Here’s to getting a life
I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately; about where I am now, where I have been in the past, and how on earth I got from there to here… I sometimes even wonder if it is possible that I am the same person that I was five years ago, or even just six months ago. I wonder if I dreamt it all.
I arrived back from Canada just three and a half weeks ago, where I stayed for four months in a residential treatment facility (more like a share house with therapy!) for treatment for anorexia. It was the end of the line for me – a last resort. Not physically, necessarily, but emotionally. I had given up hope that I could ever get better.
I had an eating disorder (anorexia, EDNOS) for nine years. It began with a simple “diet” of a miserable fourteen year old, who had always been concerned about her weight, and thought that if she could just get “thin enough” then things would be okay… It soon turned into something much more serious, undoubtedly fuelled by many years of depression, anxiety, self doubt, and self-loathing.
In that sense, I don’t really see a beginning to my “disorder” – everything that I experienced, everything that I did, came, essentially, from the same place… From the feeling that I was both at the same time “too much” and just “never enough.” My life was filled with and ruled by fear.
The present moment
Over those years of the ED, I did it all… But what behaviours I did and didn’t engage in are not important – they are not what matters, and they are not the story or message that I want to share. What I want to share is how I got better – how I managed to do what I never believed possible, and how I am managing to hold onto the life that I have worked so hard to create for myself.
By life, I don’t mean uni or work or anything external, but the simple (yet so difficult!) ability to be comfortable with myself and who I am, and to live in the present moment.
After so many years of being sick, I finally “gave up” trying to get better – that hurt more than anything else I’d previously experienced, but I honestly believed that I couldn’t get better (God knows I had tried) and felt that I would rather be dead. But then… I didn’t want to die. I wanted a life.
When I say I wanted a life, I don’t mean a “half-life” – I couldn’t live with one foot in my ED and one foot out… I couldn’t live without my ED but with crippling anxiety and social phobia… It was all or nothing for me. I don’t know the day that I decided to live again, to really, REALLY try to “get better”… I think it was the day I put my name on the waiting list for the treatment centre I went to (there was a six month wait!).
From that moment, I haven’t looked back. I’ve had a few slips, but surprisingly few – I knew that THIS time, I couldn’t afford to let myself slip, I just had to do what I needed to “DESPITE” – despite eveything. Despite how much it hurt, despite there being no guarantee that I would ever completely “get better,” despite being terrified of food and weight gain and anxiety, and responsibility, uni, failure, LIFE… Despite being scared of everything (and I literally mean, EVERYTHING!).
I worked hard. I worked really hard. I cried my eyes out, I dropped subjects at uni and then deferred to go to Canada, I sat with feelings that terrified me, that I had never sat with before, I talked to people honestly about what was going on, and I just kept moving forward DESPITE. I spent half my days non-functional (day time TV a videos were great friends at this time!) but I just kept moving. I refused to listen to the voices telling me to restrict or purge or hurt myself. I just sat with it all.
Do you know one of the key things that I found out in this period of time? It sounds so simple, but I believe it is so key… I found out that the feelings I feared and ran from so much were just that – feelings – and in themselves were not capable of hurting me (at least physically!) but would in fact pass (at least temporarily, to begin with!). I think I REALLY found this out for the first time when one day I decided to take the advice given to me several years prior by my therapist, to just SIT with and OBSERVE my feelings.
I though “hell, it’s worth a shot, at least once…” Do you know what happened? I sat at my lap-top and wrote. I typed and typed, with tears streaming down my face. I felt as if I were drowning, consumed by darkness and pain, but I was determined to see this thing out. After about an hour, an amazing and unfamiliar feeling of calm began to descend upon me, until eventually I actually felt, well, GOOD. It was as if I had been in the middle of a raging storm, and then all of a sudden the clouds parted, and I was left standing in the sun, with just a few water droplets in my hair to shake off.
I could barely believe what happened. It felt so surreal. It was then that I really began to trust that I could get through this… I knew if I could make it through once, then I could make it though again (and again and again and again…). I knew I could survive.
Not too long after, I left for Canada, well on my way to “recovery,” but still much in need of a lot of support, guidance and reassurance. Canada offered me that, but it wasn’t Canada that got me better. It was ME that got me better, not the centre, not all my therapists… Nothing but my sheer determination to LIVE and live fully.
There were times that I didn’t think I could make it (there are still occasionally times I think the same thing) but as one wise friend once said “There is only thing worse than trying to get better, and that is NOT trying to get better.”
It has been one of the hardest years of my life, but there are some key concepts and words that have helped me to keep moving forward and holding onto the vision of the life that I want… These words are engraved onto a ring I wear around my neck, and a bracelet on my wrist, which serve as reminders in the times that I need them… These words are “Courage” (because it takes a shite load to get better), “Friendship” (because it is one of the main things that makes life worth living, and that is hard to really have when preoccupied with an eating disorder), “Faith” (because it takes a huge leap of faith to believe that a better life is possible, in the absence of any evidence!), and “Despite” (because in order to recover you need to do an awful lot DESPITE your fears and barriers). I carry these words with me all the time. They roll around my head every day. They are all what I need to live.
Things have been good for a while now – better than I ever imagined they could be. I have room in my mind and in my life where previously only the eating disorder and my fears resided. I take joy in things that I was disinterested in or too scared of previously – friendships, dancing, music, intimacy, food, books… Life.
Some areas of life and friendship I thought were good while I still had my ED, but compared to what they are like now… The difference is indescribable. The other night I danced bare foot with friends at 2am to some guy playing the Bongos in Rundle Street. I’d always felt the rhythm inside me, but was too scared to let it out – too scared of appearing a fool. I am not anymore, and let me tell you just what an EXHILARATING feeling that is.
To finally be free. God, how the pain of the journey is worth it…