I am packing my suitcase yet again to go into eating disorder treatment this week. Every time, and there have been many times over the past several years, I have done this quietly.
“Coming out for a drink?” a friend would text from the outside world a week into my stay. My heart would start fluttering as I called back. I would race through a speech about being in treatment again but feeling really good, and we would talk about when they could see me next. And then my heart would sink again, deep into shame. How was I going to emerge recovered? I have some insight about my own recovery process. I know what I seek in recovery and I have tried to reach out and create it, but that does not seem to be enough. I’m still deciding, deep in my mind, to slowly kill myself.
Like for many sufferers of eating disorders, my illness stayed in a separate world for ten years. I grew (still grow) to loathe and love my dirty little secret so strongly, and the conflict drove (drives) me to insanity.When I decided to get better, I did so quietly and simply disappeared. People were confused by my decision.
These moments of confusion, of missed opportunities, still happen when my life, work and treatment collide. There is a conundrum many of us sufferers have run into: as we’ve gotten sicker, we may find ourselves more steeped in shame for staying sick. We may no longer want to see people we knew before or those we admire. Our world gets smaller as we turn to this loathing-lover disorder. It’s a terrible cycle.
I have nurtured this shame despite close family and friends who love me as I am, but I do not blame only myself. We have promoted cocooning when sick as a society — with metaphors of butterflies emerging from shells — as if to say the journey stops there. We, as sufferers, rarely speak until we’re all patched up. We give in to the illusion that the sick must remain hidden for a little while longer and that our voices are not yet as meaningful.
Screw that. We may have problems — gritty ones — but we don’t have to wait to solve them before we join the tribe. Take that logic far enough, and we will spend our 2.5 billion heartbeats anticipating the next one, and the next one, until we drum that one last time.
I remember wise words from a therapist during a family group at my first treatment experience.
He was saying that, anecdotally, he saw the most success with families — and, in extension, sufferers — who embrace the journey of recovery, rather than the destination.
That advice is difficult to hear when loved ones are scared or when shame is involved, but I am trying to breathe it in as I write this. The reality is, the more ashamed we feel for who we are right now, the more life we end up losing. We must believe we are still humans in the midst of our illness. Our voices can be heard even in the eating disorder’s shackles. Perhaps (hopefully?) that is one of the keys to our release.
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