Small choices. Tiny decisions. Day by day. This is recovery. Recovery is not perfect. It is not a straight line. Recovery does not happen overnight. It happens when you decide to get out of bed and get dressed, even though your depression is so gruesome it hurts. It happens when you decide to eat your snack, even though your eating disorder is yelling at you to skip it. Recovery happens when you make the brave choice to sit on a therapist’s couch and to be honest with your nutritionist. THIS is recovery.
We never know what seemingly small decision will forever alter the course of our lives. For me, it was July 11, 2009 – telling a friend about my diet pill addiction; it was July 28, 2009 – sitting across from Mary for the first time; it was December 14, 2010 – walking through the doors of the Carolina House; it was February 11, 2011 – deciding to keep my car on the road rather than drive off into forever.
Throughout my eating disorder battle, I certainly had my fair share of passive suicidal thoughts. However, they were not something I have talked about. Not because of shame, but rather I never fully embraced the severity of that side of my depression. During those really low points, I would chalk the thoughts up to, “Everyone thinks like this on their bad days.” With the work I’ve done in therapy and in educated myself in mental illness, I now see the gravity of these thoughts and that yes, ‘it was that bad’ and no, ‘not everyone thinks like that.’
This past week, I once again returned ‘home’ and shared my story at the Carolina House. I never speak from a script or with a power point. That is not me. I speak from the heart and share different pieces of my story each time. On Tuesday, I found myself sharing my lowest point at the Carolina House. I never planned to share it, but clearly my heart had other plans.
The morning of February 11, 2011, I was positive that I should not be on this earth anymore. I did not deserve to take up space. I had failed at recovery and ultimately failed at life. The evening before was my first night on partial; the first night on my own, away from the supervision of the Carolina House. I walked out of the house with such confidence that it was going to be a great night. Four hours later I found myself slumped over the toilet. I purged my first meal alone. I failed. Game over.
It took every bit of strength to get up the next morning and start the car. I felt like a failure. I drained my husband and my bank account on my treatment for nothing. I failed. I was a failure. All I wanted was to disappear and never return. But something inside, that small, quiet voice, urged me to the house. I entered the house physically weak and emotionally drained. My head hung low, too ashamed to make eye contact with anyone.
During art therapy, I sat in the back corner of the group room, mindlessly drawing in my sketch book. A voice snapped me out of my depressed daze. It was Christy. She received my note asking to check-in. I can remember the walk to her office like it was yesterday. My body was numb. I was mortified, distraught and hopeless. This was NOT supposed to happen to me. I was not supposed to ‘mess up,’ especially on my very first night alone.
As I sat across from Christy, I melted into the couch too ashamed to ‘admit’ my mistake. She smiled back and explained how the slip was a good thing. That now we can talk about healthy ways to cope before using symptoms. We went on to write down in painful detail the events of the night before. Reliving the lowest point of my life thus far in such detail, felt as if someone was peeling my skin off layer by layer. Christy would ask a question and it took all of my strength to answer. I wanted to run, hide and sink away to nothing in the couch. But I didn’t. I chose to sat there and answer each question.
In a moment when I felt worthless and like I did not matter anymore, Christy did something I will never forget. She stood up, left her therapy post across from me and came to sit beside me on the couch. The seemingly insignificant act made me feel like a person and not a patient. In such a dark place, it was a simple reminder that I still mattered.
I still struggled after that day, but with each stumble I stood back up and reminded myself that I mattered. That I could do this. Little by little. Day by day. Because that is what recovery is: a million small decisions – some good, some not so good, but all in the greater effort to move FORWARD on your journey. Learning to cope with life in healthy ways, without ED.
This morning I received the most real and raw message from a SmashTALK audience member. She shared something that took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.“Wednesday, the SmashTALK event, it was extremely powerful! I was totally unaware of how full the auditorium was. WOW, just WOW! My intentions that evening were to show my support but also selfishly try to gather some hope in the meantime. I have done nothing but focus on me and Wednesday was no different. My plan was to leave the event that evening and end my life once and for all. My gym bag was prepped with all the necessary tools I needed. I had a plan. I just didn’t want to burden anyone, anymore. I was unfixable. But as I watched you share your story for the second time, it was hard to stop the tears from streaming down my face. I’m not sure why I decided to head home after the event and not follow through but I do know that there’s power in what you say and it’s a very powerful message. Your compassion and connection with so many, it’s definitely heartfelt and a blessing. We’ve all got our demons and we can either let them destroy us or we can take control and destroy them and do good things for others in the process.”
I did not save her life and Christy did not save mine. We all empower each other to save our own lives. Through the beauty of human connection, we give each other the strength and inspiration to choose life. In our darkest moments, people enter our journey when we need them most. However, our hearts have to be open to take in the reason they stand before us or sit next to us. Christy gave me hope that cold February morning and I am beyond grateful I was able to pay it forward and give this person a little hope last Wednesday night. But, moreover, I am inspired by this woman and I think we can all take some inspiration from her brave decision to go home that night and choose life.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Hotline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/