I wake up in the morning and place my feet on the cozy carpet of my room, I stretch my arms high into the chilled air-conditioned air, and I breathe. I just breathe. I breathe deep and full and strongly just to, once again, be amazed with the power of my lungs. It’s normal now, to wake up and be shocked with the person in the mirror, to not recognize the fullness in my belly or the smile across my lips. But it isn’t at the same time because when you spent so many years in darkness, to be basking in the light is, and perhaps always will be, jarring.
Those who know what it was like to once live on the cliff between life and death, welcoming in hopelessness, honoring the hatred you had against yourself, now have a view of a world that’s a little different. You know a world that’s more dynamic than the person sitting next to you because your world is one you helped create. You got out and you helped God sculpt and mold and transform the little, frail, helpless child you had become into a magnificent, unpolished work of art. You helped God fulfill His purpose in you by helping yourself become something and you continue to do so everyday. That is recovery. That will always be recovery. The transformation of oneself every minute of everyday.
I look at a picture of myself. The one with my arms stretched out wide over the Gobi Desert and I am shocked. I think about how far I was able to run without a thought of calories or food or how my thighs felts through my shorts and I am thankful. I think about the friendships I have formed over the past year, how I can love so many so deeply now that my mind is functioning again, and I feel so full I want to cry. I picture all the people who came out to Unpolished’s fundraiser and I can no longer deny who I am becoming.
I am not sick anymore. No longer do I have to worry about how long I can go without food, about how far I can run on injured legs, about the endless monologue of numbers that our society throws my way, or how long I can sustain this destructive lifestyle. No, I look at myself, I think about my life, and I breathe. I breathe in peace and out fire meant to burn my past life to ash. My past behaviors, thoughts, self-deprecations dissolve to ash and fall to the gravel path before me. The ash sticks to the bottom of my muddy, worn down shoes and, with each step, I crush those lies beneath my newly powerful stride. I do so to know how far from being sick I am running.
It hasn’t been that long since I entered recovery. I made several stabs at it over the past couple of years, but those efforts never stuck until a little over 12 months ago. Last summer, July of 2015 was when I gave it all up. When I finally looked in the mirror and admitted that this was it. That I could no longer have an eating disorder and live. I could no longer welcome in society’s views on beauty and be healed. I could no longer diet or measure or hate or alter or judge myself. I could no longer look at my past as a thunderous storm destined to creep into my present and constantly destroy who I am becoming. I had to peel myself apart, layer by layer to find what was resting in the middle. I had to truly release myself from the bondages of my eating disorder, fighting every thought and every challenging body image moment along the way, until I got to my core. Until I met my soul.
The past 12 months have taught me so much. Things that I never thought I would ever come to believe for myself and that is why I made a list of the top 10 things I learned to share with you all – to share with someone in early recovery, or who is stuck in the cycles of relapse, or who just wants to get a glimpse of what became of someone who reconstructed the foundation they were once built on. I want you all to find something in my words to connect with.
I used to get real tripped up on what recovery meant. How would I know when I found it, what did it look like, what did it feel like? Was I doing recovery right? What were the requirements? Who graded my progress? Oh teacher, oh grader, oh evaluator, where are you to tell me I am doing everything absolutely perfect in order to be happy, healthy, and recovered? That is all BS. There is no formula for recovery. Therapists and treatment programs will help teach you skills to get back on your feet, but at the end of the day that isn’t what recovery means. Recovery can’t be taught. It is felt and you feel it the minute you start doing stuff other than tracking weights, counting calories, or hiding food. You understand recovery when you start living. And living is unique to each person so I can’t tell you what that looks like. I just know that only when I finally met life, did I know what recovery was. I knew I had found the key to the recovered lifestyle. Traveling, diving, writing, painting, loving people. Living. That is recovery. Not a DBT binder or your meal plan’s exchange list, but I can’t teach anyone that. That is something they have to figure out for themselves.
Maybe for some this isn’t quite so shocking, but for some reason I had been able to convince myself over the years that the sun might not return. My mind’s demons could get so loud and so persuasive that I was somehow convinced that once night came it was never, ever leaving. And it was this belief that got me to do some stupid stuff. It got me to binge over and over again, or starve, or purge, or run, or whatever other behavior because, hell, the sun was gone and I was stuck in this perpetual darkness for the rest of eternity, and life sucked, and I sucked, and I would never feel happy ever again….Then there came one day when I allowed the darkness, instead of sending me into a crazed frenzy, to just scare me. Scare me enough that I was paralyzed and didn’t move. I didn’t run to the eating disorder for hiding. I just sat there in it, exposed, cold, and scared. And you know what? The sun rose. It freaking rose the next morning and I went about my day. Because of this new discovery of mine the past year has been light years different. I have learned tolerance of the night, urges, triggers, and emotions because I know that even the most horrendous days only last for 24 hours.
I run when I want to run and however far I want to run. I eat what I want to eat and how much I want to eat. The two go hand in hand and I know immediately when the balance is off. It’s yin and yang, light and dark, eat to thrive, thrive to achieve. Without the ice cream or the burger or whatever my mind, body, and soul are craving, I have opened the conversation between myself and the eating disorder once again. And running or any sort of movement when the conversation has begun turns south real quick and becomes about numbers, numbers, numbers. But if you eat the damn ice cream, and you savor that stuff with each bite, and you go to sleep, and head out the next day to the trail, it becomes more about overcoming the control than living in it. (All depending where you are in recovery, of course. This being several years out from the first time I stepped into treatment. I know my limits and relationship with movement. I know how and when it is my eating disorder and when it’s for my genuine enjoyment. That is relative to each person though. So be cautious with how personally you apply this point I am making.)
I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to outsmart my eating disorder. Trying to logic my way out of my anxieties around food, my body, or numbers. Trying to will myself away from the irrationalities I was living in. After I first started to build enough awareness of my actions and how they were ineffective, I knew “logically” that my eating disorder didn’t make any sense. I read books, I studied the DSM, I went to groups, therapy, talked with dieticians, read about why my body needed certain foods, and still, after all that I didn’t get any better. My eating disorder controlled everything, my thoughts, my actions, my values. I knew better than to believe the disease and yet I couldn’t not believe it. It made zero sense. It wasn’t until I stopped looking to my mind for healing and just let myself be that things started shifting. When I simply was, I felt stuff. I cried and I never cried. I was excited and I never get excited. I found passions. What were those? Things started shifting the moment I stopped trying to logic my way out of having an eating disorder and started connecting with myself and the world again.
It’s true. The sentence says it all. I dance harder, love deeper, live fuller when the size of my jeans or the number on some dumb scale does not define me. I have gained weight over the course of my recovery journey. I know it. I can feel it. And, at times, I hate it. But then I have to remind myself that there was nothing joyful or exciting or rewarding happening when I was X amount of pounds lighter. Then I get up, I turn on the radio, and I celebrate the new tightness I feel in my pants because I would take pounds over misery any day.
I was a miserable person for many many years and in turn was no fun to be around. I was what Meredith and Christina from Grey’s Anatomy call “dark and twisty”. And I used to ask myself why I didn’t have any friends. Why no one ever invited me out? Why I was alone with my own miserable self? Because no one wants you over if all you’re going to do is head into their bathroom and clog their toilet with your week old shit. If you are giving off negativity that is what others are receiving and they quickly learn that is not something they want to be basking in. I don’t get worked up about this anymore. I spent too much time beating myself up for “wasting” so many years reeking of bad attitude. I couldn’t help it because I was blinded by my eating disorder. All that hatred and darkness, it wasn’t me. It never was me. That was the disease taking everything I was, all the way down to my personality, and keeping me locked away from the world. The eating disorder wants you to feel alone because when you are alone you run to it.
Nothing. Zilch. Nada. You can try and convince me otherwise, but I will just shake my head with every word. After losing my cousin, who was more a younger brother than anything else, at the age of 16 last December, you can’t look me in the face and say that anything is final or done or exact or definite. We are humans and we are always changing, evolving, discovering new interests, new passions, experiencing new losses, having to completely change our lives time and time again. Life and death. Recovery and illness. All are cycles and all are subject to change. So don’t tell me anything is certain or absolute because even God, the creator of this crazy world, is a complete mystery.
You can’t fill up others if you are pouring from an empty well. I can’t offer support if I am still struggling with the disease of my mind. I can’t be a good friend if I am a shitty one for myself. I can’t love if I do not know what love is. Love only fills the soul when there is excess. Meaning, when physical needs are met, emotional storms are managed, peace is made with the past, then the soul can overflow because the soul itself is no longer searching for water. It knows where to find it because once you enter recovery you find your love in life, in people, in faith. Remember the good old metaphor for recovery? That just like in airplanes when they say that you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you assist others, you can’t offer others connection, love, or support until you first know what those things are. Heal yourself and you will naturally begin to positively affect others.
Meaning if something scares you – a food, a job interview, a relationship – and it has the potential of reaping a positive outcome, that is what you need to try. Because it is in the situations that scare us most where we learn just how courageous we can become. For, courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it.
You can’t sit around and wait for some magical spiritual moment before you begin your recovery. Because if you are waiting for Angel Gabriel to swoop into your bedroom, speak to you in some godly booming voice, and pluck the eating disordered parasite from your mind, you may never get anywhere. You may be waiting in that same spot, on the edge of your bed, for the rest of your life. You have got to get up and start moving. God will meet you halfway. Slowly things will start falling into place. But it starts with that first meal, that first bite, then the second. Recovery gets put in motion with each morning you get out of bed and challenge the disease about what to wear that day, or what to eat, to what to say, or what to do. Recovery will come. I promise you. If you are willing to walk towards it first. I never fully understood this because each time that I started to enter “recovery”, the minute I felt uncomfortable I ran back to where I began. I put my toes in and then said “nope, too cold”, sat back down, and waited for that magical wave of lightning bolts to come and swoop me out of my eating disorder. But that is a trap. Recovery requires action. You won’t find it, if you never go out looking for it.