I told myself a different story.

“There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.”

~ Eleanor Brown

Two and a half months ago, one week before I went home for the summer, I began this blog post with that quote. In it, I wrote about how I had convinced myself that I was going to relapse this summer. I wrote about fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The ambivalence I was experiencing at the time colours the entire post. I posed a number of questions to which, at the time, I had no answers. 

Two and a half months ago, I had no idea how good it would feel to be in my new dorm room on the Friday night of a long weekend, having just completed my “first week of classes”. I had no idea how proud I would feel of being able to come back and report progress rather than relapse. I had no idea how my freedom would be celebrated. 

This summer, I gained an understanding of what it meant to tell myself a different story. I learned how to change my own narrative, and oh, what a powerful lesson that was. I realized that I was capable of things that I never even imagine could be possible, and I realized that whenever I made changes in my own life, there was a ripple effect that trickled into the lives of those around me. 

Initially, going home felt both foreign and familiar. I was forced to choose how to respond to various challenges that were thrown my way early on. I didn’t always put my recovery first, and when I didn’t, I was able to see a noticable change not only within myself, but also with the way that others treated me. This taught me that I much rather be treated like a healthy person, than someone who needs to be taken care of. 

(Source: obu.edu)

(Source: obu.edu)

The summer progressed and the things that were hard at first – being in my room, eating with my family, etc – all became routine. They were no longer scary. It was then that I began to experience a sense of profound loneliness. I loved having my friends and my family, but I found myself yearning for my other home. I missed feeling connected to something bigger than myself. That loneliness translated into self-imposed isolation. I began to believe lies about my worth as a human being again, and I was comparing my relationships at home to my relationships at school and feeling discouraged. It was impossible to feel connected at home, and I was doomed to a lonely, isolated existance in Canada forever. (Dramatic, I know…but it’s me. What do you expect?) I was challenged once more to examine the story I was telling myself. I realized that I was not destined for a solitary life – not in Canada or anywhere else. I realized that relationships would look different in different places, but I was reminded that even though my friends were scattered all across the globe, I was still cherished by them. I had a friend in Sri Lanka check in and send me her love, one in New York City telling me about her fun experiences there. I reconnected with 3 friends in British Columbia and California. And right there at home, I had my person. My person who means the world to me. I felt alone and isolated becase that’s just how I was supposed to feel at home, but by examining the facts, I was enlightened to the fact that I am, indeed, connected to the world ouside my house.

When it came time to begin preparing for my return to school, I was filled with a profound sense of sadness. I was going to miss the life that I’d built for myself at home. It was very different than my life at school, but home had become a safe place. By changing the story I told myself about everything related to home, I successfully transformed my experience. Because I did the hard work of creating new experiences there, I don’t have to be afraid of it anymore. 

My return to campus was filled with running hugs, squeals of excitement, declarations of love and joy. I saw all the people who loved, supported, and walked with me last year and found that being able to come back to school and say, “I did it, guys! I made it through the summer, but more than that, I actually had a pretty good one!” was so much more pleaasurable than returning to school the same way that I did last year. The smiles that spread wide across my friends’ faces as I told them of my numerous adventures and revelations this summer breathed life into the depths of my being. Their words of affirmation and celebration of my progress assuaged the fears I had of what it would mean about my relationships if I were to come back after the summer saying that I did well. 

I changed the stories I told myself about the summer, and by changing the stories, I was able to make choices that would lead me to this place of tremendous growth. I have worked so hard to get to the place where I can say I am proud of the work that I have done and the choices that I have made. The lessons I learned the summer were invaluable, and I am so glad that I gave myself the opportunity to grow.

I did it. I made it through the summer, and I proved myself wrong.

I am victorious.


Six months later…

I was trying so hard to hold it together that day.

I was trying so hard to hold it together that day.

Six months ago today, I cried my way out the doors of my treatment program wearing my flower crown and clinging to that heart shaped stone. I had been there for 32 short days. To this day, I can still feel the sheer terror that coursed through my veins as sobs wracked my not-as-fragile frame. I was not at all confident in my ability to maintain recovery outside the safety and security of that House on the Hill.

I have fought like hell to get to the place I’m at today, and I am proud of the woman I am becoming. The thing is, I still feel that fear sometimes. It takes different forms, but I still feel it. More often than not, it shows itself in my fear of letting go of the little things. Those fears of being alone, of not having a plan B, of not acheiving academic success now that I’m no longer sick. The tangible realities of recovery – giving up important relationships, being just a person without the clause of an eating disorder.  As I wrote a couple of months ago, the fear that shows itself time and time again is the fear of my own ability to get better.

In all honesty, this week has not been an easy one. I was making poor choices with little regard to the consequences, but I also knew there was a line that I could not cross. I made the conscious choice not to cross it, even though I had multiple opportunities to choose otherwise. When I found out that yet another person that I cared about once upon a time passed away today, I began the swift downward spiral in my head. It happened last time too, but within an hour, I had managed to talk myself off the metaphorical ledge and turn my week around. I realized that if I didn’t choose differently, I stood to lose some of the most important people in my life, and this time…it would be on me.

I’m doing really well, and I know that I am because of weeks like this. Everything went wrong, I fell apart, and then I pulled myself together and kept putting one foot in front of the other. That’s what this is about. I have chosen to keep stepping further into the unknown, simply because it is my only option. For me, there is no other way. I am certain that as long as I continue on this trajectory, I am going to live a “recovered” life.

Regardless of how long a woman stays in the program, she is given a graduation ceremony on the day of, or in certain circumstances the day before, her departure from the home. This ceremony includes reading an Eater’s Agreement aloud, recieving words of encouragement and affirmations from the clients and staff alike, and blowing out a symbolic candle.

The Eater’s Agreement was one of the most significant assignments I was given during my time. My perfectionism kicked into overdrive when I sat down to write it, and I re-wrote it three times before I was finally satisfied that I wasn’t doing it wrong (i thought i was doing everything wrong while i was there. it was a thing.), but more so that I was saying everything I felt needed to be said.

The Eater’s Agreement is a tangible reminder of the critical recovery work that was started in the program, and it speaks to what your healthy self desires for your life. I wholeheartedly support the concept and think that it would be a valuable addition to any longer term residential program. Since I left the program six months ago, I have gone through multiple seasons where I read my Eater’s Agreement out loud every morning before I even put my feet on the ground. It served as a daily recommitment to the long-term life that I wanted, and a motivation to complete the everyday tasks necessary to acheive those long term life plans.

I don’t read it every day anymore, but every so often, I’ll go back and read it. The thing I love about it is that it speaks both to my past and my future. It’s a reflection and a road map simultaneously.

Given that I read this aloud six months ago today, I feel it is appropriate to share it once more.

Without further adieu….my eater’s agreement.

Until this point, I have spent my whole life running from emotion, shielding myself from vulnerability with my intellect. I have existed in a fragmented, broken manner for years. The time for that has come and gone.

 From this day forward, I hereby agree to live wholeheartedly. I accept that in order to do that, I must allow myself to sit with intense emotion. I must be honest, and speak my truth even when it hurts.  I agree to nourish my body, soul, and spirit on a consistent basis.

 Through the years, I’ve fought so hard to maintain an image of strength that people look at and admire. Over the last four weeks, I have learned that true strength is not found in hiding my emotions. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite. True strength is found in vulnerability. It is found in the willingness to look at circumstances that are so overwhelming, and feel seemingly impossible and decide that I am going to do it anyways.

 I agree to find my strength in vulnerability. I agree to stand firm in my recovery, not by fighting my way through every meal and pushing hard against every obstacle, but rather by acknowledging my weaknesses and surrounding myself with people who will build me up and fight alongside of me. I agree to ask for help when I need it, instead of trying to tough it out on my own.

 I agree to turn my back on isolation. My eating disorder has convinced me that it has been my only companion for far too long.  I am reclaiming my relationships. I agree to reach out when I feel alone, but more than that, I agree to invest my full self in each relationship that I choose to enter into. I acknowledge that I was created for community, and that people are an important part of my life.

 I agree to accept that I have needs. I will voice them, and actively seek to have them met. I understand that to have needs is not a bad thing. To have needs is to be fully human. I agree to let go of my own judgment of myself for having needs, and instead radically accept that I am a worthy human.

 I acknowledge that I have played the role of the victim in the past, but that role is no longer mine. I declare that I am taking back the power from my eating disorder, but also from everyone who’s ever tried to tell me that I can’t do this.

 I’m walking out the doors of this house on the hill with knees knocking and hands shaking and my head held high. I am choosing to be proud of the work that I’ve done here, and I agree to continue the work that I have begun here. I agree to feel the fear and do it anyways.

 This is not the end of my story. I will overcome. 

**Even if you are not in recovery from an eating disorder, I think that writing something like an Eater’s Agreement could be beneficial. It’s sort of a declaration or decree of the things that you are comitting to work on in yourself, and it’s a great thing to reflect back on when you lose sight of who you really are and what you stand for. If you choose to write something like this, it’s not mandatory to share with another person. However, I strongly encourage you to take a risk and share it with at least one other person. I say that partially because it’s a great source of accountability – having someone who checks in on you from time to time to see how you’re doing with the things you wrote can be very beneficial. As well, the risk involved in sharing something so personal with a person has the potential to strengthen that relationship and even prove to yourself that allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person may actually be worth it after all. So, think about it.**

i am allowed to move on.

My best friend has a blog, and on this blog she posts daily victories. This is her victory for today.

Friday, August 1, 2014
Victory: Realized that I’m starting to think less about going back and more about moving forward.

Sarah and I at Albion Falls. One of our many adventures.

Sarah and I at Albion Falls. One of our many adventures.

Yesterday, after we began to work on our recovery boards and prepared and ate our dinner, we went on a trail walk on one of the many beautiful trails in my city. A typical evening for the two of us. Our conversation topics ranged from, “Serious question. What should I do with my hair?” to, “I can’t decide between nurse practioner or wild life biologist.” to, “Keep walking, Lex. Keep walking.” (Sarah’s become just as hypervigilant about dead things as I am, but it’s because she knows how afraid of them I am and wants to shield me. True friend material right there.). Our conversation was not dominated by talk of treatment or eating disorders, and while those topics did arise at times, it presented itself in a very recovery-oriented, hopeful manner. This is very different from our friendship only one short year ago.

When I read her victory this morning, my heart leapt for joy. I was so pleased to read it because finally, after all those years of holding onto hope for her, she had found it in herself. But…it also made me stop and think.

Me too.

I am starting to think less and less about going back and more about moving on with my life. I’ve been spending less time pining for what was and more time thinking practically about what will be. Less time thinking about the most convenient time to relapse and the deductible on my new insurance plan and more on potential job opportunities for the year after I graduate. Less time staring in the mirror, and more time in the world.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had goals for my far distant future. Goals that I never thought were attainable because I had to be healthy in order to acheive them. Now, those goals aren’t just lofty, unattainable dreams. They are distinct realities. I am going to graduate from college in a year and a half. Grad school isn’t that far off.

Only a year ago, I sent my dietitian an email in which I said, “I think it’s finally hitting me that this could be my last relapse…and I don’t care.” I meant that I believed that I was finally going to allow my eating disorder kill me. I had lost hope of ever getting better. I think I was right though. I do think that was my last relapse, but for entirely different reasons.

I spent so long waging war against my body. I created chaos everywhere I went because I was afraid of what it meant to be stable, what it meant to be okay. It was exhausting. I decided, after a very long time, that it was time to lay down my weapons of self-destruction, stop creating chaos, and give myself permission to be okay.

I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where I am today, and while I never thought I would ever get here, I’m glad I have. I’m not better yet, but I’m getting there. I’m getting there. The idea of going back is there, but the pull towards life is so much stronger.

I am allowed to be okay. I am allowed to get better. I am allowed to move on. (And I’m so glad I don’t have to do it alone.)