Three Years On

I’ve been doing quite a lot of work over the past week or so to add categories to as many posts as I can. I am going more or less in reverse chronological order, and I am only up to September 2015, so there’s still a long way to go. Nonetheless, I think I will eventually get there. I just keep doing it bit by bit.

I also recognise however that categorising my blog is no substitute for writing, so here I sit with, quite frankly, absolutely no idea where I’m going with this! That’s the case probably 50% of the time when I sit down to write, and for me, it’s one of the absolute joys of the writing process.

Perhaps it’s so thrilling because I lack spontaneity and an ability to ‘go with the flow’ in so many other sections of my life. This is something that I am gradually working on – both accepting that I necessarily lack spontaneity in some areas, but also attempting to insert some into facets of my life where this is possible.

Year twelve pretty much took every ounce of spontaneity and well, quite simply, fun out of life. Every single thing I did was done with study in mind, whether this be sleeping, eating, walking, watching television or showering, it was all organised and centred on the central task in my life – studying.

This focus on doing things for an ulterior motive bled its way into my summer holidays, and is an attitude which I am only now beginning to firstly recognise, but then also attempt to combat.

Study became my number one priority, but it wasn’t actually what I wanted to be occupying that top spot. That’s why I felt such an uneasy distance between the Emma I wanted to be and the Emma I felt I was. And that feeling has continued until recently when I have finally begun the healing and readjustment process.

I’ve been working again on my set of core beliefs or morals, and attempting to really focus on what these look like in my life. Not just in their outward manifestation through volunteering, studying hard, educating others and so on, but also the inward implications of my values. For far too long, I have dedicated most or all of my energy to what I have termed ‘output’ activities. That is, activities which require energy expenditure and transfer. I have long neglected the ‘input’ activities, most of which revolve around looking after myself, because they somehow don’t seem worthwhile.

This is such a flawed attitude because all of the evidence points instead to the importance of looking after oneself in order that one can look after and help others. Beyond that, I actually want to see looking after myself as intrinsically worthwhile, based on the fact one of my primary core beliefs is the fact that I am a valuable and worthwhile person. If I believe this is true, then I have to show it to myself. I am highly adept at showing others they are worthwhile, I spend a good deal of time doing it, but I don’t treat myself the same way.

I feel I am following in my own footsteps by having this period of personal growth in Autumn. Autumn seems to be prime time for personal reflection. Traditionally, I have commemorated the 11th of April (tomorrow) with a big post about lessons learned from anorexia, given that it is the date on which I was admitted to hospital, now three years ago. I don’t think I’m going to do that this year.

It’s not that I’m not remembering the date, obviously I am, it’s just that it doesn’t quite feel right, or necessary, or something. All I want to say is the following.

On a micro scale, it feels like I’ve not come very far. I still wrestle with my thoughts sometimes, trying to unravel the healthy and the disordered and thus know what choices are the ‘right’ ones. I still suffer sometimes from body dysmorphia, one minute thinking I’m too thin and the next too fat. Going out to eat or eating what I used to label as ‘bad’ foods can still cause anxiety and apprehension.

But the micro scale is deceptive. You see, recovery is a journey, a gradual progression of steps and decisions which individually don’t seem like much, but collectively make the difference between health and illness, starvation and adequate nutrition.

So when I get frustrated by the imperfection of recovery, and the lack of hard and fast rules about what I ‘should’ be doing, I try to zoom out. It is then that I can see how far I’ve come. Some of the keys are the following:

  • The unhealthy thoughts I have rarely translate into unhealthy actions.
  • Most of the time when I look in the mirror I feel happy.
  • I can usually have fun with family and friends at parties, afternoon teas and dinners without withdrawing and freaking out about what I’m eating.
  • I’ve reclaimed a healthy level of control over my life, my body and my eating habits through reading, yoga, walking, writing, challenging myself, relying on family and friends for support and gardening.

Healing is not forcing the sun to shine, it’s letting go of that which blocks the light.

I think this quote speaks to the experiences of so many of us in the recovery process. Healing doesn’t come when you push it, force it, and will it to work. Healing actually starts to come when you let go. When you let go of rules about what food was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’. When you let go of narrow conceptions of beauty, defined as thinness with a thigh-gap and a flat stomach. When you let go of small-sized clothes that ‘boost’ your self-esteem. When you let go of your the comfort zone and sense of control facilitated by your eating disorder.

Whilst these forms of letting go may seem scary, it is what this letting go facilitates that is truly extraordinary, and makes the intense anxiety of letting go worth it.

Letting go means allowing yourself to be a human, a natural and imperfect organism.

Letting go means regaining the ability to protest, to debate, to question, to stand up for myself, and to stand in solidarity with others.

Letting go means learning to be compassionate towards yourself, and towards others. It allows you the space and the confidence to share your experiences, and through this to connect with other people and form strong support networks.

Letting go means being free to live your life, and to truly know yourself.

Most importantly, letting go means accepting that life is a journey, and that life’s lessons will continue to come until the day you die.

I remember my battle with anorexia every year not with nostalgia, but with gratitude. That may sound strange, but the absolute terror and horridness of the experience is what spurs me on. Not only can I not forget about it, I can’t even really get over it. The experience still shakes me to my core, but I am thankful because I am building my life on the foundational lessons it has given me. I am learning to hold that experience within me, and face life with a greater sense of inner strength and gratitude.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

PS: If this post has brought up any uncomfortable thoughts or feelings for you, please do not hesitate to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Butterfly Foundation’s website at http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/ to access a range of resources and support services.

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