Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is process and progress. In the walls of a facility, the abstract seems far more manageable, if not concrete. With this, the blurred lines of what the recovery process is and where one falls on the spectrum seem to be outlined more clearly with the constant conversation and analysis of personal progress and visions for a goal. Then, discharge happens. Life follows, and what seems like a firm direction becomes loose ends and this way in which the defined becomes fogged and obscure is indescribably confusing.
So, I’ve been left thinking about my own process and, inevitably, my progress to understand where I stand when I question how I am. I’ve had to have a lot of conversations about what recovery looks like for me, and what I want it to be, as it constantly changes. I’ve had to remember that being outpatient and being an adult means there is a lot more emphasis on what I bring to the table because, ultimately, I am the client asking for help in the process of achieving the life for which I choose to strive. I’ve had to remember that I am not attempting to fit into the molds set before me by my family, my treatment team, or anyone else, for that matter, but that this is my recovery, there is no mold, and it can be whatever I desire and work towards. I’ve had to remember that this is my freedom, my life, my story, and my chance. And, consequently, I’ve had to remember where I want to go with compassion from where I’ve come.
I started this website with the task from my supports to focus on the light. I needed space from sitting in my hopelessness, and found an outlet in consciously chasing possibility. Since these are my shiny reflections, I’ve had a tendency to stay away from the derivatives of my darkness and seek a new perspective, but there is something to be said for remembering, or rather, being unable to remember. It gives something shiny to the now and reminds me of why and to where I’m moving.
With space from treatment and immersion into college life, I’ve been reflective of the changes in my thought patterns. I’ve noticed the subtle differences in my reactions to the casual conversation around food/weight/body/etc. that occurs on campus, yet is banned in any program, as well as the loss in reflective listening and more therapeutic conversation which can typically be found around those exposed to a lot of treatment. I’ve seen my own adaptations and the way I’ve begun to blend into the college scene. Yet, only recently, have I begun to recognize the changes between myself now, once-again intertwined with the average student, and the self I was prior to treatment, though entirely enmeshed in an eating disorder.
I’ve consistently noted my progress based on how and who I was in 24 hour care, yet had little time to understand my journey with reflection on the depths of my disorder. I’d forgotten that, once upon a time, before I began to unbury myself, before I was even buried, I’d dug a very deep hole. In recent thoughts, I began to realize how much I forget. When I first heard the words “recovered” and met individuals who defined themselves as such, I demanded to understand what that even meant, how a person who once had an eating disorder, could ever un-have one. I couldn’t believe it, the idea was unfathomable, and I consistently questioned the concept. In one of my earliest conversations surrounding the notion, it was explained to me that “recovered” felt like the eating disorder was another lifetime ago, that those who got there felt so separated from it that it was hard to comprehend they had ever been there, other than with the knowledge that they knew they had.
Maybe it’s in combination with time and the fact that my memory is naturally hazy around my era of starvation, but, for whatever reason, it feels like another lifetime. Now, I will be the first to say that I am not recovered. I still have a lot of work to do, and, at certain moments, I can even see with clarity why I was as insane as I was at one time. Still, the actual insanity itself, I can’t connect to. It’s a strange experience, but being in the fight for this long, it’s hard to remember what it was like to fight against my healthy self, to be so aligned with the thing destroying me, and that reminds me of how far I’ve come.
The same is true for treatment. There was a time when I thought I would never get out. It was what kept me from seeking help to begin with. I thought for certain if anyone knew the truths of my mind, I would never be let free. Little did I know, I was already so trapped. As much as I needed the help I obtained and continue to gain, the experiences of being in a mental health facility are not commonplace and there’s a way in which reality slips through a patient’s fingers. The world becomes so small and it’s easy to forget perspective. With that, it’s painful for me to even remember a lot of moments in residential. Though they were the times that saved me, and so many of my closest and most meaningful relationships have derived from those settings, the ability to connect to the self that spent each day on a swing counting my exchanges outside of a little, yellow house in North Carolina month after month, or even the Alexandra that got excited over gaining exercise privileges in California, has seriously dwindled. Instead, it’s replaced with a mixed sensation of sadness and hopefulness.
Though I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to go with this post when I started, I want to take a moment to reach out to anyone reading this who is engaging to any degree with an eating disorder that has robbed them of the words to ask for help, to those getting help that isn’t helping, to those in treatment searching for light, to those on the road to obtaining it. In each of those steps for me, it felt like I was never going to move to another phase- that I couldn’t or didn’t want to- and, some days, it feels like I haven’t. But when I think back to the days I woke up with the burden of making it through the day, or the moments I spent plotting how to manipulate my treatment teams, or even the painful surrenders to let myself be taken care of, I’m reminded that everything is temporary and of my gratitude for where I stand now. For all of you: this too shall pass, but strive to achieve the moments you hope to hold on to.