A large part of recovery is finding an identity outside of the eating disorder. In part, figuring this out has been searching for what I’m truly interested in when it comes to a career, as my eating disorder has clouded my passions at times. While my career is only one small part of my identity, I’ve been thinking a lot about my interests as they might relate to future jobs in treatment.
In previous years when my eating disorder was relatively in check, I felt confident that I the jobs I was working at aligned nicely with my interests. After college I worked in publishing for four years. I liked it for the most part and it made logical sense to me given my comparative literature degree. After four years though, there was a part of me that craved a job that was more interactive with people and allowed me to explore my love of language on a deeper level. I fell in love with language because it has the power to connect people. It provides a means to be heard, and without it, stories cannot be told.
My subsequent pursuit of a degree in speech-language pathology has always seemed slightly ironic to me. I, myself, struggle with using my voice both literally and figuratively. Trauma often tells us not to speak and that makes it difficult to find the “correct” words, or any words at all, for the thoughts racing in our heads.
And then, there’s the irony that I chose to earn a master’s degree in helping people (re)habilitate their ability to use language.
Is it really irony, though? Or is it more serendipitous? I like to believe it’s more the later – that there’s a reason I was attracted to helping others use their voice when I was emotionally stripped of mine for years.
When I returned home from residential treatment in the fall of 2016, I had already been out of a job in the field of speech pathology for over a year due to treatment, and I wasn’t able to resume searching for a position because of the step down schedule of treatment for quite some time. With this barrier, I began to question if despite my interests, perhaps speech pathology wasn’t the best career option for me. The following thoughts and feelings were ruminating through my head:
SHAME. [How could you be doing this? You paid to go to graduate school for this degree. You’d be a horrible person if you didn’t make this work].
FEAR. [This field doesn’t feel right to me, but I don’t have an alternative].
FEAR. [I’m inadequate and incompetent. [[insert: impostor syndrome which acts as a barrier]].]
FUCK. [Just because, because it fucking sucks].
I’ve heard “recovery jobs” referred to as just a job, as just something to do while I get back on track, or as a job you aren’t supposed to enjoy. Here’s the thing though, “recovery jobs” aren’t just…My “recovery job” was so much more than that.
Working at Starbucks was the first time that I could recall that I was creating in a job. More than just delicious coffee bevvies, I was creating connections every day. I finally felt like I had found something I was good at. My manager and coworkers trusted me and almost miraculously, I became someone worthy of trust.
My “recovery job” fueled me in ways that other jobs I once held did not (and I’m not just referring to the free caffeine). It gave me a purpose, a fleeting air of easy self-assurance, and it gave me the knowledge of what having a purpose looked like, no matter how small.
At work I could have an identity outside of my eating disorder.
When I initially relapsed over two years ago, my eating disorder caused me to lose my job working as a speech-language pathologist. Since then, I’ve been on short term disability for much of that time period. I’ve had to let go of certain dreams and expectations that I held onto during graduate school.
If anything, recovery has taught me the subtle art of letting go. During times when I was resistant to treatment, I had to let go of these expectations because it wasn’t healthy for me to work even though they meant a lot to me. For instance, I’ve come to accept the hard truth that I have to let go of working as a speech language pathologist. In some ways this is difficult and in some ways, it truthfully isn’t (I say that with much shame).
Losing my job due to my eating disorder has forced me to rely on a mere “idea” of something, a pursuit that comes with a serious dose of fierce trust. I need to trust that there is a better side to this all. The pursuit towards recovery leaves an ache for a life that I believe in; an ache to watch something invisible come to life.
Letting go of certain expectations I place on myself related to my career is similar to the resignation I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It might seem like a noble act, but really, I promise, it isn’t. I only let go when it hurts too much to hold on.
I might not be armed with much of an identity as related to myself, my eating disorder, or my career, but I’m trying to garner the self-compassion that change takes more than a moment or two. Change occurs in between indignant anger and shame and fear and often there is very little pause in between. Change is learning, growth, and discovering. Change is beautiful and powerful and necessary.
As I search for what my identity looks like in numerous facets of my life, I hold a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. Honestly, at this point, fear has become more predictable and boring. It’s easy to look at the last eight years or so of my life and count the perceived failures, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m dedicated to the unknown territory I’m in right now. I’m dedicated to the creativity that activates a source of energy I didn’t know I had.
in strength and healing,