December 18, 2013

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Recovery

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Richard P J Lambert
Richard P J Lambert

People will tell you that life is sunny on the other side, because it is after a while. It is definitely sunnier than the alternative, than the comfortable fear you’re still toying with. And people will tell you that the little voice you have to fight everyday gets quieter eventually, because it does. It gets tired of shouting itself hoarse. It gets tired of being ignored. So eventually it learns to shut up. People will also tell you there will be entire days when you will feel capable and strong and overwhelmingly normal.

But I wish somebody told me that feeling normal will scare the crap out of you at first.

And somehow, that is completely normal too.

I have been in recovery for almost four years, and not once in those 1,400-odd days did anyone tell me that I would be scared. They would acknowledge it in a roundabout way, but only when I admitted it first. They would nod their heads and say they understood how I felt, but to no console. I still felt like screaming and running away and regressing back to what I knew for nearly a decade of my life. Not once did anyone warn me that I would try to do that, that I would falter and lose my way and feel as if I had lost the route home. Maybe they didn’t tell me that because they hoped that if they didn’t admit it, then it wouldn’t be an option. And if I suggested it, they would tell me that I wasn’t committed enough.

I wish somebody told me that fear isn’t good or bad, but that it just is.

The alternative to knowing what to fear is not knowing what to fear, and in that space of not knowing, you get a little reckless but you get a little brave, and when you are in recovery, those two things are exactly what you need. You’ve had a lot of the former, of course. But pair it with the latter, pair your headstrong stubbornness with bravery, and you will survive.

You will honestly have entire days in which you will forget that you are broken. There will, of course, be cracks, but everyone has cracks. Nobody is without their flaws. And holding yourself to some impossible standard without those flaws will get boring after a while. Because it really will be just so overwhelmingly dull.

There are, of course, still days where I struggle. There is nothing abnormal in that. It would be alien to unlearn a decade’s worth of habits in a matter of months. There are tricks I rely on to survive the cereal aisle—as if Honey Bunches of Oats is an epic battle—and I try to avoid photographs because I worry that my parents will think that I’ve begun to lose weight again (even if I haven’t) and they’ll worry. I don’t want them to worry. I am supposed to be an adult, and adults are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. At the very least, they’re supposed to feed themselves, aren’t they? Isn’t that what toddlers learn to do?

They will not tell you in recovery that, in a lot of ways, relearning how to feed yourself and rely on your hunger will make you feel like you’re learning to walk all over again, and you will feel demoralized and belittled at first. But that will pass. I promise it will. Everything awful and scary and new will pass. But you must give it time.

And though your parents may still worry, you will remember parents will always worry about their children, no matter how old those children are. It is what they do. It is because they genuinely care, not because they are trying to smother you.

Sometimes, you will genuinely forget to eat. It won’t be because you plan to—it will be because you are human and you are busy and you get caught up in work and family and just living your life, and you will forget. So you will ask your friends to remind you—you don’t have to go into details, just tell them you forget, because it’s true—and you will make friends with the guy at the deli and the girl at the coffee shop, and they will come to look for you because at first, routine will be your lifeline. And you will see them every day, and your coworkers will ask gently if you want to go to lunch, and you will learn to say yes, and eventually, you will learn how to raise your voice and suggest where you ought to go.

You will have your go-to buys at the supermarket. But everybody does. Even mothers and children have their staples. And you will slowly, slowly learn how to stop tallying up the number of calories in dinner, and how to stop dividing that number by the percentage you did or didn’t eat.

And these things will take time. Everybody told me that, over and over again, but I never realized exactly how long they meant.

Because you will still hear the food taunting you from the fridge, where you’ve stashed the cookies in the far back and stuck apples and carrots at the front. You will still be wary of the mirror, and eventually refuse to check it at all because it will become exhausting to question whether or not it is lying to you. Games lose their luster eventually. And you will learn to find the words and admit that sometimes, you are still not okay, and sometimes you are still struggling, and sometimes, things get really, really hard inside your head, but that doesn’t mean you’re on your way to a relapse. Nor does it mean you’re weak.

It just means you’re learning to use your voice rather than your fear. And that is where things get a little brighter and a little easier. And easier will begin to feel normal, little by little. Whatever normal is. It’s been four years, and I still don’t fully know. I wish somebody told me that nobody really knows what normal is. But I’m beginning to think that just maybe, to be normal is to be vulnerable, but being vulnerable and having emotions and feeling too much and acknowledging that your insides are a mess is honestly worth fighting for. TC mark

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