Written by: Emily Rutherford, who is a mental health advocate, artist (check out her instagram: @artwithanxiety), and contributing writer at Unpolished Journey.

The question always on the forefront of my mind is, “is this worth it?”

Is recovery worth it? Is living another day worth it? Am I worth it?

Self worth, or my lack thereof, has always played a role in my life from the way I view myself, to the way I so negatively self sabotage and beat myself up, or to the way shame washes over me when I make a mistake or embarrass myself immediately turning to a maladaptive coping skill to find relief.

Something I always remind myself when I’m getting wrapped up in a shame spiral is Brene Brown’s quote, “Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” And, “shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy” Now when the shame starts to wash over me, I always try to channel my inner Brene Brown and speak that shame to stop it from growing. In learning to do so, it has opened the doors to connection.

It wasn’t until this year that I found true reasons to recover. For the first time in years, that heavy, overbearing darkness was lifted and I didn’t walk around barely able to make it to the next day. I went weeks without wanting to end my life, was meditating for over an hour every day, and was for the first time ever, following my meal plan. Of course, everything comes in waves, and although that brief glimpse of light was quickly overshadowed by darkness after a few weeks, that light was enough proof that better times are possible, and that hurt and pain are not always going to be this overbearing.

Sharing my story has given me a reason to recover. I started sharing my art on Instagram, after I rediscovered my passion for it through countless hours of art therapy in treatment. From there I gained some followers and started receiving messages that my work helped them through a bad day. That then encouraged me to be more authentic and open myself, and since then, I’ve made such a great network of friends and fellow recovery warriors through the community on Instagram, and that account is a huge reason why I recover. Not only is it therapeutic to have that type of external expression through painting, but the joy that account brings me keeps me going.

I recover because I want to give back. The people that have helped me most on this journey are the members from my treatment team that shared, “I was once in your shoes.” They inspire me every single day and are living proof that recovery is not only possible, but so is using your own recovery to help others. For the past few years, my treatment team repeatedly tells me they’re holding hope for me when I can’t hold it for myself, and from that I’ve learned to put all my trust in them. There are so many times that I’ve given up on myself, but they’ve held onto hope, and that’s why I’m still here.

I recover because my body hasn’t given up on me either. Hearing people talk about body love or self love makes me cringe every time, because it feels so unattainable to me. Even liking myself feels like a stretch. But something Jenni Schaefer once told me was that first you just need to work on tolerating it. Simply start by not hating your body and trying to find things you appreciate about it that aren’t physical. I’m grateful my legs allow me to walk my dog. I’m grateful my heart’s still beating.  Thinking about my heart’s resiliency shifted my perception of myself. I’ll always be grateful for my heart. I often question why it chose to keep beating when I went through every action to make it stop, but I guess it held onto hope for me, too.

To be completely transparent, lately I’ve been struggling to hold onto reasons to recover, so writing this could not have come at a better time. It’s reminding me why I hold on, and why I keep going. That there are reasons to keep living, even when your depression and eating disorder try to convince you otherwise. Recovery comes in waves and is far from linear, but if you keep hope alive it will keep you alive. I should really get that tattooed on my forehead, because it has impacted my life the most. Hope keeps you going. Hope keeps you alive. You just need someone or something holding onto that hope for you as you walk through the scary darkness. The light will come back, it always does. And that’s why I recover.

Brave Enough

Written by: Gracie Mayer, Contributing Writer and Facebook Manager at Unpolished Journey

Just yesterday my friend sent me a message with a quote: “I realized that if I was brave enough to feel my pain, then I was brave enough to do something with my pain–this was the moment I became a badass”.

My reasons for recovery have fluctuated so much over the years.  I have tried to rush recovery to go back to school. I have tried to recover for my friends and family. I have tried to recover because I was embarrassed or ashamed that I was still struggling.  I know that my reasons for remaining in recovery will constantly change.  I will set new goals and intentions and enter new phases in my life where my responsibilities and my life center around other things.  But now, my reasons for recovery are very clear–I fight for recovery because I realized that if I was brave enough to feel my pain, then I was brave enough to do something with my pain.  My eating disorder used to bring me so much shame that I would hide it at all costs.  I was always very reluctant to reveal my struggle for fear of judgment or being labeled as “the crazy one.”  I was afraid people would see my mental illness as a choice or as something I could snap out of if I would just eat a damn sandwich.  I was afraid people would become hyperaware of my weight gains and losses.  I was afraid people would automatically dissect and judge everything I ate or didn’t eat.  And even more so, I was afraid to admit my struggle as I slowly began to step into recovery and embrace a full and healthy woman’s body.

As I stepped into recovery I didn’t want to reveal my struggles because I didn’t feel strong enough to deal with the… “but you don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” “well it looks like you’re doing better,” and “yeah, I mean sometimes I think I have an eating disorder too.”  I didn’t know how to express the severity of what it is like to wake up every morning with the goal of destroying yourself.  I didn’t know how to let people know just how panicked I felt when a friend asked if I just wanted to go out to lunch or grab a quick bite.  I didn’t know how to relay the feeling of being completely isolated at family events, celebrations, and parties because I was consumed with a battle of calorie counting, self-loathing and disgust at my choices.  I didn’t know how to explain the feeling of wanting to crawl out of your skin, of entering a recovery center and allowing a team of professionals to control your body weight, shape, size and food.  I didn’t know how to explain that every time I tried to push myself to recover a fear came over me that told me I would be safer in a smaller body and that controlling my food and my body was a way of showing myself that I was in control of anything bad that could happen to me.

I didn’t know how to just tell someone these things, and I wasn’t sure that everyone had earned the right to hear it.  But just recently I have been pushing myself to embrace the pieces of my identity that I had tried to hide for so long. I have felt that it is even harder to reveal my struggle when I do not currently fit the narrow-minded view of what society thinks a person with an eating disorder looks like.  But the fact is, this is exactly why I need to speak out.  It is important for people to realize that eating disorders do not look like anything.  Just because a person eats does not mean that they don’t or haven’t struggled with an eating disorder.  You never fully know a person’s story until they tell you.

I remember when I first got diagnosed, I was having a conversation with my mom where I said, “maybe my eating disorder isn’t even for me, maybe this illness is giving me the skills, strength and experience so that one day I can help someone else–maybe it’s not even for me.”  Well I now know that part of it was for me.  I have learned so much and grown so much as a person.  At the same time I have seen my eating disorder work in mysterious ways allowing me to connect, empathize and truly lift others up through a shared understanding.  I can understand what it is like to not want your own life.  I can understand how dark some days can get and leaving this earth truly seems like the best option.  I can understand the pain of feeling like you have failed and let everyone down.  I can also feel the joy of coming through on the other side.  I can share the truth that life is abundant and always working for us, not against us.  I realized that my pain was greater than me.  I realized that my pain was made to heal–to heal myself and to heal others.  I realized that pain is a common denominator, something that every human will feel.  I also realized that as much as our pain connects us, our pain is also transformative and capable of bringing the most sincere joy and love of life.  I know that if I am brave enough to feel my pain, I am brave enough to do something with it.  I recover because I have walked through fire and proved that it is possible to be still standing.  If I was brave enough to look my eating disorder in the face and tell it politely to “fuck off”, then I am brave enough to share my story for the possibility that it might help someone else.

Help someone realize they are worthy.

Help someone realize that it’s okay to struggle.

Help someone realize it’s okay to not always have it together and not always smile.

Help someone realize that they deserve to take up space and celebrate the space they have been given.

Help someone else realize that if they are brave enough to feel their pain, then they are brave enough to do something with it.        

Reasons to Recover

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey

Mental illness blinds us. It sticks us in a tunnel that appears to have no end. All darkness. All hopelessness. This tunnel that we are trapped in is small and dingy and only has enough room for ourselves. We become completely consumed by our own internal suffering that we are unable to notice anything happening around us. We become shut off to the concept that others might be struggling to, that we may be able to help if not so trapped within ourselves. We become blinded to any goodness, any light, any hope that may be surrounding us because we are trapped in that dark, hopeless tunnel with no belief in our ability to crawl out. Our world becomes only as big as the tunnel – narrow, small, dark, and completely isolated from the rest of the world.

This tunnel analogy rings true for me when I fall back into my eating disorder. Except, not only does my eating disorder’s tunnel appear small and dark, but it also comes with spiders and chains and an unrelenting obsession with myself. What did I eat today? What am I going to eat today? What do I look like? How much do I weigh? How many miles did I run? When can I binge next? Within the chains of my eating disorder, locked in that tunnel, there is no one else that matters except for myself, my food, and my weight.

When I am trapped in my depression tunnel, I become consumed with myself as well, with my focus more on my own suffering than food or my weight. I ruminate on past memories and reasons why I deserve to be so miserable. I am unable to fixate on why I am on this earth, and I replay in my head why I am undeserving of this thing called life. Depression is cruel. Depression is the monster in the tunnel that locked me up in the eating disorder’s chains and released the disorder’s spiders across my entire body. Depression in the mother of all things miserable and the captain of a self-consumed darkness that shuts everyone else out.

With all that being said, I have come up with my top three reasons to recover from these terrible diseases.  As I describe them, they are in no way ranked in order of importance. These three reasons are equally significant to my soul’s desire to recover.

  1. My first reason to recover is to be able to Experience Life. To get out of that damn tunnel. To pull myself out of that self-consumed misery so that I may be able to truly see the goodness surrounding me. I want to be able to have relationships, have passions, experience the world around me. I want to be able to smell the flowers, climb the mountains, bask in the sun. I want to dive below the ocean’s surface and fly high into the clouds. I want to truly live.

  1. My second reason to recover is to Help Others. When I am trapped in my mental illnesses, I don’t have the mental capacity for anyone else. I don’t even care enough about myself to begin to care about others. This is the exact opposite of who I was created to be. I know that we are here on earth to be able to reach out and touch the lives of others. Also, when you are able to help others, you begin to feel more confident in yourself because you feel like you matter, that you are significant, that you are needed. It is no wonder why mental illnesses want to keep us trapped in a tunnel because if we are isolated from the world then we don’t even have the opportunity to connect or inspire others. Therefore, we don’t feel like our presence even matters in this world.

  1. My third reason to recover is to Reconnect with my Passions.  I am an artist. I am a painter, a writer, a dancer, a performer, a speaker, a lover of all things creative. I watch movies for hours, analyzing the director’s and editor’s filming techniques. I critique art in museums. I read for hours without even noticing any time passing by. I am a passionate person. That’s who I created to be, but when I am in my eating disorder or chained down by my depression, all I care about is my internal suffering. I don’t have any energy left to be excited about art or creating. I don’t have any life inside my veins and therefore there is nothing left to overflow into my art. Therefore, I am not fulfilling my purpose and will, leaving me unsatisfied with my existence.

Mental illness loves to tear us away from our reasons to recover. It loves to blind us, trap us in those tunnels, and leave us in the dark. Its goal is to pull us as far away from our purpose’s so that we are unable to believe we even have one. It is important when seeking out a life in recovery to make a list of your own reasons for embarking on this journey. Pin them up on your wall, tap them to your mirror, stick them on your fridge, write them on your arm. Whatever you have to do to remind yourself constantly throughout the day that you WANT and DESERVE recovery.  You aren’t meant to live a life stuck in a dark tunnel.