The Truth About Being A Year Out Of Rehab

Carmen Jost
Carmen Jost

One year. Year one. What do you learn from rehab? What sticks?

How do you feel looking back?

The 27g sugar yogurts – the 5am wake up calls – the unshaven legs – the women.

Different ages and backgrounds – together we felt curiously close – sitting in those therapy rooms with our feet tucked under us. Close in the times we were forced to make “sand stress balls” or count from 1-100 when we went to the restroom. Close in the times we cried over a donut – fought with the counselors- laughed playing Bananagram.

Watched as our parents came and went, and as Christmas and New Years passed quietly.

A year later – the truth is that it has been wonderful – insightful, and calm – but how horrifically selfish to pretend, for face value, that it’s been simply that. To write as though recovery is always one Chicken Soup for the Soul away from a Lifetime movie. How discouraging to someone who is feeling like they “failed” because they still struggle, and how incredibly naive to pretend that people will believe that my life is a straight and narrow road because I spent 6-weeks in a facility.

A year later, Rehab doesn’t provide a magic pill (although Prozac’s a gem) to make you accept stretch marks, reverse addictions, or correct the circus mirrors of your mind. It doesn’t fix what someone broke. It doesn’t shed light on tragedy.

There are girls that have gone back since then and those that have trekked on. We lost somebody earlier this year. She passed away in her sleep. A year later, you are making your own decisions again, and because of this you have to understand– perhaps embrace– that at some point you will have some sort of relapse.

Is this too honest? Maybe. Pessimistic? No.

One year later I know relapse has been a part of my growth, and an even more significant piece of my recovery.

The first time – Tears ensued. I failed.

The second time – the ease returned. It’s easy.

And the third time – Disappointment. A slimy finger and a sore throat.

It doesn’t fix anything, does it? I remembered – my back resting against the wall. It doesn’t actually fix a bloody thing.

And though it took three times before I reached that conclusion again, one year later I was strong enough to come back and rewrite the story- And this time on my own. 

A year later I have enough faith in myself to know that if it happens again, the same revelation will strike me again – and again – and again. Does this seem self-defeating to propose that relapsing is a continued option? I don’t look at it that way. I understand that life is not one strike and you’re out. This extremity didn’t work for me in the past and it won’t work for me now. Because, let’s face it, those ”skills” you learn in rehab?

They aren’t permanent. 6-weeks of force-feeding isn’t enough to last a lifetime. A year later, those skills are forgotten on a whim- modified on a bad day- and can only be practiced efficiently over a course of time. Rehab isn’t a place you send your loved one to and hope they walk out a brand new person. It’s merely a starting point.

A facility that can give you a chance to begin pounding out a different foundation. Rehab provides an atmosphere that forces you to think of consequences before your actions and not after. It forces you to acknowledge that throwing up a pint of ice cream really doesn’t do anything, and it doesn’t change that you binged it in the first place. You don’t get to cancel out one impulsivity with another. You don’t get to binge eat and expect to rid your body of the toxic choices of that decision. Sorry, but it’s not a get out of jail free card. One year later ANYONE who’s been through addiction is still learning how to balance your choices and consequences.

For me, I find that I still often drink medicinally to free myself from the discomforts that recovery brings.

Discomforts of image.

Discomforts of insecurity.

Discomforts of boredom.

The boredom of recovery – the absolute sheer confusion of time without a time-consuming sickness– the anxiety of sitting on a couch at night, twiddling your fingers wondering what to do with yourself now that you don’t devote all your attention to 12-mile runs and calorie counting.
Basically, the discomforting lack of constant stimulation and “instant gratification” that an eating disorder gave to me.

And we are a generation that implements this into every facet of our lives- whether it be an Instagram like or a raise in our first 6 months. We live in a world that expects immediate results and that culturally drinks to numb the past 8 hours at work, drinks to feel comfortable before walking into a bar, and where “better” looks are always readily attainable via a skin product.

Maybe that’s a cop out – but what I do understand now is that I still struggle with the idea that with boredom–discomfort – there is not always an “instant” fix – as our culture implies – that a band-aid is not a stitch, and that self-respect, self-love, peace, tranquility, and all those serene words are built upon mounds of discomfort – that a healthy resolution to discomfort is conditioned within yourself and that fulfillment is based on the quiet amounts of success in the wake of adversity. In the times you trust yourself to do the right thing– make the right choice– and you do.

Does that mean I always link that wisdom to my life? No.

I weigh what I weigh today and I’m still uncomfortable– an aftermath of an eating disorder– and so I find that I drink when I’m in situations that I haven’t conditioned myself to do daily. For example, I can go to work every day. I can eat Goldfish for a snack. In fact, I haven’t counted calories in so many months that if you put a milk carton in front of me I’d probably struggle trying to remember if it’s the 1% or the 2% that has 110 calories and 12g of sugar.

One year later, I know that a meal isn’t going to add 10lbs and that a piece of cake will not go “straight to the hips.” One year later I don’t cry on the subway when I catch a glimpse of my thigh in the window and I don’t freak out if I eat an unwashed blueberry (PESTICIDES!).

This is what has improved. This is what allowed me to eat Thanksgiving with my family this year and be present at the table.

However, you ask me to dress up for a wedding or attend a formal event, and one year later I still have the “tick” that starts thumping at my brain. And so I drink to quiet it – this little tick that whispers that everyone is noticing your thigh or your lack of definition in that dress.
One year later, I’m not quite ready to let that security go but I am, however, understanding the effects of it, and that I am only stunting my own growth.

Do I ultimately want to be alcohol free? No.

Like I said, I don’t abide well by that philosophy but I suppose I’d like for it to become what smoking has become to me now – a year after I left it behind. I don’t smoke to not eat anymore so the idea of it is all represented differently. Its purpose deconstructed. I find I go months – weeks – and that the urges go as quietly as they come and I imagine this is what alcohol will become to me as well – as I continue allowing the transformation to take place. I imagine the discomfort of “recovery” will fade each time I force myself to take off that jacket at a wedding or that in enough Thanksgivings, my mother won’t have to get my plate for me because the “buffet” style way of eating overwhelms me.

Perhaps my impulses to delay discomfort will merely just recede with age and every faced obstacle. Again, I am nothing but human and one year later I can’t dwell over the reason I do something but instead focus on the outcome I was trying to get from it, and if that’s truly the outcome I was expecting to find.

The truth is– despite the ups and the downs– despite the discomforts that recovery brings, it’s been worth every one of them.

So, I return to my original question and ask again – what is life a year after rehab?

Well, I suppose – in a word – it is this: Malleable. TC mark

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