that range from funny to profundly serious. These letters are written to the community in which that person is leaving. Tomorrow it will have been one year since returning home. Today it has been exactly one year since I read the community my letter the night before I walked out of the doors.
I don’t know who the letter I am writting below is for. It’s partly for me but it’s also for others. The slogan for this years NEDA Week is “everybody knows somebody”. Well, maybe this letter is for the person you know who could have an eating disorder. Or maybe this letter is also for you. Either way I hope you gain something from my words.
I have been home one year now. Tomorrow it will have been 365 days since I stepped out of The Center for Change. That means countless, hours, mintues and seconds where I had to make decisions that could positively or negativly affect my recovery. Because you see recovery is made up of those deicisons. Those little seconds where your brain suddenly goes into overdrive and you face one question. Choose recovery or don’t.
I had times where I chose recovery. Where I listened to my intuitive eating cues and followed them allowing myself to eat what I wanted. I had times where I wanted to so badly self-harm but I didn’t. I called someone or called Shona to snuggle with. I chose to go to therapy and be honest even when honesty had ramifications.
And then there were the times that I didn’t choose recovery. When I didn’t listen to a hunger pain or my ‘wise mind’ about a behavior that was self-destructive. When I deliberately weighed the consequences and chose the route that was not recovery orientated. When I could ask for help and chose to ignore the supports in my life.
But I think that both the times of choosing recovery and not choosing recovery is what recovery is all about. Recovery is a daily behavioral, cognitive and emotional choice that exists even when mistakes are made. Recovery is a choice (even if it doesn’t feel like it – I’ve learned it is) and sometimes you make mistakes and the wrong choice. But recovery isn’t perfect no matter how much anyone wants it to be. It just stays recovery until the slips and lapses become the norm and relapse has occurred.
In the last year I have realized that what I am choosing to call recovery is actually called life. Life is a series of ups and downs (or so says what I have been told) but I never allowed myself to actually experience life so how can I know what life is like? I’ve learned my data on life that I learned for the first twenty years of my life really needs to be updated. That work began in treatment at Laureate, continued at CFC and now is really beginning. I’m learning about life as I’m living it. I’m not observing it from behind the walls of a treatment center or through hazy, malnourished eyes. I’m in the word facing things as they come. And what comes is joy followed by a period of pain. Or it’s ambilivance and boredom. Dissapointment and tears. Laughter and singing.
Somedays, I don’t want to be in the field of life. I think that I much prefrered the ditches of my eating disorder where I watched my life pass by. But I’m lieing to myself. I like the new life I’ve forged. I like having my dogs around me. Eating meals at a kitchen table with family every Thursday. Driving my car listening to playlists. Calling friends and laughing or crying. And I find that I even like the responsibility that life brings.
The times were I have slipped have shown me that. In fact, for a time I was convinced that recovery (i.e. life) was not worth the pain I was feeling. But then something happened. I picked myself up. I moved on. And things were ok again. Not perfect but ok. So maybe I’ve had to adjust to the fact that life and recovery isn’t all flowers and sunshine but is much better explained as thorns, thorns and then a flower (sometimes just a dandellion) but the point is that I’ve adjusted and I’m going to continue trying to adjust.
I don’t know where you are. Maybe you’re sitting on one of those excuses for couches that they seem to put in all hospitals and treatment centers or maybe you’re at home reading this. Maybe you suffer with an eating disorder or maybe you don’t. I don’t even know if this ended up sounding like a letter of hope or maybe more like ‘this is life and it’s survivable and sometimes even wonderful” type of letter. But it’s what I have a year later. It’s what I have to offer you but more importantly offer to myself because I am the one who will need to read this in those dark days of life.
So wherever you are, whoever you are I wish you LIFE.
February 23 2012
Filed under coping skills, eating disorder, eating disorders, faith, family, friends, Identity, life events, NEDA, New Life, Recovery