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.

Compassion Fatigue

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

First, before writing an entire blog post on compassion fatigue we need to define what it means. Compassion fatigue is officially defined as:

“a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”

Dr. Charles Figley

In others words, caring too much can sometimes hurt. When we take on the role of caregiver, caring  the struggles of others, without practicing self-care problems can arise. We can turn apathetic towards the person we are helping. We can start isolating from others. We can even develop PTSD through experiencing secondarily the trauma of those we are helping. Most commonly, compassion fatigue arises in professionals dealing directly with people’s struggles, such as mental health workers, doctors, nurses, missionaries, etc. But it can also affect people who are naturally very empathetic people. They feel others pain and commonly find themselves in positions of trying to comfort, support, and help others. Now that we have defined compassion fatigue the question at hand then becomes, how can we avoid it?

I am a very empathetic person. I know this. I feel other’s pain on a deep level. This is not a bad thing. It has brought me to work in the mental health field as well as start Unpolished Journey whose mission is to bring together a community of people who have an array of struggles. I find my empathetic nature to be a gift, but it is a powerful gift that needs to be practiced with caution.  To be too empathetic leads to compassion fatigue. For me, compassion fatigue can lead to unhealthy behaviors and tendencies to isolate. So, how do I balance working with those in distress and my own mental health?  The answer is…Self-care!

Self-care is the mother of balance. Self-care keeps us rejuvenated and healthily distanced from those we are helping, or those we love who are struggling. Self-care doesn’t just look like taking a bubble bath at the end of a long day or taking a walk to clear your mind. Self-care can mean stepping away from a conversation that has become too overwhelming or unhealthy. It can mean taking a day off because you know that you are not in a good mental space to go into work.  It can mean distancing from those in your life that require too much compassion from you.  It can mean taking those hard steps to say, “this relationship is too much for me right now and I need to take from time apart” or “I care about my clients but have to remember that this is a professional relationship”.  Self-care is ANY action taken to help better your own mental health.

Self-care is not selfish. In fact, it is the opposite because taking care of yourself keeps your cup full.  You can only pour into another from a full cup.  If you don’t practice self-care your cup runs dry and then you have no compassion to offer anyone else, let alone yourself.  This is why in order to avoid compassion fatigue we need to make sure we are caring for ourselves in whatever way we need. So, let’s do something today that will better your mental health for tomorrow.