When I left treatment I chronicled six months of experiences in a 67,000 word memoir as a way of closing that chapter of my life. How then, am I supposed to concisely write down the experiences and lessons of the last 2 years in recovery? Perhaps the best way will be to share the milestones of the time that have passed.
January 2019 -
When I came out of the hospital I was so unsure of who I was and of who I wanted to be now that I was trying to rebuild my life without my monsters. I had a long list of things that I needed to do, appointments to go to, meals to eat, and emotions to process. It seemed that the emerging adult that I had spent the latter half of my adolescence growing into was not someone who was good for me, so I wasn’t going to be able to go back to being her. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life now that I was free of the hospital, because after renouncing the dreams of my disorders, all of my remaining dreams seemed insubstantial. All I had to go on was the concept of wanting to be kind to everyone, the desire to leave the world at least a little better than the way I had found it, and the notion that I loved working with kids. This was all fine and dandy, but it was hardly a detailed four-year plan. So without a grander goal in mind, I simply settled into the activities of daily life and tried not to screw up too many things along the way.
July 2019 -
6 months out of the hospital I found myself applying for colleges again and trying to reconnect with a local chapter of my sorority. Now I was learning how to be independent in a healthy way again. I had to take back control of managing my schedule and taking up more responsibilities of the household. I had to make decisions about what I wanted my major to be now that I was leaving behind my original choice. I had to define my values and decern how I wanted them to play out in my life now that I was making different choices. In this period of my recovery, I was trying to learn who I wanted to be that wasn’t defined by who I thought other people or my disorders wanted me to be. My decisions were centered on the idea that I wanted to be able to restart college and still make recovery-minded decisions that were good for me and my future.
January 2020 -
The year out of treatment milestone nearly passed me by without me noticing it. At that point in my life, I was actively working towards my degree with a full course load. I was managing the activities of daily life all by myself. I was completing challenges from my treatment team, and I was participating in my own life, no longer living by the minutes or the hours but taking it in larger chunks of time. I had moved past some of the more tactile and external coping skills and had learned to deal with my disorders in a more continuous and internal way before I spiraled too far. This timeframe was about finding friends and maintaining relationships. I had learned healthy ways to be independent and now I was working on practicing interdependence. I had to learn how to build relationships that were two-way roads; an equal balance of give and take. I was learning how to build a support system outside of my family of origin.
July 2020 -
18 months out of treatment was marked by being in the middle of a pandemic. Just when I thought I had settled into a rhythm of life, this major upheaval brought to light a whole new set of lessons to learn. I was forced to work on my ability to be alright with not being productive every moment of my day, and simply be alright with spending my time doing things that I enjoyed whether they produced something that was useful to others or not. Time became one long blur and it seemed that quarantine would never end. I struggled with doing the right things for myself when submitting to a long Sleeping Beauty style nap seemed like an appealing way to avoid having to learn more hard lessons. I worked on learning the limits on my emotional bandwidth and setting limits on what I couldn’t healthily manage even when other people said that I should care and should be paying attention to world events. My world had shrunk back down to my house and the people who lived with me, but this time it was an exercise in not letting external events dictate the state of my mental health. Even as 2020 continued to be a dumpster fire, I was working on being able to cook because I enjoyed it, on being able to put a pause on creative projects that were no longer making me happy, and on not letting sad things keep me from making good decisions for myself. I didn’t always reach the lofty recovery goals I had set for myself, especially in the month where my grandfathers died, but the point was that even in the times where I struggled more than usual, I still didn’t let my disorders regain control over my life.
January 2021 –
Now at 2 years in recovery, the world still hasn’t recovered from the changes that COVID-19 brought. I will graduate with my degree in December of this year, but all of my classes are still completely online and I hardly leave my house unless I am volunteering with my pre-professional organization. However, while my physical circumstances have not changed a whole lot from last July, but I have changed more than a few things about my life anyway. I have taken a leadership position in my sorority, have built multiple relationships with my sisters, and feel that I am actively contributing to creating a better organization for future sisters. I am submitting my creative writing to different publishing sources in an effort to work towards my dream of being a published author. Most of all, I am now able to say I am proud of myself and can recognize that I have the right to be recognized for the work that I do, and deserve respect from those around me. I am practicing setting boundaries and not letting people disrespect my time or effort that I put into my leadership role, or let former employers try and swindle me out of the money I have earned. Every day I am working on not apologizing for things that I don’t have to be sorry for and standing my ground when others push back against me. I am practicing saying that I am proud of myself for doing hard recovery tasks like reintegrating exercise in a healthy way or eating snacks that are scary at first. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, because I still will use words like “can’t” and “incapable of” when talking about what my options are after graduation, but being able to say that I am proud of various aspects of my life and act in a way that proves those statements, allows me the room to work on changing the things that I claim I can’t do into things that I will have to put a concerted effort into.
Everyone has a place at the table and for me I have had to learn how to claim that spot at the table without apologizing, questioning my right to it, or worrying that I was going to mess up so badly that the world was going to end. No one is at the table alone, so I had to learn how to let those around me help to build me up and support my recovery skills, instead of letting the triggering things that they do bring back my monsters. I had to learn that I was worthy of my place at the table whether I was done up for sorority events with makeup and pretty dresses or if I was still in my pajamas and had been wearing pajamas all week. It didn’t matter what other people at the table thought of my appearance, and it didn’t even matter what I thought about my own appearance, because that had nothing to do with my ability to be kind and to finish my education. Some days when I would come to the table all I would do is sit there and cry because the stress and the struggle of the day-to-day were just weighing on my heart, and that isn’t bad. Some days I would come to the table and tell everyone who would listen of the good grades I got and the changes I had made for my leadership office, and that isn’t self-absorbed. Everyone has a place at the table no matter how they are when they arrive, and no one has the right to deny them that seat. I am ever-changing. I live a life that is full of ups and downs, that has dark days and brilliant nights. No matter what I am feeling inside or what I think I look like on the outside, I will always have a place at the table.
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