Surviving Goodbye

Last week I had the honor of speaking and meeting with the amazing patients of Castlewood. I was touched by their openness and engagement during our time together.  I could have sat and talked with them all day. They were full of questions that both challenged and excited my thoughts surrounding eating disorder recovery.

As I sat in the Houston airport Saturday night waiting on a delayed plane, my mind kept replaying two questions from the talk at Castlewood I. One young woman asked if the intense emotions ever went away. She said she was terrified they would last forever. I told her I once thought the exact same thing. I was terrified I would never be able to handle my emotions since my ED was no longer there to numb and protect me. However, I came to discover that all emotions subside. The aftermath of an emotional tidal wave can be exhausting, but all tidal waves eventually retreat and the sun comes out again.

Of course it sometimes seems easier to numb out feelings with unhealthy coping mechanisms, like eating disorders, alcohol or exercise. But if you never feel what it is like to have your heart broken then you will rob yourself of what it is like to be truly loved and experience pure joy and happiness. We can’t selectively feel, trust me, I’ve tried.

Next a woman curled under a sweatshirt asked in a soft voice, “How did you know when the eating disorder was gone that you could handle and survive the intense emotions? When did you know you could move through them without relying on someone else or your eating disorder? How did you know you were enough?”

I replied, “Has an emotion ever killed you?”

Her eyes widened and she replied, “No.”

“Then you already are enough. You are enough as you are. Emotions will not kill you. You can get through any emotional tidal wave because they will end. Emotions do not last forever. You reach for support, use your skills and let yourself feel what is coming up without judging or hiding from them. You are enough.”

Saturday night I tested her question and proved my survival theory true in the Houston airport. As I my first flight descended, my mind wandered to the emotional week ahead. This week is the week. My final week at home and with that comes from some pretty painful goodbyes see-you-laters. The one farewell that is causing a lot of heartache is not with family or even a friend, it is with my therapist, Mary. Tuesday will be our last session, well of sorts. I do not plan to find a new therapist, rather, I plan to Skype with Mary once a month or when I need a little extra support and therapy self-care. I am at a place in recovery and in life that this is a viable option for both of us.

Thinking of Tuesday’s goodbye felt almost too much to bear. But I knew, in that moment, if I allowed myself be sad, honor it and not judge it, the tidal wave would pass. (I decided a bathroom stall was better option than looking like a distraught airport passenger. No need to bring TSA into my emotional tidal waves.) 

While I realize that technically, this is not goodbye forever, it is certainly farewell to a massive part of my life. This July will mark five years since I landed on her couch, a decision that saved my life.  When I stop to think of the magnitude she has played in my life, it is, you guessed it, overwhelming. My time with Mary has been long, but has seemed to flash by in the blink of an eye. She has been a constant in this windy and bumpy road of recovery. Her support invaluable and her hope for me unwavering. She has believed not only in my recovery from Day One, but believed in me and the endless possibilities for my life. She has admitted mistakes and let her boundaries down when need be. She respects what I do from a professional perspective and as my therapist, reminds me I am worthy in every way. She sucks at advice because she does not give advice – that’s not her job. As much as I beg for the magic answer, she gives me something even better – she waits (in awkward therapy silence) for me to find a solution on my own. She has provided the safe couch space for me to discover me – without the eating disorder, without the make-up, without the mask of perfection, without my family. I found myself on that couch and I am just not sure how you say goodbye to that.

Here comes the tidal wave again. Time to honor some emotions and feel the heartache – all the while knowing I am enough and can handle the sadness I feel. Reminding myself vulnerability is brave and also remembering that Mary will always be an arms length away, it just might be over Face Time.

And to my new friends at Castlewood: thank you for this invaluable reminder. We all need extra support and reminders from time to time that we are enough. Thank you for being mine this week. Sending love and thoughts your way.


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