The New Normal

I’ve been really unsettled lately. Some of this is just life stuff. Grandparents die. Friends move away. Recovery hits a bump. Higher education necessitates debt. But overall, this is the most settled I’ve ever been.

Which is, in itself, unsettling.

Just how unsettling I wasn’t sure of until I was in my car driving this morning and praying for God to break me. I’ve prayed this prayer before – in fact, mere months before the relapse that took me down beginning in fall 2009. I told God I would do whatever it took to be whole “enough” to do missions work. He could break me down, pull me apart, reconfigure me as long as it meant being closer to Him at the end of the process. And break me He did.

The past five years have been some of the most terrifying, painful, and dismal of my life. Even knowing intellectually that God was pulling away from me the things I had used to glue myself together all these years, it was miserable. Even knowing that this pain was out of God’s love and desire to see me truly free, it brought me to utter despair, to wish for death instead of freedom. Even knowing it was an act of truest love, it felt like violence.

It felt like every rape, every assault, every abuse. Every touch turned bruise, every demeaning comment, every time I was told I was not enough. It felt like all of these all at once and I hated God for it.

So back to present day – why exactly am I praying for this to happen all over again, you might ask? I cannot even lie and say that I followed that request for brokenness with “because I want to be nearer to you and more Christ-like, God.” Not even a consideration (my spiritual life has been lackluster these days). I just thought, “God, you’ve got to break me because I don’t know how to do this.”

“This” is settled. Stable. Thriving.

The last time I was really stable and doing well was fifth grade. And I have been in a near-perpetual state of crisis since I was fourteen. Every day has been fight-or-flight. I haven’t had the opportunity to work on things like social skills or life skills like setting up gas and electric service or what to do when somebody runs into your car in the parking lot. I’ve just been trying to survive. And for the most part, doing a fairly decent job of just making it from one day to the next. Surviving.

But the little nuances of day-to-day were lost on me for nearly the past two decades. What do people do with their time if they’re not running obsessively or spending hours a week in therapy or staying out all night to avoid having to lie? What happens when I’m not in school any more? What the hell is this “career path” everyone keeps going on about? What do people talk to their friends about if not this treatment or that or this slip-up or that? What does a prayer look like when you’re not begging God to kill you?

So now, at 29, I’m having to figure these things out. And it’s HARD. I just bought a vacuum for the first time in my life. And was damned excited about it, too. I remember my reusable grocery bags about 50% of the time. I’ve had to deal with obnoxious neighbours without my usual self-flaggelation and let other people own their stuff. And I’m having to imagine life at 60, 70, 80. I’m having to dream.

At least once a day, I half-heartedly wish for one of my addictions to take over. I know how to do crisis. I’ve gotten good at crisis.

But what do I do when there are no fires to be put out?

I’m stable and that’s unsettling.

 

 

 

Hold the Line

I struggle sometimes to decide whether or not to leave a post up if I am embarrassed by what I’ve said or no longer feel that way because the situation has changed. Ultimately, I choose to leave them because they were – at that moment in time – my reality.

On one hand, some things I mentioned in my last post were cleared up within an hour of writing it. I had not realized that the friend I mentioned in the first half of the post actually subscribes to my blog and thus, she was greeted with an e-mail of my blog which understandably seemed very passive aggressive. The lack of invitation to the baby shower was, of course, an oversight and I took it entirely too personally and, as I am wont to do, jumped to the worst possible conclusion. (My apologies again to this friend – who has never been anything but loving and gracious. Also – and this is for everyone – if I ever do that sort of passive-agressive bitchy move you are allowed to chew me out and/or slap me.)

On the other hand, even though things were sorted with that particular friend, it did not change the hurt and grief I felt over the other friendships. The immediate situation with the first friend triggered all sorts of feelings that I am not entirely equipped to handle. My coping skills have grown leaps and bounds even in the past two months (no self-harm, what what!!), but sometimes I am still at a loss for what to do with my emotions. My emotions seem to have two options: on full-blast or off.

Spring break in Florida was positively delightful, but I didn’t really deal with any sort of feelings aside from “Yay Disney! Yay friends! Yay camping and hiking!” I very intentionally left my homework/reading for therapy buried in my bag because I just did not want to open that can of worms. I noticed in therapy last Monday that this was a way for me to close myself off to any emotion. So when I prayed for openness to emotion….well, the damn broke. I was a weepy mess for most of Monday night.

Y’all, I just feel raw. The slightest touch hurts. I had to walk out of my Tuesday night class because the activity hit (oh so tangentially) an area I’ve been working on in therapy and I could not handle it. I stuck it out as long as it could, but the class and situation just continued to feel more and more unsafe. I bolted after class. A classmate told me when I saw her later in the week that she had been praying for me and that my professor was really concerned. So now I have that awkward situation to walk into this Tuesday night.

I texted my therapist when I got home. I had taken a detour to EarthFare, hoping that picking up a couple of things would be enough to reset my brain. It wasn’t, so I asked my therapist how I was supposed to shut off these stupid emotions so I could get my schoolwork done. “Because beer is currently looking like my best option,” I said.

“Hold the line,” she said. “Your healing is way way way more important than homework. It will stop. You will catch up. Keep going until…it is finished.  Jesus did.”  A brief exchange occurred, wherein I realized just how human I am and my therapist stated that she was extremely glad that I was in touch with that humanness.

I know that this is what I am supposed to be doing, how I am supposed to be feeling. I know that the nights when I am so sure I’m just flat-out going to die from THE FEELZ are progress. I am feeling. I am allowing myself to be broken. I am trusting my family and friends to hold me while my Saviour binds the wounds.

But first – I have to take off the crude bandages I spent so long putting together and feel the pain that was always there.

Every Winter After

“It does not hit you until later. The fact that you were essentially dead does not register until you begin to come alive. Frostbite does not hurt until it starts to thaw. First it is numb. Then a shock of pain rips through the body. And then, every winter after, it aches.” — Marya Hornbacher, Wasted

 
Wasted is one of those books that hurts to read.  I love it and I find it one of the most powerful books on the subject of eating disorders because it is so raw.  Marya holds back nothing.  It also makes it a tremendously triggering book for those who are suffering.  I have yet to be able to read the book all the way through from a standpoint of recovery.  I have read a chapter or two, sure, but then things become too intense and my own eating disorder begins to flare up and compete.  
 
But if you can read it from a perspective of recovery, it is surprising the new passages that jump out at you, that have new meaning, that can actually aid you on your journey to recovery.  This quotation, which showed up on my Tumblr dashboard this morning, is one of those.  For me, it helps remind me that those times when the eating disorder aches, when you feel the pain of it all over again, when you want it back so badly it hurts — are actually part of the healing process.  It hurts not because you need the eating disorder again, but because it was there at one time and killed parts of you that are now hurting as they come back to life, and hurt more when they are brushed once again with the cold that nearly killed them.
 
Almost everyone I have talked to on my journey into and out of the eating disorder hell has said that they have periods each year which are more difficult than others.  Anniversaries, if you will.  A lot of people, myself included, struggle a lot during the holidays.  (I also have another “anniversary” near my birthday, when I was first officially diagnosed with anorexia.)  Highly charged emotions about families and holidays meet highly charged emotions about food and it creates something of the perfect storm.  
 
As a result, I can tell you exactly what I’ve eaten, how many pills I took, what I weighed, and how much I exercised (and how and where) for every Thanksgiving for the past four years.  I long for the days that my Thanksgiving memories include trips to see family and friends and games played and jokes told.  This is (both literally and figuratively), the winter after that near-death, when the limbs that have been damaged ache with the knowledge of what was.  
 
This doesn’t mean I’m relapsing, this pain and ache where the eating disorder once was.  It doesn’t mean you are either.  We certainly have the choice to do so, of course, as we always do.  
 
But if we can begin to befriend this ache, we can see it for what it is:  a sign that we are healing.

Sorrow and Suffering

I love my therapist, I really do.  Even when she is kicking my butt in session and saying things like, “You’re never going to recover if you don’t allow yourself to feel out of control and open yourself up to feeling grief and sorrow and pain.”  I wholeheartedly agree with her, but dang if it doesn’t suck.

We started talking last week about my engagement.  For quite a while now, I’ve thought that I am totally over breaking off my engagement with the only man I’ve ever loved.  I just, ya know, don’t date.  And totally freak out at the idea of sex.  But I am completely unscarred by that experience!

I left therapy last Monday and got drunk.  Even told my roommate as I started on my second or third glass of wine that I was drinking for the sole purpose of not having to think about what we had discussed in therapy.  My therapist had given me homework:  journal about the pain of my engagement, the pain of the betrayal that I had experienced.

Well, screw that, I thought.  Let’s have another drink.

I never journaled last week.  I actually completely forgot about the assignment.  But as I drove to therapy yesterday, I was thinking about — thinking about why talking about dating and “being liked” by a guy at church is so uncomfortable.  And it hit me.

I like sex.

And I HATE that I like sex.  It makes me feel dirty and shameful and like a bad person.  I told my therapist that I understand that everyone has sexual feelings and this is not somehow unique to me, but I hate these feelings and it is so much easier to starve, run, cut them away.

As I was reading her what I wrote, I was flying through the words on the page.  She took away my pen, which I was jamming into my leg rhythmically in an effort to not feel.  She made me read it again.  Slower.  And again.  She asked what I was feeling.

Dirty.

Shameful.

Disgusting.

Any time I am speaking, my eyes are on the ground, or on my hands, which are hopelessly fidgeting.  I look up only rarely, only when she is talking, not when I am revealing these horrible, disgusting, awful parts of me.

She tells me that the fact that I like sex is actually the most beautiful part of the story — that I allowed myself to love someone and be loved by someone and make myself vulnerable.  She tells me that I am feeling shame and disgust because I am trying to block the regret, remorse, pain, and sorrow surrounding the experience.  (For the record, I don’t feel any regret about having sex with my ex-fiance.  Now, my coworker/supervisor — that’s another story.)

And it’s not just about this.  I’ve been avoiding pain and sorrow and grief since she met me three years ago*, she says.  (And for many years before that as well.)  She admitted that it’s not fun to feel these things, that it’s quite awful at times, but it’s the only way to heal.  It’s horrible and wonderful all the say time, she said.

I was reminded of Hinds’ Feet on High Places, where Much Afraid is shocked to discover that the companions the Chief Shepherd have chosen for her journey to the high places are Sorrow and Suffering.  She’s sure that somehow the Chief Shepherd has made a mistake, that He meant to send someone else for her.  But He didn’t.

In her road to healing and wholeness, she had to learn to befriend sorrow and suffering, to allow them to work the Shepherd’s purpose in her life and in her heart.  She had to walk with them to reach the high places and to receive her new name and new life through the Shepherd.

I am Much Afraid, but I will take the risk.

——————

*Yes, my current counselor is my counselor from way back when I started my blog!  I adore her and I swear she just gets better and better.  I was so heartbroken when she went on maternity leave and it has been so amazing to work with her again.  She is not afraid to call me out on my crap, which I appreciate, but she is always so kind and gentle when she does it.