What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?
Pretty big question, huh? The concept of “recovery” in itself can be pretty scary.
How we approach it, embrace it and thrive with it are questions we all occasionally struggle with.
By the way, did you know it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week? Well it is, and I’m delighted to bring you more thoughts from Sarah.
Sarah writes passionately about her struggles (and joys) whilst in recovery from her Eating Disorder and addictions.
So, what WOULD you do if you weren’t afraid?
Maybe, just maybe – be more like Sarah?
I think so. Enjoy.
The Art of Being Fearless
By Sarah J. Braun
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Would you climb the tallest, rockiest mountain? Would you jump out of a plane with blind faith hoping your parachute opens? Maybe you would learn how to surf in shark infested waters.
Who knows, the possibilities are endless. So, what if I told you that is what recovery is like? Climbing, and sometimes stumbling up a mountain. Jumping out of a safe, familiar environment not knowing if you’ll survive on your own. Learning how to safely stand on your own two feet instead of falling off, back into dangerous territory that can kill you.
Like many, imagining a life without my eating disorder was a difficult concept to fathom.
What would I do? Who would I be? All I knew was the overwhelming fear of the unknown.
I was diagnosed in 2003 and spent more than half of my life in the grips of an eating disorder. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter why or how I developed this illness – everyones story is different and at the same time hauntingly familiar.
My eating disorder influenced, and ruined every aspect of my life. The smart, kind, funny, creative and loving girl I used to be spiralled into a manipulative, self-centred and controlling liar.
Every relationship in my life had been damaged as I pushed those who loved me further and further away to be alone with my illness. My eating disorder stole my motivation, connection, goals and dreams I once had for my life and replaced them all with the desire to die.
Eating disorders are often paired with other mood and anxiety disorders and roughly 50% of those living with an eating disorder also abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Lucky for me, I fit into all those categories and I like to think of myself as somewhat of a triple threat.
I live with bipolar disorder and am still learning how to navigate my way through this diagnosis. In addition I am proud to say that today I am 421 days sober from drugs and alcohol. I knew when I began my recovery journey, that I had to tackle it all.
My eating disorder and addictions were intertwined in a messy web of self-destruction, and without recovery in both aspects, my life would return to a game of symptom whack-a-mole between them.
I wanted nothing more than for this illness to kill me, and by all means, when I look back at everything that has happened, it should have. Yet somehow, I am still here.
That concept baffles me and I always questioned why. I have been a firm believer my whole life that everything happens for a reason and nothing is a coincidence. So after all this time, and years of self-destructive behaviours, maybe I was in fact, supposed to be here. Maybe I was meant to be alive. Despite having a difficult time wrapping my head around the whole idea, I decided to stop devoting my time and energy into dying and instead put that drive and focus into living.
First things first, it was not easy and it did not happen overnight.
I had been to treatment centres in the past and the thought and shame I had about going back consumed me. Will it be worth it, hell, am I even worth it? What if I relapse again? How will this time be any different? Making the choice to save my life was gruelling.
I knew in order to recover that I would have to leave my behaviours and substance abuse in the past. However, in order for this time to be different, I knew I also had to leave my entire life behind.
Some people call it the geographical cure, and I admit, I do believe that to be a part of my success.
In previous efforts of recovery I always believed I had been doing it for myself, only to return to the same place, surrounded by the same people and would then fall back into the same patterns. Nothing I ever did was truly for me, as I was always seeking the acceptance and love of others. This time, somewhere deep down inside, by acknowledging what changes needed to happen, I knew that I was doing it for myself, and if I was going to be doing it alone, then so be it.
After all, feeling alone was all I knew.
If this was going to work, then I had to be accountable to myself. I remember having clear visions of my future success and wanting nothing more than to make them a reality, I just didn’t know how or where to start.
Throughout my stay and beyond the safety of treatment doors, finding motivation to keep going through those hopeless times faired much more difficult than I anticipated. I knew that once I left treatment things would not be all sunshine and rainbows, but I never expected it to be as hard as it was and sometimes still is. I had this idea of what I wanted my recovery to look like, and that would be perfect.
I wanted to be flawless in my journey. I wanted to be able to say that everything has been going well and that recovery gets easier each day. But that would be a lie.
Recovery has been the most difficult, exhausting and profound experience.
There have been incredible highs and devastating lows.
Moments of utter confusion where I find myself wondering if this was all worth it, and feel as though I am always waiting for relapse to rear its ugly head again.
There are still days when getting out of bed and following my meal plan seems impossible. There are times I still cry when I see the number on the scale, and thats okay. I didn’t get sick overnight and I’m not going to get better overnight.
Recovery is a process, and it takes time.
I’m not perfect and slips are going to happen, and I’m learning thats okay too. What makes this time around different is that I don’t let my slips define me. I don’t give them the power to knock me down.
I’m learning how to stand back up. I’m learning that this isn’t a black and white journey and I’m starting to accept the shades of grey in between.
With that said, when people ask me what recovery is like, the first thing that comes to my mind is smiling. I know how to do that again, the real, genuine smile that shines through your eyes. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by an incredible support system throughout this journey. From my family and friends back home, the professionals I worked with during treatment, the amazing outpatient team I have created for myself and the fierce group of amazing friends I’ve made along the way.
A key aspect that has gotten me to where I am is hope.
I would not have started this journey if there had not been a small grain of hope within me in my darkest days.
Over the course of recovery that hope, motivation and willingness wavered more than a few times. When this happened, when motivation and willingness were lost and everything seemed hopeless, I had to continuously remind myself of why I began. Over time that tiny grain of hope has slowly evolved into a shiny pearl, with a couple scratches along the way. Through attending AA and NA meetings, I’ve acquired a few slogans that I translate into my eating disorder recovery.
Just for today. Just for today I will follow my meal plan. Just for today I wont engage in behaviours. Just for today I will make the next right choice for my recovery. I am still learning how to navigate this bumpy road, but all I can do in this moment, is to take it one day at a time.
Treatment got me back on my feet, but I had to do the work.
Recovery is more than just eating and going to appointments. It’s about what you do in-between each meal and therapy session. For me, I had to put my life on hold and make recovery my full time job, because thats what it is. I’ve had to be patient with myself, trust the process and be fearlessly honest with my team, both in and outside of treatment.
In doing this I’ve been able to strengthen relationships, set goals and manage my urges, thoughts and emotions.
I read somewhere that with addictions you can lock the tiger up in the cage and throw away the key.
However, with eating disorders, you have to learn how to open that cage multiple times a day and feed it. Thankfully, I have learned and continue to learn valuable lessons and skills that make opening that cage not as scary. They are by no means easy to do, but they are possible. When I find myself struggling, I do my best to find self-compassion.
I have overcome a lot of rocky patches climbing this mountain in order to get where I am now.
I have to tell myself that it’s okay to stop and enjoy the view, as long as I eventually keep going. I didn’t come this far to only come this far. As hard as it is somedays I need to trust in myself and sometimes I have to fake it till I make it, despite feeling as though I don’t deserve recovery, happiness or love. It’s okay to allow myself to believe that I am deserving, and for me, thats progress – opening myself up to the idea of being loved, being accepted and being worthy. In part by others, but more importantly by myself. It’s about jumping out of the safety of my eating disorder, and trusting that I do in-fact, have the ability to open my own parachute and land safely.
I have learned to sit and ride the wave of every uncomfortable feeling, good and bad, without allowing those negative thoughts and behaviours pulling me back into the depths of the dark ocean.
Recovery has brought me so many incredible gifts, and even on the hardest days, they are still so much better than the best day with my eating disorder.
I used to always feel empty and alone in this world, and now I don’t. I am never alone because I am willing to accept the love and support from my loyal friends and family. I am never alone, because I have met so many inspiring warriors fighting along side me that have made this journey easier and helped me learn to laugh again. I am never alone because I have found myself.
I am so grateful to be present and sober in my life to be able to feel every terrifying, exhilarating and imperfect moment. Recovery has been the hardest and best choice I have ever made. Through all the ups and downs, I have learned I am strong, I am resilient and I am enough.
Nobody’s recovery is perfect, but everybody’s recovery is possible.
Together we can be the difference
Stereotypes would have you believe that eating disorders are not serious illnesses and that they always take the same form. This is wrong. It has to change.
This Eating Disorders Awareness Week help us put the stories of how people are affected in the spotlight, standing together to demand that anyone affected by an eating disorder is supported, no matter what their diagnosis, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age or background. Together by raising funds and combating stigma we can change lives.
About our author, Sarah:
Sarah describes herself as a perfectionistic, animal loving, sports fanatic. She is a coffee fiend with an enthusiasm for recovery and a wicked sense of humour. Sarah is fiercely honest, resilient and driven, embracing life one day at a time.