Recovery Diary 10/29/18

Stick with it. It gets better. Trust me. -Note to self

Everything is different moment by moment. Things peak and then crash each time I open my mouth to breathe. My lungs are unstable pipe bombs that vacillate between filling with fire or cotton, leaving me to either breathe out sparks or clouds. Waking up usually begins with a neutral emotional radar, one in which there is no attachment to how the day is going to pan out. But, then somewhere along the passing moments I feel my thighs rub together or my stomach crinkle into a cascade of rolls. Something, anything – a memory, a song, a smell- could set off the pipe bombs of my lungs. Then I breathe out fire and heat and rage and despair. Internally I spiral, slowly unwinding everything I knew to be truth only moments before. Everything becomes bleak and hopeless and relapse feels like my only option. I become flooded with memories and past mistakes. I am haunted by the voices of past selves whispering of my worthlessness and failures. Essentially I explode. My lungs pop, ricocheting debris and destruction through my throat and out my mouth. Through my eyes, the entire room crumbles, I melt, and everyone around sees this dramatic decline, but, in reality, it’s invisible. The whole explosion that is causing my complete emotional breakdown, only I can see. I am alone. Completely alone in a war that no one knows anything about. And that is worse than swallowing your own bombs.

I could open my mouth. Tell those who love me when I am at war. Explain to them what it feels like, how I am truly doing, what is going on inside my brain. But it feels like betrayal. Betrayal of my mind, my recovery, and most importantly their trust because bombs go off all the time. I don’t know when the bombs will be triggered. I can’t predict why, who, or what will cause the warfare. So, fear keeps me from believing that loved ones won’t be overly worried when they discover how violent my internal experience can still be. I believe that they believe that things are now calm, neutral, and stable- which they are in comparison to where I have come from. I have moved from the front lines to- I don’t know- an army base, one that is targeted regularly but not under an immediate death threat? But that’s the reality of recovery from any addiction. It’s a constant battle and I’m not sure that anyone who has not walked through the struggle could understand. It’s not hopeless. Those of us in recovery know this. It’s not always bleak and dark. But, how can you explain that war isn’t always terrible? There are moments of joy, freedom, love, community, confidence, and hope. Even soldiers find a family away from home. They eat meals together, they find the joy of the sunshine. There is a sense of accomplishment when they go to bed at night because, hey, they lived. They lived another day. Addicts, when we lie down sober from our addictive behaviors, we feel the same. We lived. We lived another day without destroying ourselves.

As the months pass and I get farther into recovery, I start to forget I am at war. I believe that one day the war will come to an end, that true freedom comes when the my flag is planted into the ground and all my demons retreat. I kill more with each passing day. I become stronger. My enemies grow more fearful. The war has been going on for so long, but I am finally on the winning side. Some demons are even converting and beginning to fight on my behalf. Even they are tired. We all just want some peace. Peace comes sometimes now. I think you innately begin to manifest the things you desire most.

Peace comes in the form of car rides with the windows down and the music up loud. Joy is when Erik and I dance through the streets at night in the rain critiquing societal standards simply by being alive. Freedom comes during midnight custard runs or pie parties with my roommates. The brick wall that kept me from life is breaking down. I am getting more and more tastes of the other side. This is why the moments where my lungs explode and fall deeply into myself through a battle of fury and rage are bearable. I take them with stride. I welcome them in the same ways I have learned to greet rejection.

One more battle with my mind brings me one step closer to total freedom in recovery.

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.

Navigating the Holidays in Recovery

Image result for the strongest we don't know their battles

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

Those who are in recovery from eating issues, substances, or mental illnesses navigate the holidays differently than the rest of the world. I don’t say this to ostracize those in recovery, but in attempt to validate feelings of misplacement or misunderstanding in your day to day life.

Lately, I have found my mind trying to convince myself to disregard a promise I had made months and months ago- the promise to live a life of recovery.  Mental illnesses will use any excuse to try and wiggle their way back into our lives, but when living a life in recovery, this is not an option. Though your mind might tell you otherwise, the gift of recovery will be the best gift this Christmas season and, it is a gift only you can give yourself.  Therefore, if you set your mind towards receiving the gift of recovery, it most certainly will be wrapped under your tree this season because you are the one making sure it is there.

I decided to write out some scenarios for different mental health struggles and how they may pan out over the course of the next week or so because I know I have personally found myself feeling overwhelmed with the approaching holidays. I thought some of our readers might be feeling anxious as well and be able to relate with some of these situations. So, here they are:

If you are a recovering alcoholic, the holidays are going to look differently than about 90% of the adult population. They will be about sobriety and navigating triggers that come up as the hours of the night give way to more and more drunkenness among friends and family. The question from your aunt of, “can I get you a glass of wine” will suddenly become an internal battleground between your addiction and your recovery. Wine. Wine. Wine. It will be everywhere, the glasses like bullets trying to shoot at your delicate glass sculpture of recovery. As you politely refuse your aunt’s offer, a victorious chorus will erupt in your mind and you can then plan how to celebrate with your home AA group next meeting. To everyone else at the party this seems like nothing, but you know this is huge. A sober holiday is like walking through open fire unscathed. You fall into bed knowing tomorrow you will get to add a day towards your next recovery chip and congratulate yourself because this year you promised to give yourself the gift of recovery for Christmas.

If you are in recovery from bulimia, the holidays are full of anxiety as you try and prepare for the amount of sweet treats you will be offered and all the holiday feasts you will be attending. Walking into a room full of platters of appetizers, with the smell of dinner swimming in from the kitchen, and the display of desserts in the corner, causes an eruption in your mind between the instinctual mouth-watering- out of control- “I want to eat it all”- bulimic dialogue and the recovery wisdom you have fought so hard to lean into over the past year. Grabbing a plate and giving yourself appropriate proportions seems to the room insignificant, but for you is it monumental, the act being equivalent to finishing an iron man race on one leg. This is one of the hardest things for you and you are doing it because this year you promised yourself that you would give yourself the gift of recovery for Christmas.

If you are in recovery from anxiety, the holidays are the accumulation of everything your illness tries to avoid throughout the year- family, friends, conversations, and unpredictable events. Pulling up and walking into your relative’s Christmas Eve Party becomes the “it” moment, the moment you have prepared for weeks to accomplish, walking up that sidewalk, ringing that doorbell, greeting everyone with a smile will send buckets of sweat down your back. But you do it. You make it. You will soon be at the party. You will notice you breath, taking breaks in the bathroom, keeping your support people nearby. Making it to the Christmas Party is equivalent to winning a gold medal in the Olympics, but no one else will seems to notice. It will be silent victory, a personal victory. You will applaud yourself as you lay in bed because this holiday season you promised to give yourself the gift of recovery.

Whatever your struggle may be this holiday season, give yourself enough grace to render it significant. Don’t compare your experience with someone else’s because it is impossible to do so. We each have our own minds, with our own thoughts, and our own battles. This holiday season, know that their are others struggling with mental health. There are others celebrating small, silent victories. There are others who don’t feel as though their battles are seen, understood, or validated.
And that is okay because the strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.

Don’t Turn Your Back on a Seizing Man

IMG_6236(1)After a celebratory Mother’s Day Dinner, my mom, dad, sister, and I got on the train to head back to my apartment and their hotel this past Saturday night.  On the train there was a man who started seizing. It happened quickly and all the sudden my sister and I just started noticing several people starting to move away from the area by our parents, which was one section over from where we were sitting.  Then I heard my mom call out, “someone call for medical help!” That’s when my sister and I knew to get up and find out what was happening.

There was a man, older, alone, African American, and appearing to be homeless seizing on the train car seats.  His body had slumped over so his cheek was pressed hard into the side of the chair, his mouth was foaming, and his body was shaking, yet no one besides my parents, my sister, me, and one other random man seemed to be concerned.

“Is this a seizure or an overdoes?” a train car passenger asked while their backing away from the scene. Her expression was a cross between annoyance and what are you doing as she looked back at those of us intervening with furrowed eyebrows and pursed lips.  And it became very clear to me that this woman, along with the dozens of others on the train who were even more enthralled with their electronics now that there was a seizing man on board, were turning a blind eye to this man in need of medical attendance simply because he might be an addict, or might be homeless, or might be…you can fill in the blank.IMG_5981

What difference would it make! I wanted to scream in the ignorant train car passengers’ faces.  Whether struggling with addiction or epilepsy or some other medical condition that would cause someone to seize, what difference does it make! All require assistance.  All are medical conditions.  All are potentially deadly.  The person asked the question like the answer was already predetermined.  They had decided that because this man was black, carrying a shopping back, and hanging out on a train car that he was an addict.  That they reason he was seizing was due to a drug overdose or withdrawal and therefore was not worth anyone’s time.

The man’s body continued to shake and eventually fell onto the train car’s floor. I went over and helped my dad hold the man on his side because he started to throw up and if there is anything I have learned from the movies about seizures it is that you don’t want them to choke on their vomit.  While we held his body, my sister spoken sweet and comforting words to him.  After a several minutes the man’s body stopped shaking and he fell limp on the ground.  My mom kept yelling into the assistance button for medical help while me and my sister knelt beside the man trying to see what he needed.

“I just need my medicine,” he said.

“Okay. Okay. Is it in your bag?” my sister asked.

“Yes, in my bag,” the man said, “I need my medicine.”

IMG_6134Here is the sad truth though.  We didn’t find any medicine.  The man said that he wasn’t sure where it had gone.  The train’s security eventually came, but didn’t call an ambulance or anything.  They just stood over the man while he laid on the train car floor, waiting for him to “cool off” and “recollect himself”.  Once my dad helped lift the man back into a chair and put his hat back on his head, the security radioed to the conductor to keep moving the train. Everyone on the train acted as though nothing happened, nothing had happened, and that nothing will happen.  Just another night on the city train because as far as anyone else was concerned this man was a nobody, an addict, a homeless person, and so what if he had a seizure?  If he was no one then for the dozens on the train, it never really happened.

But what happens when the man needs to get off the train and can’t walk?  What about the fact that he can’t find his medicine?  What about the fact that people wrote him off simply because of the way he looked and their assumption about addiction? What about the heaviness I felt in my chest after this whole encounter?

Now, I don’t know if the seizing man was an addict or not.  I don’t know if he actually had medicine or not. (If he did, then I have a feeling there is a terrible reality in that he cannot afford to fill that prescription.) But for me whether it was an overdose or some other condition is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the ignorance of those on the train, the blatant turning of their backs, and the condescending tone used when assumption of addictions arose. “Is this a seizure or an overdoes?” As if that would make a difference! Wouldn’t you IMG_6336.PNGwant to help someone regardless of the disease they are battling, whether a disease of the physical body or of the mental?  That is what struck home for me, straight in the chest, leaving me filled with such anger and frustration that I thought I was going to snap at someone that no one besides my family and one stranger helped.

How could you do that to someone in need?  Just turn away and write him off as not worth helping simply because he might have a mental illness? Addiction is not something to look down upon.  It is a real problem that people need help with.  People need someone to sit and talk with them or hold them on their side while they vomit up their inner struggles and sense of worthlessness.  Don’t just walk to the other side of the train because that only further reinforces that people are ashamed of those struggling and how do we expect anyone to seek help if we shame them for needing it in the first place?

 

Images are a mix of original, CS Photography, and found files. 

Recovering Our Identities

index

This semester I have had the honor of participating in a community art group at Haymarket Residential Treatment Center.  I took a class called Community Art Practices and we were paired with the treatment center to form a group with some of the guys who were there for substance abuse where we would make art for a final exhibition at the end of the semester.  The whole process has been really strange for me because only 18 months ago, I was one of the guys.  I was a patient having to be escorted to groups by staff or having everything I put in my mouth monitored and now here I was able to walk to and from group by myself, leading a life outside of the treatment center.  I didn’t understand how this could have happened, going from someone who was a danger to themselves to someone of who is liberating themselves in only 18 months.

I can say that along with the strange idea of being a leader of a group and not a participant at a treatment center, came the overwhelming humbleness I felt towards the guys.  As we made art each week, I felt so grateful to be given those hours in that space.  It was a familiar break in my crazy hectic week where I could take a minute to breathe.  Though I didn’t exactly enjoy my time in treatment, still to this day there is something strangely nostalgic about being in a space where vulnerability, emotions, and recovery are all welcomed.

From day one, our community group made a point of setting an intention for the group or a theme to center our art making around. The five guys and four students from my school worked together to come up with the theme of Recovery and Rebirth.  So for the next eight weeks all our art was made under the umbrella of rebirth.

It was really interesting to see what kind of artwork came out of this theme a lot of spring landscapes, talk of nature, talk of faces and body and identity.  The conversations were deep, insightful, and explorative and I can say that I think I learned more about myself from listening to those guys every Monday evening than I did in any psychology class or therapy session I have gone to.  (Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but for good reason.  It helps to paint a picture of just how impactful this community art space was for me).

This past Monday was our last group which meant it was the final exhibition of the work made in the past eight weeks.  So, we had a mini art show at Haymarket where we hung the work, brought in food, and invited the other guys from the unit to come and see what we had created.  All of that was very meaningful because it felt like an appropriate finale to the time spent at Haymarket.  And, as I know from experience, treatment is full of chaos, people leaving and coming, groups changing, staff leaving all the time, and so to have space for a goodbye, a resolution, a completion of work is a big deal. image2.JPG

I found seeing the artwork centered around rebirth hanging on those stark, white treatment center walls very powerful.  All of us came from a vast array of backgrounds. We had art students who had never stepped foot in a treatment center and men who had been in and out of prison and rehab and an art therapist and me who had a foot in both the art and rehab world, but we all came together and found a common thread in the idea of recovery. Through conversations during our time together, we found that though not all of us struggled with substance abuse, all of us have been personally effected by someone who struggles with addiction.  This was eye opening for me as I commonly convince myself that I am terminally unique and something that I am experience no one else could possibly understand.  But there is was on the white walls, evidence that all 10 of us understand recovery, experience recovery.

image1(2).JPGOne project that struck me the most and that was the photography collaboration between one of the kids from my school and one of the guys at the Haymarket.  The photos were portraits but for confidentiality purposes the faces had to be overlaid.  This series of photos made up the center point of the display from which all other work flowed, which is particularly interesting when thinking about the idea of recovery.  Because recovery suggests the redefining of the self and yet here were all these portraits without any faces on them.

 

I took this concept and related it to my own journey. Recovery is both a transformation and a loss of self. It is the process of slowly coming undone so that I can collapse into a new alignment of the broken pieces I am comprised of.  It is the act of melting off my face so that I can remain nameless until a new identity, absent of my eating disorder and dark past, is able to form.

image3.JPG