Five out of the past six months of my life have been spent in three different treatment facilities and I'm still not done. More than likely there will be another treatment stay in six weeks when I finish my current program. That is my reality right now. This process is overwhelming because I am both terrified of losing this battle and I am terrified of fighting it.
Luckily, I have learned several new tools along the way that have helped keep me safe. The first time I was in treatment for an eating disorder four years ago, I gained the weight but I barely scratched the emotional surface. I did the best I could at the time, but didn't dig as deeply as I needed to for life long recovery. Here are a few things I am focusing on this time around in order in order to fully engage myself in the process:
I have spent my entire life wearing a mask in order to achieve a false sense of belonging. Depending on the situation and group of people I was around, I wore a mask to adapt to that situation and fit in with that group of people. I have been doing it for so long that I lost track of who I really was and what I wanted out of life. I felt like if I was making those around me happy then I would be happy. Emotional honesty has forced me to take off that mask. It has been incredibly difficult work, and more often than not, it isn't pleasant for the people around me. However, slowly, I have begun to see the benefits of having my inside emotions match my outside actions. Struggling my way through this part of my life and being real about it makes me human, not crazy or a bad person.
Similarities vs. Differences
A huge part of the reason I have been in multiple treatment centers is because I get caught up in picking out the differences between myself and the other patients. While I was in substance abuse treatment I told myself I didn't look like an addict so I didn't need to be there. Many of the patients there had come from jail or were homeless, but I was still functioning in my daily life, so I clearly wasn't that bad. I had a loving family and didn't experience trauma as a child, so I couldn't relate. I picked out the differences and effectively justified why I didn't belong there. Sure, it was effective, but more importantly, it also kept me in denial about how serious my addiction and eating disorder had become. Over the past several weeks, I have been working extremely hard to become aware of when I pick out those differences and put up that wall. It feels overwhelming at times because I do it so often; however, the more I share those moments with my therapist the more we are able to process it and dig a little deeper. It's not easy to admit I have put myself on that pedestal for so long, but facing it and picking out the similarities rather than the differences will be crucial moving forward.
There have been several moments I have wanted to give into cravings or be symptomatic. Sometimes in the moment giving into that craving feels like the only option because fighting it off requires doing the opposite of what I have done for more than a decade. Sitting through cravings and urges feels unbearable in the moment. However, if I allow myself to "play the tape through" and think about the consequences that will follow if I have a drink or engage in eating disorder symptoms, it helps bring me back to reality. At this point in my life the consequences are extremely high, but it's easy to lose sight of that when those cravings hit. Playing the tape through is frightening, yet effective. The consequences simply are not worth risking all of the hard work I have put into my recovery this far.
This one has always been difficult for me for several reasons. Reaching out to a supportive friend or a therapist means I have to tell the truth. I have been consumed by my lies and sneaky behaviors for so long; being vulnerable and sharing what is actually going on with me exposes me. Often my thoughts feel so absurd and illogical that it feels embarrassing to share them with others. Normal people don't think the way I do, right? Fortunately, I have been proven wrong in regards to the way "normal" people think. By opening up and sharing when I am struggling, I have been given the opportunity to connect with like-minded people. People who can relate. Viewing reaching out as courageous rather than a sign of weakness, has allowed me to feel empowered. Vocalizing my cravings and sneaky behaviors squashes the likelihood of acting on them. As the old saying goes, "You are as sick as your secrets." The more I allow those thoughts to fester and grow, the worse off I am. Reaching out over the past several weeks has changed my entire outlook on recovery.
One of the best gifts I have given myself is to remember when people say "recovery," they typically think of returning to how they were before the addiction or eating disorder. But there is no going back. It is irrational to believe simply gaining the weight or remaining sober is enough. It's about reinventing myself. In order to live a happy, healthy, and addiction or eating disorder free life, I need to become something completely different from what I was before. One of the girls I was in substance abuse treatment with always said, "You have to change everything but your name," and she was right.
I have a choice.
I can either give into my old ways
or I can challenge myself daily and rebuild my life.
Today I am grateful to have the skills and the ability
to choose the more challenging road.