The Foundation of Recovery is Connection

Words by: Madeline McCallum. Follow more of her journey on her blog, Madeline’s Musings.

The fear of being alone is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. I think this is why illnesses, mental and physical, from mild to severe, can be so detrimental — they separate, they divide, they force us to isolate, sometimes they cause us to create self-destructive myths that push us even deeper into unbearable loneliness.

In order to fight this very strong current that pulls you into solitude, you first must believe you are worthy of connection, of being seen, of being heard. It has taken me many years, many hours of therapy, and a lot of painful self-reflection to realise that this has hindered me from forming deep, authentic relationships. And this is precisely why finding a community in recovery is important — it is part of recovery, it forms the very foundation of healing and growth. In order to quiet the voice that tells you that you don’t deserve help or that you don’t need support, you must stand firm in the fact that you are worthy of friendship. You must believe that there are people out there who will care for you and who desperately want to see you — and I mean really see you.

I am realizing that my greatest battle against my demons is waged every time I decide I am worthy of deep, fulfilling friendship.

Every time I choose fellowship, a piece of my illness fades into the background. My darkness loses a few shades, my burdens feel less heavy. Each morning when I choose connection instead of isolation, vulnerability over fear, I am growing stronger in my recovery and more fully into my authentic self.

Cultivating a community externally is even stronger when you have already connected to your own inner source. When you are reaching out from a place of lack, you are only ever going to build a forced fabrication of a network. When you begin your search for a community with an open, honest mind, you may be surprised who walks into your life. As Sylvia Plath said, “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” Relationships are living, breathing things that twist and turn and morph with the seasons. And how exciting! How lucky we are that by reaching out for someone else’s hand, we are not only filling up our own life with more meaning but we are also bringing another dimension to theirs as well.

Opening up to others can feel really scary, but it shouldn’t cause you to immediately shut down the idea of having a community. You don’t need to fling your door wide open, you simply have to crack it open, leave it ajar to possibility. In my experience, setting out to build a support network with the type of “support” you think you need already pre-determined is never as effective as just opening your heart to human connection and watching where your vulnerability takes you. Sometimes you feel the most connected to someone when talking about things that have seemingly nothing to do with you or what you are going through. I have found that forming a community is always a balancing act that consists of being very selective about who you share your energy while making sure not to isolate yourself and develop a fear of vulnerability.

In her book Choose Wonder Over Worry, Amber Rae posits, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it is connection.” What is going to spearhead recovery the most is not throwing ourselves wildly in the opposite direction. Becoming obsessed with the other end of the spectrum is just another form of addiction, another blocker in the path, another numbing mechanism. The real work is to be found outside of the polarities, through unmasking pain by revealing our humanness to others.

 

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Recovery Diary 09/24/18

Sounds of a rushing stream trickle out of my phone, trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m not actually in my bedroom on the third floor of an apartment complex in downtown Chicago. My roommate isn’t vacuuming and my downstairs neighbors aren’t blasting shitty pop music. It’s the illusion of calm- the roaring fan blowing cold air, the phone singing of rushing water, the candles flickering offering up vanilla and toasted coconut. I trick my mind into believing I’m somewhere in the forest burning incense and sleeping under the stars while my mind tricks me into believing I am fat, unwanted, and all alone. It’s a trade-off, an unwritten contract, an agreement made some time ago that neither of us can seem to let go of. It’s a habit at this point, one that I am slowly trying to break.

It’s like trying to stop biting your nails. At first, you don’t even realize you’re doing it until your thumb is between your teeth and the top part of the nail is ripped off. Awareness is the first step. I tell this to the girls I work with all the time. We don’t want to hear that because it suggests that the process standing in front of us is far more intense than we expected. But, awareness is the first step. It was and always will be my fall back point. I find myself day-dreaming about losing weight, I light the candles. I start heading towards the scale at the gym, I listen to the stream in my headphones. I lie in bed reminiscing on depressed thoughts, I turn on the fan and allow myself to fall asleep and reset.

I trick my mind to keep my mind from tricking me. I used to believe it was a trade-off, a balanced relationship, one that would always leave me on the same level as my mental illnesses. I thought recovery was just about managing symptoms and thoughts and behaviors. Take my meds, eat my food, go to therapy, wash, rinse, and repeat.

I started to lose track of the days, but somewhere through the last couple of months I have risen above the tricks of my mind. I have found ways around them. Awareness became planning and planning became actions towards fighting back. The sounds of the stream, the candles, the fan, my art, my books, my snacks, the pool, the medication in my cabinet- these aren’t tricks anymore. These things are my safety net. They make me feel safe when my mind is a battleground. I have found weapons to quiet the cannons and gunshots. I know the secret now. Sometimes I just forget I have the tools.

My Marmite of Recovery

Words by: Florence Taglight.  Follow more of her unpolished journey here.  

Unlike ‘Marmite,’ I have felt every way about the word community when it comes to recovery. Loved it, Loathed it, Thanked it, Wished it didn’t exist and to be honest, I still am not quite sure how thick to spread it on my toast.

 I first realized I loved it when I went to treatment as I finally realized I was no longer alone – something that before then, although I saw online, and on social media, and read about – I still felt – alone that is. Despite the number of people who told me I wasn’t, I still felt like I was the only person in the whole wide world who felt like I did, who felt that sad for no reason, who looked at food as the enemy, not energy, who believed that unless she was perfect she was nothing. So being in a room with 30 people who got it ( even when I didn’t yet) was a huge weight – pardon the pun – lifted off my shoulders. I could hear their stories, and slowly but surely they began to resonate with me, I began to match their cards with mine and connect the dots.

Why I loathe it:

A bit like how a wildfire spreads from bush to bush, alighting one tree, then the next and before you know it the whole forest is lit. A bad day spreads as easy as marmite (oh, in case you are wondering, I hate marmite so why I have subconsciously chosen to make it the metaphor for this post who knows..perhaps its because my sister loves it). Although the online fires don’t always spread so fast, it’s easy for someone to bring me down, too easy in fact. People can be like a grey cloud in your day, and something I am slowly learning to do is let that cloud blow over, or if it does open, to let it open without making me stormy. Trust me, it is no easy feat. I still struggle when I hear someone talk about their diet, or how they ‘earned’ their cupcake but after all, without their rain, my sun wouldn’t be able to create a rainbow.

Why I kept it in my cupboard, long past its sell-by date (Wait, does Marmite expire?):

….and still do. I have met some people who I never ever ever want to leave my life. Their clouds are not clouds that rain on me, but for me to look after and nurture. (Oh, and in case my sister comes over.)

Why I wish it was never ‘invented’ in the first place:

Sometimes I think it would be a hell of a lot easier if I wasn’t ‘part’ of these communities, especially on social media. If I never had to see a quote on Instagram and be reminded that I have an eating disorder, or of my debilitating anxiety. Because after all, the last thing you need on a good day is to give something to the voices to latch on to. However, one day, I will scroll past these posts and the voices won’t latch, they’ll be too far gone, and then, I guess, I’ll be glad recovery communities exist.

Recovery Diary 09/16/18

When I was in Costa Rica in February, everyone gathered on the beach with drums and ribbons to dance, howl, and sing as the sun set. There was a loud roar from the entire crowd when the sun made its final descent along the horizon. When the party slowly faded and the sky turned from pink to purple, we all packed up and started filed like little ants back into our tents in the forest before it got too dark to see anything.

When I was in Thailand in June, we sat on the beach singing mantras and strumming guitars while lying on our backs in a circle. We sang louder and howled as the sky turned pink and the sun dipped away for the night. We stayed on the beach until twilight and the mosquitoes became unbearable. Then we went back to our bungalows, made curry, and danced with our host families young daughter.

Today, I was sitting on a deck in Key Largo watching the sun set over the ocean’s horizon line while listening to Tash Sultana and laughing with my best friends. We smiled and argued over whose picture captured the sky’s beauty the best- even though the pictures were nearly the same. Then we sat in rocking chairs and talked nonsense before coming inside to prepare for tomorrow’s day full of adventures.

Nighttime tends to be the most difficult for me. It is the time when urges are heightened and nightmares come to life behind my close eyelids. It is where I lie in the dark afraid of the hurt child inside me. It is when my stomach is bloated from a day’s food and I take another sleep aid to try and calm my racing mind- which has suddenly convinced me that I am nothing but cellulite. The dark brings the demons out in me. The shadows of the night and the demons from my past are best friends. The speak to one another underneath the black sky like old lovers- embracing and precious.

Some nights are full of tender moments. Moments that make my soul smile and my heart race. Like last night when my friend and I stayed at this man’s house in Coco beach. It was just a room that he rented out for $25 a person. He was older and single. He said he gets lonely and likes meeting interesting people. There was another guy staying in the back room. We all chatted, ate rice and beans, watched Avatar, and swam in the pool. The night was peaceful. It was free of the voices in my head. But I woke up the next day to my friend telling me I kept hitting and pushing her away in my sleep. I shrugged it off, but there was a sinking in my stomach. Even on nights where I believe the peace I always pray for has finally overtaken the demons, I am reminded of those memories in my head.

“Nightmares…I have nightmares sometimes,” I explain, “I’m sorry.” Suddenly I am embarrassed and hurry to finish Charles’s dishes.

I don’t want people to know I still struggle.

I am still hesitant about breaking the illusion of perfection in recovery.

Two nights ago I was in the forest, dancing to Ben Howard at midnight in this room called the Glass Castle. As the music continued, the harder I danced. There was passion pouring out of fingers, anger expelling from my feet. I felt powerful. I felt so damn powerful. Then the music stopped. I noticed the sweat covering my legs and stomach. I noticed the dark. I laid down. I closed my eyes and listened as the next song began. I sang along, humming mainly because I didn’t know the words. A peace rushed over me. A sensation of gratitude and longing. Longing for time to bend and swallow me into this memory. Everything just felt right because while completely encapsulated by the music and night, it all made sense.

Recovery, like everyone always says, is not linear. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes you go left when the map wanted you to take a right, but you get rerouted and everything turns out in the end- if only you keep moving. But, recovery is so much more than that.

Recovery is simply life.

The sunsets, the nightmares at Charles’s, the dancing in the forest, these were all moments that reminded me what it means to be human. You have these divine realizations of the beauty of each passing day, the celebration with communities about the coming night and the promise of the next sunrise. You have dark moments like the nightmares that keep you grounded. They remind me where I come from. They remind me of my strength, of my resilience, of my continued hope. Then there is the dancing and the freedom of my movements. The sweat, the heavy breathing, the music, the ground beneath my body, and the intensely black forest sky above my head- these are the moments of understanding. These are the moments when this crazy recovery journey I have been on, for a second, appears in my mind as a cohesive narrative.

 

 

Recovery Diary 09/12/18

It’s 8pm but it feels like 2am because I spent all of last night tapping my foot against the wall and counting the shadowy lines through the window panes. I’m in Florida, somewhere in the woods, in a cabin by a underground cave that I’ll be scuba diving tomorrow. I love it. I love the taste of adventure fresh on the tip of my tongue and the promise of the water that the next sunrise is going to bring, but I also struggle, even on vacations, even on adventures.

I forgot all of my medication in Chicago. I realized it at 11pm last night and my heart sank. Of all things, of all the damn things I could have forgotten, it had to be the medicine. The one thing that isn’t easily accessible to me when I am driving around the southern forests looking for random caves to jump in to. I had to make frantic calls and find a CVS the next morning. I felt nauseous from the lack of medication last night and my heart was racing because I didn’t take the pill that keeps the arrhythmia at bay.

I have a chill personality, but a racing mind. I have so many ideas and thoughts and plans and dreams that jump behind my eyelids with each passing moment. The tree on my left inspired a short story playing out behind my right eyelid while the song in my ear plays a modern dance piece behind my other eye. Call it the syndrome of a creative. Call it the artist’s madness. Call it whatever you want, but there are moments where I lose it. Not externally, no externally I have never been calmer, but internally I am a bucket of boiling lava that is raging a war against my intestines and throat.

I started making a list of all the things I needed to accomplish when I got home. At what point did my racing thoughts turn from creative to anxiety? I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps somewhere between arguing with the pharmacist and incessantly calling my psychiatrist hoping that she would call back. But, there was a switch and suddenly the adventures of my friend and I in the forest, scuba diving, and camping in tree houses became an obsessive search of the vaccines I never got and what diseases I am now going to die from. I don’t know why, of all things to worry about, vaccines popped into my head. Maybe because I had been dealing with doctors to try and figure out my medication? Who knows why the mind does what it does? But either way, I googled Walgreen’s clinics next to me and tried to make an appointment. I mean, might as well go in tomorrow so that I don’t worry for my entire trip right? Plus if I wait another day before being vaccinated, I could be infected tomorrow and I’d never forgive myself.

The mind is a crazy machine. It needs to be carefully watched and attuned or else it may run rampant and convince you that you should spend your time in rural Florida searching for a Walgreen’s clinic instead of diving the underwater cave 100 yards from your cabin.

Flash forward to passing out around 8:45pm and waking up to the 90 degree heat of the morning. Flash forward to a night’s rest and the magic of sleep. Sleep has a remarkable ability to reset the mind and challenge my irrational thoughts, worries, and obsessions.  I decided the mix of sleep deprivation and forgetting my medication resulted in the panic. I’m sure anyone reading this would have been able to figure that one out. But when you’re trapped in that moment, everything feels so real, so heavy, so extreme.

Yesterday was a day heightened by anxiety. Today was a day enlightened by adventure.

Diving into that cave…breathtaking.

The thrill of swimming through those smalls crevices…heart-stopping.

The beauty of the pictures….unexplainable.

The moments…cherished.

Recovery Diary 09/09/18

There’s a certain euphoria that accompanies watching the water. The bend, curves, and movement of the droplets each have their own personality. To imagine all these little drops of water dancing together to make up such an amazing example of the order of everything, is mesmerizing. I have and always will be enchanted by the water. We have a love for one another that is unexplainable, but the relationship doesn’t exists among words because the connection does not make sense in this reality. It is a spiritual bond. I feel it in the smile on my face, the kiss of coolness of my skin, and the beauty of the dance of the waves.

The waves are huge tonight. The water is angry. It crashes and screams against the concrete barrier which I am sitting on. The wind howls and the sky is grey giving the water a greenish hue. The crashes echo into the air creating a melody so sweet and powerful, I can’t help laugh along. The water dots my cheeks and I giggle with each touch. Suddenly I am a small child experiencing everything for the first time. There is a magic in these moments and I am completely at peace.

My mood shifts as quickly as the water’s waves. Just minutes before as I was driving towards the water, I felt on the verge of tears. There was a deep rooted darkness spreading rapidly in my gut up towards my throat, leaving me silent and uncomfortable. Now here, everything feels like complete bliss. I am light and clear and the darkness has shrunk once more. My voice returns in the form of laughter and joy. I no longer feel connected to the dark figure that road here along with me.

These mood swings have been happening frequently over the last couple of weeks. I am riding them out, which is a new concept for me. Before I would jump headfirst into the darkness, believing its lies as I slowly drown into self-hatred.  But that cycle didn’t work, it never worked, it never will work so I am trying something different. It’s called waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting with the hope that something will change. Of course, I do other things- coping skills as the professionals would say. Meditation, yoga, art, music, and lots and lots of reading. These skills are supposed to turn things around, lighten my moods, make me feel less dark and heavy. Maybe it does help, but the change is so slight that I don’t notice. I suppose I believe in the change because I keep doing these skills and waiting for things to turn around.

But nothing the professionals have taught me compares to gentle hug I receive from the water.  I find myself commonly singing around my apartment the soundtrack to Moana, “I’ve been staring at the water…” and so on. My roommates and boyfriend laugh at it, but they too know. They know that I am, in fact, just like Moana. I feel this connection with the ocean deeper than any connection on land. It gives me joy by simply being by its side. I am a child in love for the first time. It calls to me, sings to me, talks to me, and suddenly I am the hippy grandmother from Moana dancing on the beach while the manta rays encircle me.

My name means Lady of the Sea. Is it the ultimate irony? Have I unconsciously adopted the love for the ocean because I knew the meaning of my name from a young age? Or was this name meant to be, specifically chosen to me from some spiritual realm unknown, at the time, by my parents? We all can believe our own answers to these questions. I don’t dwell on them. I just love that even my name points me towards the water. What a gift, what a friend, what a complete punch in the face to the loneliness that my demons spill upon me.

I sit and watch. I close my eyes and allow the mist of the waves kiss my cheeks. I say a prayer. I meditate. I film the crashing of the water against the concrete. And then I leave. I leave knowing that I will be back, tomorrow and the next day and every day after that.

I leave knowing if I continue to nurture this love, no darkness will ever overcome me again.

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Thoughts on Social Media

Words by: Zoe Spiers. Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

The internet can be a wonderful thing – it can bring you closer to those friends and family members across the world, rekindle old friendships, and with just a few hashtags it can bring like-minded people together. It can bring people together into a community that would not necessarily meet in the outside world. And that’s amazing. Unfortunately, though, the internet can a dark place too, forming communities that are damaging and unhealthy – they may feel comforting to know you aren’t alone, but they can be incredibly detrimental to your well-being. I remember being a teenager and stumbling across Tumblr, and as with any social media, it can be a really good way to express yourself and find creative inspiration. But I fell into the community that fed my eating disorder. These sites can trigger disordered thoughts about eating, and hashtags make it all the easier for others to find these sites that promote eating disorders.

The internet is a double-edged sword – it’s easy to slip into the darker side of the internet, especially when you’re lured in by the fact there are others that face the same struggles as you, that are plagued with the same thoughts as you. Yes, it’s a community, but it’s a harmful community where everyone is dragging themselves down.

In the depths of having an eating disorder, most have those fleeting thoughts of ‘what if things didn’t have to be like this,’ and in that fleeting moment instead of the usual hashtag you search for, you type in ‘#edrecovery.’ In that one fleeting moment, things can change so much, because you’re introduced to a community of people that do still have the same struggles as you, people that still have the same thoughts as you, but they’re a community desperate to fight their eating disorder.

Finding this community of people who are all striving for recovery, just like you, is empowering. Seeing others do well in their journey gives you hope. Finding this community is one of the best things one can do for themselves in their recovery journey because having an eating disorder can be so incredibly isolating and lonely.

The recovery community is what helped pull me out of a relapse, and on the days I struggle most, they remind me that I am fighting one of the hardest things someone could ever fight: my mind. They remind me that my best is enough and that if I slip up, it’s okay. We support each other, we lift each other up, we celebrate our victories together and challenge our eating disorders together.

Finding a community in recovery can be such an incredible tool to aid in your own recovery, whilst helping others along the way. The kind of connection you develop with your community is deep, as you truly understand things about each other that the outside world may not – this community becomes your friends and your family.

The recovery community is full of compassion, support, and cheerleaders. The recovery community is life-changing – for both yourself and others.

 

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Recovery Diary 09/05/18

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery…..is…..not…..

I have heard it a thousand times. In fact, I have heard it so much that the words have started to disintegrate the minute they fall out of professionals mouths. I’m not asking for linear. I just want relief. I want a surgeon to go into my brain and remove the parasite that has made its home between my sanity and freedom.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am in recovery. I am the farthest I have ever been in recovery. Months are passing and I am slowly becoming more and more of myself, but I have these nights. These god-forsaken nights where everything folds in on itself and I am left curled into a little ball of confusion and desperation. And then what happens when I feel small, conflicted, and stressed? I want to lose weight. I dream about it, fantasize about numbers, I pinch at my skin, I revel at the release that removing this layer of cellulite would give me. It’s my default. Same as a drug addict craving a hit. I crave emptiness, numbness. I am addicted to food. I know that. I am constantly reminded of this fact.

My day was perfect. The morning was great, peaceful. I went to a bookstore and spent way too much money on books that excited every cell in my body. Books are my high. They have always been there for me. The stories can bring me far, far away from my reality. I could read for weeks, never speaking to anyone, and be the happiest girl in the world. Of course, that would be unhealthy and weird by societal standards so instead I limit myself to hours at a time with incense and jazz music playing the background. My safe place. Therapists always tell you, you need a safe place.

Anyways, the morning was great. Had some avocado toast that was bomb. Listened to a Trevor Hall’s new album, and drank a latte that was poured by the gods. Then I walked into therapy and everything started to shift. The air in the office was thick. I felt suffocated, uneasy. I wanted to turn around and run away, but I always feel this way when I walk into therapy. It is in this tiny little office on the third floor, that I am confronted with all the issues I ignore throughout the week. I am asked how I am, what I need to talk about, and I shrug. It is the usual routine. I never know. I always feel fine like there’s nothing to be discussed. I am eating and apparently that translates as nothing is wrong in my life.

Therapy leaves me walking like a maniac down the sidewalk. I am checking my email, Instagram, texting people back. I can’t do one thing. I have to have my mind racing with many many thoughts in order to keep this panicked energy at bay. I am manic. I am manic. I am sure that I am manic right now. But I just had a session. It could be anxiety. It could be mania. I could be dying of some brain tumor that is pressing on the sanity part of my mind and turning me crazy. The possibilities are endless, but my doctor just increased my meds so I rule out mania. I have no other symptoms of a brain tumor, and I fall back on I am panicking. Suddenly I wish it was something more because I have no idea what to do with this moments of sheer anxiety. I turn on my car. The gas light is on. I can’t pay for gas. The prices are so high right now. But I Google gas stations and pick the one with the lowest price. I start driving. Traffic is awful, my hands are shaking, but I make it to the gas station only to realize it is the Costco one and the line is crazy long and I am not even sure that I can get gas here because I am not a member of the Costco tribe. So I go to the next gas station. There’s another line. I wait and wait and wait. It starts pouring. Traffic is getting worse. I need to get to work by 5. I will never make it by 5. I call my boss. She doesn’t answer. I call the house. My co-counselor picks up. I tell her to ask someone to help her make dinner. She says no one else is there. I swear. I tell her I am sorry. I’ll be there as soon as possible. I beat myself up about being an idiot for spending so much at the book store. I put the gas on my credit card. At least I’ll get rewards points for traveling. I get on the highway. Suddenly everyone has forgotten how to drive because of the rain. I try to sing to music. I am still panicking. Nothing is helping. I roll into work a half hour late. I frantically start preparing dinner and things seem okay for a moment. I start to get in a grove. I talk to the patients. They make me feel at home, they make me feel welcome, they make me feel like I have a purpose. Work is good. It keeps me busy. But then as the shift comes to a close I start to spiral. The panic I shoved down the moment I walked into work resurfaces and all I can think about is the eating disorder. I start dreaming about it, planning my relapse, how to get to the grocery store, how to lose weight, how to binge, how to get a scale, on and on and on. My mind is relentless. I can’t turn it off. I start pinching the dimples on my thighs and panicking about how large I have gotten. Everything feels bleak and hopeless. I drive home. I listen to Julien Baker’s “Turn Out the Lights” and everything changes…

Do you ever have those moments where there’s the perfect song at the perfect time? The song is a little bleak, but it spoke to me in that moment. Then I was reminded of tomorrow. That even these hard moments in recovery, even the worst days are only 24 hours. Ride the wave. Come on Morgan, ride the wave. Don’t do something you are going to regret in the morning. I drive straight home and immediately get into bed. I close my eyes and sigh. I made it. The demons didn’t catch me. I made it another day. I made it through another battle. And I fall asleep exhausted from the war I had been fighting for the years and years and years.

Thoughts on a Road Trip

Words by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.  

I recently went on a family vacation to Tennessee.
I live near Toronto.
We decided to drive.

Essentially, I had a lot of time in the car to think about what being gentle with myself means, and how throughout my recovery journey, I have learned, and am still learning how to.

So, being gentle with ourselves. What does that mean? What does that look like?

I know for myself when I first began recovery, I really didn’t know what it meant or what it looked like. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t be gentle and kind with myself when I was engaging in disordered behaviours. Being gentle with ourselves at the beginning of recovery is almost foreign because treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness is something the disorder doesn’t allow. When we begin recovery we are relearning, and unlearning thoughts and behaviours that have been a part of our daily routines for quite some time. We are discovering new interests and hobbies. We are starting a new relationship with ourselves. And in order to become our own friend, we have to show ourselves compassion and gentleness, time and patience.

At the beginning of my recovery journey, while I was still in an outpatient program, my dietician and I came up with something called ‘cozy tea time.’ Cozy tea time meant that at the end of the day, I would take some time, which would be anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, to do something that brings me joy accompanied by a cup of tea. Sometimes this included reading, drawing, doing puzzles and word searches, listening to music or washing my face, but the point of cozy tea time was to do an activity that I enjoyed, in a mindful and judgment freeway. If I found myself talking down, judging or my inner critic becoming loud, I would take a break and sip my tea. This was a really nice way to be gentle with myself, and to discover some new things that I enjoyed doing. It took me a few tries to find activities that I did enjoy doing. Some nights are different than others, and it’s okay to not like something you once enjoyed. It’s okay to try and try again.

Another part of being gentle and kind to ourselves comes from our internal dialogue. The way we speak to ourselves matters, and it has taken me a while to truly understand how important it is to speak kindly with and towards myself. Sometimes I have a very strong inner critic voice in my head, that creates self-doubt and conflict, but I’ve been working on how to recognize those thoughts and counter them with some positive self-talk. I think it’s important to remember that we are trying our best, and our best can look different from day to day. That is okay. Our best is enough. Something I’ve been doing is writing down positive affirmations on sticky notes, and leaving them around my room. Sometimes I hide them, and find them days later, which is a nice little surprise. By having positive affirmations and little quotes around my room, it has helped me remind myself to be patient, and gentle. Sometimes I come across them at a time when the inner critic is quite loud. Sometimes they’re just a nice way to start my day off.

“Be easy. Take your time. You are coming home to yourself.”

-Nayyirah Waheed

So, to answer the questions at the start, ‘what does being gentle with ourselves mean and what does that look like?’ Well, my answer may be different from your answer, and that is okay. Being gentle with ourselves is so important in so many aspects, and how we are gentle with ourselves should be done in ways in which we enjoy and not feel pressured into doing. I’m still learning a lot about how to show myself compassion, and sometimes I need to remind myself to be patient, as a lot of this is still new to me. That is okay. Being gentle towards ourselves is healing a part of us that has been hurt in the past, and healing takes time. Learning takes time. We deserve to be gentle with ourselves. We deserve to heal.

My thoughts on the drive to Tennessee were something like this. Jotted down on a napkin and tucked away in my trusty backpack.

The car ride was 16 hours.
Lots and lots of patience.

Recovery Diary 09/01/18

It’s Saturday morning and it’s storming. The clouds are spitting tears and the skies are screaming through flashes of anger and thunderous pain. It’s gray and dark, the music on my phone feels nostalgic as if I am being transported back three or four years to a time not unlike the storm. Where my eyelids spit tears of acid, my hair screamed through brittle ends and frizzy frayed strands. Some days I hardly recognize that stormy child. The girl of hollow dreams and empty eyes. The girl who slept through moments of joy, who experienced sunshine through a heart of exhaustion, and never once believed there was anything different.

There are times when that child, the child of ignorance and darkness becomes nothing but a distant shadow lurking in the doorways of my memories. There are times when I desperately want to erase her. I want to believe that she doesn’t exist, never existed, and will never reappear. There is still shame wrapped up in the places I have been, the things I have done, and the experiences that led to my downfall. I know I hurt people along the way as I was slowly slipping down this steep cliff life had carved for me. People I loved had to watch. They had to witness every skinned knee, every fall, every tear. People I loved had to endure worry, confusion, anger. For that, I will never forgive the eating disorder. Mental illness convinced me I was alone, untethered to anything or anyone. That because I operated on an island isolated from the rest of the world it was impossible for me to hurt anyone. That, no matter my actions no one else would be dragged into the agony. I was wrong. I know now that I was wrong.

This realization makes looking into my past incredibly difficult. The shame and heaviness in my chest is nearly unbearable. It is one thing for me to accept the damage done to my life and another to envision that pain of those around me. I try not to dwell on it much, but rather prove myself through my choices today. 8, going on 9 months, nearly 100% free of the disease. It might not seem like much. It might come as a shock to people that it is only recently that I came to fully surrender, but it is the truth. I read about addiction and suddenly I accept it. Relapse is part of the process. It was part of my process. In fact, it became a reoccurring part for many years.

I don’t know what switched, but something did. I finally reached the point of letting go. I became so beat down by the disease, so ashamed of the years of my struggle. I knew that I couldn’t live another moment hurting myself or the ones I loved. So, I made a choice. New Year’s Eve 2017, I told myself 2018 was going to be my year. No more starving, no more purging, no more binging on empty promises that only left me that much closer to the land of the dead. I made a choice and somehow that surrender was enough. I haven’t looked back. I haven’t wanted to look back. I can’t. I just can’t let those demons in anymore. They are too damaging. I have too much to lose at this stage of the game.

I don’t know why I suddenly felt able to share this part of the narrative. The messy part that made me feel like I had failed the recovery community once again. I believe it came down to these books I just finished, A Beautiful Boy and Tweak. It is a son and father’s journey through meth addiction. I related on a deeply personal level. The pain, the ups and downs, the desperate desire to stop, but being so out of control that recovery felt completely impossible. It was as if those pages were telling my story. Sentence after sentence stuck to my heart, reminding me of those times and how it felt to feel completely trapped within myself. I thank those authors, the brave father-son duo, for sharing their story because it brought me comfort during a time when comfort felt like the most important aspect missing in my recovery.