Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,”
Me and my addictive personality have always thought that was a load of crap. I wanted to reach my destination now. I didn’t much care for the scenic route.
I’m slowly learning that it’s only when you can discipline yourself to slow down that you can truly appreciate the route you take.
I’ve also learned: slowing down is hard.
Almost exactly a year to the day that my recovery journey started, though involuntary, I chose to reflect on my progress.
Recovery is hard. It hurts. It’s messy and confusing and scary. It’s not beautiful, but at the same time, it is. It takes time. A lot of it. You will mess up, you might mess up a lot. But, that’s OK, too, that’s part of the journey and the lessons learned contributes to your growth.
Almost a year into the recovery, I often wonder if ‘recovered’ ever really means recovered. Maybe it varies from person to person. Maybe for some, it’s possible to make it on to greener grass and relax there for a little while. For some, their footing in recovery is a little more solid.
Not for me.
My footing in my recovery constantly feels like I’m on wobbly ground, or as if I’m re-learning to walk again. Because I have. Literally. And I am. Figuratively. I always feel as if I’m one insult or comment about my body, or one triggering food or situation away from backpedaling. I am always on guard, and so is my body, refusing to let me restrict my way into nothingness for the second time.
My recovery journey started out of necessity, rather than by choice.
It was my second attempt. My second time being admitted in the ICU after a two-month fight against it. The first go-round in the ICU, I was there for four days, and against some of the doctors best wishes, released back home. Against their professional advice, I chose to forego inpatient treatment, and instead focus on my upcoming graduation, just a few months away. The truth is, I wasn’t ready to choose recovery. Nobody else could choose it for me, regardless of how bad they may have wanted to.
Having returned to campus against doctors and school officials wishes, I wasn’t allowed to seek treatment on campus, unless it was an absolute emergency. With my mom living on the other side of the state, we often stayed in touch throughout the day over text message.
Knowing that my mom took a chance on me, understanding how much, school meant to me, and how badly I wanted to finish my schooling when I was supposed to, I was also sure that I was always honest with her.
I told her when I was tired if I was having trouble walking if I felt faint if I was upset, and I admit when I made mistakes and cut corners.
One day at a time, one meal at a time, that’s what they told me. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I sang “Eye of the Tiger” to myself anytime I had a particularly challenging moment surrounding mealtime. I called my mom or sister while I was cooking or sitting down to eat, in hopes of alleviating the chance for a panic attack.
My second go-round in the ICU, I was on my way to my second class of the day at university, and feeling rather exhausted. At 21-years-old, I could barely make the seven-minute trek across campus, without every muscle in my body feeling sore. I texted my mom, unsure if I would make it to my classroom. “I can’t-do this anymore,” I cried.
It felt like the muscles in my legs were abandoning me, suddenly we were on different pages, and they weren’t wearing my team colors.
Through the insistence of one of my kind and patient professors, she told me that she would allow for me to miss that day’s class if I agreed to take myself to the hospital.
I thought about telling her that I did, and they chose not to admit me, and instead go home and go to bed early. I would try again tomorrow. But, for some reason, this time felt different, I wasn’t fully confident that I would see tomorrow if I didn’t get help now.
I still wasn’t ready to choose recovery, but at a minimum, I would need to be stabilized and have my electrolytes checked.
I was admitted to the ICU almost immediately, where I would spend the next week on bed rest, hooked up to various IV’s and fluids, and have a feeding tube inserted in my nose for the first time.
Sometimes when I’m feeling unstable in my position in recovery, I recall the pain of having three nurses crowd over my bed, wiggling the feeding tube down my nose, and how it burned as it curled in my stomach.
They had to readjust the tube three times after an X-Ray showed it was tangled in my stomach.
After a week, I was transferred to a medical unit, where I lived for six weeks.
Doctor, after doctor told me about the toll eating disorders, have on your body, and how serious my case was. “If you were to leave here right now,” my doctor said, “you will not live, do you understand?”
I might have rolled my eyes, because I’ve heard it before.
The doctor had told me due to my limited intake of food, my organs started to feed off themselves, and were refusing to release waste.
“Just because you’re here,” one doctor said, “you can still die,” he said, “you are certainly not in the clear.”
I told my mom to ask him to go because I thought he was being mean to me.
Even when I didn’t have a release date in sight, and doctors told me it may be months, I never felt sad, or scared, or much of anything, really. The only thing I cared about was school.
I wished I could work and complete school, without having to do any of the hard stuff.
Recovery was painful, and I still wasn’t ready to choose it.
I still cringe looking back at the journal they gave me during this time.
It was supposed to be used as a form of therapy, I guess, to get out my feelings, but instead, I logged what meals I ate and what percentage, trying to get around how much they made me eat. I wrote down new ‘food rules’ for when they finally discharged me, and I wrote how I couldn’t wait to get back to eating how I normally ate, how I couldn’t wait to be able to walk around the mall.
It’s been almost a year since I entered the hospital for what I would like to say was the final time. But like I said, recovery is not perfect, it’s not easy, and sometimes you mess up.
For me, my eating disorder is an addiction that resurfaces when my depression does, in times when I’m feeling stressed, or lonely. I’m addicted to the feeling of emptiness, it masks itself as a form of comfort, although I know it’s not, I have nothing else.
The beginning stages of recovery were hard. H A R D. hard. Hard.
Having lost over 60 lbs, meant I had to gain that weight back. And it came back faster than I was prepared for. With my body refusing to trust me or let me restrict, my depression seemed to search for other ways to find that ‘comfort,’ other forms of self-harm for it to rear its ugly head and try to convince me that the beast was in control.
Recovery is messy. Sometimes that beast won. More often than I’d like to admit.
I’ve messed up, and weighed myself, knowing full well that I would not like the result. I’ve told doctors that I could handle the number, that I wouldn’t be upset and that they should tell me, ‘so I could be sure I was healthy,’ I lied, knowing I would use it against myself later. I stepped on scales at other people’s homes, because I wasn’t allowed to have one in mine, and hold it against myself later.
I’ve messed up and restricted when I was feeling stressed.
I’ve messed up, and read labels, knowing that once I knew, it wasn’t something I could just unknown.
I’ve messed up and worked out longer than I should have than I knew my body could handle at the time.
I’ve messed up and took more than I was prescribed.
I’ve messed up and spent a few days in the hospital.
I’ve messed up, and never deleted the apps that track how many steps I take, or how many miles I bike.
Those apps send me ‘friendly reminders’ when I haven’t been as active as the previous day, or I haven’t burned as many calories as I did last week.
Those memos still send me into a frenzy.
“Why are you tracking your steps?” my mom asked. “You shouldn’t be tracking your miles, this is not a job,” she reminded me.
Quickly I became defensive, feeling the need to justify why my step count is so high, or why I feel like I need to ride X amount of miles X times per week.
My mom is very keen to my disordered behaviors, and not shy about calling them out.
I know she’s right.
I can recognize when my behavior is disordered, too. But I can’t stop. That’s part of the addiction.
It’s a challenge with myself in a battle against myself. It’s a numbers game. For someone who hates math, I get a little high off seeing the number higher than it was the last time I was on my bike or the last time I went for a walk because I can’t be trusted to jump on the scale and see what that number tries to deem my fate.
It’s a numbers game and nobody wins, but I’m addicted.
I still feel the need to excuse myself from a conversation when I hear beautiful women, whom I admire talk negatively about themselves.
I feel that emptiness when I hear these women talk about their perceived flaws, or how much weight they think they need to lose, or what ‘magic diet’ they think will finally work for them. It’s not the kind of emptiness I’m attracted to, and I excuse myself from the conversation.
I still don’t know why I don’t allow myself the same courtesy when I start talking negatively about myself.
I’ve messed up more times than once, but like Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I may have taken a lot of steps, but this journey is far from over. In fact, it’s still only just beginning.