Well hello! For those of you that follow us on social media, you may have seen that I returned home from treatment last Saturday evening. It was the start of a long Labor Day weekend which I was both anxious and excited for. I was nervous to be left to my own devices yet excited to catch up and just be with CJ for a couple of days before day treatment began.
So where should I start exactly?
Here’s a caveat right off the bat:
When you have body dysmorphia and hate wearing shorts and t-shirts, it’s probably not ideal to go to a residential treatment facility in the middle of a summer heatwave.
Talk about a 24/7 body image exposure…
Alright, so on one hand, I had a vision for this post in which I put together a well thought out, logical summary of what returning to treatment for six weeks looked like. Just like I feel a lot of pressure in day treatment right now to be “perfect” at recovery, I originally felt pressure to wrap this post up with a perfectly secured ribbon and bow and end it with an overly optimistic affirmation.
Spoiler alert #1: Recovery ain’t like that.
Spoiler alert #2: That’s not how this post is going to end either.
Treatment can’t be neatly summarized because there’s always mess and grit and tears and fight somewhere in there.
This time, unlike previous times, I let myself fall. I fell into the grit. I explored areas that I thought I’d never be able to talk about. I talked about things that I previously felt too ashamed of to tell anyone.
My therapist met my thoughts with curiosity, validation, invaluable insight, and most importantly, humor. She challenged me to push myself further, through my writing and art.
I simultaneously met myself with compassion and (attempts at) acceptance (with the occasional moments of judgments and shame).
When I think about the 6 weeks in treatment:
I remember the day when I lost track of how many fluid ounces of Gatorade I had consumed in 2 weeks.
I remember filling out a food journal and realizing that I had not eaten this many consecutive meals and snacks since January.
I remember the first night I decided not to isolate in my room and join the community in the common areas to watch TV (thank you Olympics and shout out to Ru Paul’s Drag Race).
I remember the gut-wrenching feeling of grief and loss of my eating disorder as I began to feel physical strength. Actual physical strength. Strength that honestly, I had no idea I didn’t have anymore.
I remember the day it felt like a cloud had been moved away from my brain making my thoughts noticeably clearer.
I remember the first time I felt hungry for dinner and how angry I felt at my body. (It’s so hard for me still to appreciate my body when it functions as it’s supposed to, because for me normal physiological functioning implies that my body is back in control of itself, which further implies losing my eating disorder).
I remember the days my dietitian would increase my meal plan and my eating disorder would scream, even though I knew the increase was coming.
I remember the day when I hit my goal weight and I cried. I didn’t fall back to sleep after vitals that day. I was in sort of a haze – an emotionally limbo state. So was I supposed to be recovered now?
Hell, no. Recovery doesn’t work like that. As much I want to be “perfect” in recovery right now, that is just NOT a helpful mentality to have. It prevents me from allowing myself to feel my true, valid emotions because I’m afraid of showing struggle. But being in recovery does not mean no struggle.
Striving for perfectionism in any form, is probably the damn mindset that got me back to my third residential treatment center in a year, standing on a scale at 4 am in the morning – in a hospital gown – with my (rainbow) underwear visible to the medical assistant standing behind me. It’s this same mindset of having to be in complete control that landed me in a treatment center where I had no control over when I got to pee, unless I wanted someone’s foot in the door.
But all of these moments, now memories, combined together created a sense of momentum, a possibility for progress.
But treatment isn’t just about singular memories. In fact, I would have signed many a 72 hour forms if I was stuck in there by myself. Nah – recovery is so much about connection with others.
I formed so many connections with the bravest people I have ever met. From late night conversations on queerness, on identity, on gender, on gender expression, on sexuality, on life, on relationships, on therapy, on treatment, on drag queens… you name it.
These connections I now have make me feel like I matter, like my story is important, and that my voice deserves to be heard. There is comfort in connecting with people who have shared similar [irrational and rational] thoughts, and similar experiences [disordered and not disordered].
Connection. The comfort that can be provided from connection though can only work when it’s genuine. I’ve tried wholeheartedly to incorporate honesty and authenticity into the past year of my recovery. I learned that I don’t need to pretend anymore. Pretending is exhausting and it’s fake [indeed, by definition, it is kind of the antithesis to authenticity].
What a great feeling it was to be able to be ME and to still be able to connect with others. I didn’t even always know what that ‘me’ would look like and I still don’t, because I’m finding that ‘me’ is still changing. ‘Me’ is still figuring out ‘me’s’ identity and how ‘me’ wants to be perceived in the world. But what I do know is that there were days when wearing a bra didn’t align with ‘me’ and my gender expression and I went with it. It felt real(ly amazing).
So falling into the grit, the processing, the trust, the muck of the truth, may have been the very thing that helped me get to the place where I’m at right now.
And where the hell am I?
Right now, I’m not really sure.
I can say that I’m in a different place than I was before I went back to treatment. I was running on empty lying to myself and others without even knowing it (although they seemed to know it – funny how that works). Now, despite my hesitation and fear, I’m more able to with support, look at the perceived scary parts of myself. I’m working on being able to enter inside myself with acceptance, substance, and a sense of knowing that I am (uncomfortably) full and that is okay.
The transition back from residential always brings its tears and challenges. I felt like I was managing recovery pretty well in the bubble of treatment. Over this past week though, I have been trying to negotiate a fine balance of remaining in recovery despite life events.
I’m trying to stay present and focus on the fact that despite some emotionally difficult days, I’ve kept eating. Eating during these moments is a different tactic than I would have normally taken in the past. The urges to use behaviors can make me cry. They can make me irritable. As long as I keep eating though, things can’t actually get worse despite what my ED says. Morality does not exist within an item of food.
So I keep telling myself:
Eat the damn food.
Don’t throw it up.
Measure your portions correctly.
Don’t calorie count.
Don’t resort to other maladaptive behaviors.
Eat the damn food. No matter what happens that day in your life. Life events have nothing to do with whether you should feed yourself or not. There is a life inside our bodies. Have you ever thought about it like that? I hadn’t until the other day, when I thought, “I would never want to hurt someone else’s life, so if nothing else, treat your body as though you need to protect that life that is living inside of you.”
I’ve been told that apparently it is possible to feel comfortable in your body. I’m not sure I will ever feel entirely comfortable in mine, but what I’m hoping for is to have a constant connection. I want to feel as though my body is an ally not an enemy. I want to WANT to treat my body with respect.
In strength and healing,