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I Am the Master of My Fate

Things rarely go as planned for me. I’m in my third year of a two-year program at my college. I’m not even at the college I intended to go to. I’ve lost an astounding amount of friends in the past year, and Jon, my best friend from summer camp, lives an ocean away, and I haven’t seen him since high school, despite our haphazard efforts at arranging a reunion. Meanwhile, my body has ballooned instead of shrinking like I always wanted. I don’t grab a couple of drinks at Hamburger Mary’s with a couple of gal-pals like I always thought I would before I turned twenty-one.

These could all be construed as negatives, but it’s really just a matter of perception. Spending more time at Daytona State instead of a traditional college has given me more time to make sure my major is right for me. The main reason I am so far behind my peers in my education is because I was hospitalized almost every semester for mental health reasons. A community college like DSC gives me the flexibility to retake classes, withdraw late from courses I won’t be able to finish, and establish a rapport with my instructors so I can let them know what’s going on with me.

As for losing friends, well, I’ve drifted apart from the clubs I was once involved with at school, partly because of other commitments like work and synagogue (It seems like EVERY event is on a Friday night!), and partly because I’ve grown and changed a lot, and I just don’t vibe with some of the people who used to be my friends. It’s important for me to explore various types of friendships with a multitude of people so that I can determine what does and doesn’t work. Am I a little lonely at school? Yeah, sure. But this pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, talk to the people in my classes, and it challenges me to be my authentic self, regardless of whether or not people like that.

Jon and I will always be best friends. He stood by me through anorexia hell, multiple rounds of treatment, and even the time I got unhealthily obsessed with a crush for a solid six months and drove him nuts asking questions  about the mystery of the male mind. We email each other all the time, just to share anecdotes about our lives and our plans for the future. Jon is one of those special friends who will always be in my life. He’ll be in my wedding, either as the groom or as my maid of honor. He’ll look so pretty in a dress!

My body? Forget weighing 98 pounds. I’d rather be able to keep up with my kindergarteners, walk across campus, and eat some freaking fries when I want to!

And as far as not going out for drinks with friends on the weekends? That’s my choice. I can decide to start drinking whenever I want to. I don’t know what would happen if I did, and that’s why I choose not to drink.

I went back to school towards the end of March, and I’m taking a very easy class called Managing Your Success. The intention of the class is to teach students how to thrive in college, how to manage time and money, etc. It’s really basic stuff, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. My professor recently included the quote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” in one of his slides. Curious, I Googled the quote, and found the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley.
invictusI realized I’d heard the poem before and scoffed at it, but my take on it was different this time. One of the key lessons I learned when I was in treatment at Magnolia Creek was that no one can “make” you feel anything; rather, your reactions are a choice.

I had trouble with this concept at first. I thought it was normal and natural to feel bad about being abused, for example. I thought that “bad” things happened to me, and I had a right to feel ashamed, dirty, depressed, and helpless. In short, I was being a victim. I wanted to feel that way. I thought my abuse “didn’t count” unless I tortured myself emotionally over it.

It’s not my job to decide if the things that happen to me are “good” or “bad.” I can perceive them however I want, but I am only human, thus I have a finite perception of the events and course of my life. Labeling things that happen to me is another example of the myriad ways I try to play God in my life. I’m pretty sure God has this whole “running the universe” thing covered. I don’t think He needs my help with that. I am probably not the literal “master of my fate.” I think that probably falls under God’s jurisdiction. However, I do believe that I have a choice when it comes to how I feel and what I do. No, it’s not my fault that I have anorexia. However, every time I engage in an eating disordered behavior, I’m making a conscious choice to act on that impulse, just as when I overcome a relapse or an ED thought, I’m taking charge of my own mind. If we are responsible for our successes in recovery, we are also responsible for our failures. I certainly don’t want to admit that it’s my fault when I weave an elaborate web of lies about why there are bloodstains on my sleeves and razors hidden in the bathroom. I don’t want to take responsibility when my breath smells like vomit after meals and I’m losing weight. However, I want all the credit when I pick up another milestone chip at AA, when I listen to my hunger cues and eat a snack even though it’s against anorexia’s rules, or when I end an unhealthy relationship.

After a traumatic event as recent as December, I resorted to purging to deal with my feelings of shame and depression. It was symbolic for me; kneeling in front of the toilet represented apologizing to God, the universe, or the person who hurt me for whatever I’d done to “deserve” what happened, while the act of vomiting represented “purging” the painful memories out of my mind. At first, I told myself I’d “just purge once.” Then it became purging once a day. Pretty soon, I was purging as often as I could and eating as little as possible in the meantime. I knew something was wrong when I found myself in the employee bathroom at work while I was supposed to be taking out the trash, heaving up whatever low-calorie morsels I’d had for dinner on my break. Mid-barf, I was being paged over the intercom because the front had gotten busy and my supervisor needed an extra cashier. I had no choice but to finish vomiting, clean myself up as quickly as I could, and drag my shaky, pale, embarrassed self to a register.

It’s not my fault that this is how my brain taught itself to deal with stress. It’s not my fault that I was the victim of a crime prior to this and it caused a great deal of stress in my life. However, it was my responsibility to be good to myself (and to fulfill a duty to my employer), to make healthy choices, and to my best to resist these self-destructive impulses. The ex-boyfriend who violated me was neither directly nor  indirectly responsible for what I did that night. Yes, his actions were inappropriate and wrong, but so were the ways I chose to react to them. He wasn’t “making” me purge. I was doing it to myself.

These days, I have faith in a God that has granted me an “unconquerable soul.” I will never say I am grateful for the abuse I went through. Many people, even a few therapists have told me that I should be grateful to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, and rape because it’s made me so much stronger, and I will be able to use these experiences to help other people going through the same thing. While I am grateful for the outcomes of the traumatic events I’ve experienced, I am not grateful for the road I had to take to get here. However, I am the captain of my soul, and I choose not to dwell on what brought me to this place. Rather, I will look forward and see what the future holds.

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Daddy and Doodle

My dad and I are creatures of habit. Every night after dinner, we retreat to the family room where he binge-watches vintage TV shows while I waste time online and listen to music through my earbuds. We do this in silence for hours at a time until we go to bed, and I usually don’t see him in the morning since he has to get up early to ensure that justice is served hot and fresh at the courthouse every weekday.

This routine, though comfortable, isn’t exactly refreshing or relaxing. I find that the more time I spend online when I’m not doing something constructive (browsing Facebook vs. writing this post), the more disgruntled I become. Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet is an amazing thing. I keep in touch with friends who live all over the country, I’ve seen all kinds of inspiring art, I’ve learned new skills (like how to conjugate irregular verbs in Spanish and how to make candy-stripe bracelets), and I have access to pretty much any song I could ever want to listen to. However, all too often I wind up scrolling through various social media feeds for hours on end, only to come up empty when I search for any meaning in the last chunk of time I spent inert on the couch, dead to the physical world.

Tonight, Dad and I changed up our routine for the better. In the week since I’ve been home from the hospital, I have effectively trashed my room (as I am wont to do), and I chose tonight to clean it up. My mom went out with her friends tonight, and I didn’t want to leave Dad all alone downstairs while I puttered around in my room, so I invited him into the big comfy chair where he used to read me bedtime stories when I was a little girl, handed him my laptop, and gave him the rundown of how Spotify works. Within moments, my messy bedroom was transformed into a jazz radio station, complete with “Mike Scott spinnin’ those stacks of wax!” I heard everything from Herman’s Hermits to Phil Collins, and I also introduced Dad to Panic at the Disco, which he deemed, “interesting.”

Since I’ve been out of the hospital, I’ve felt extremely raw, like I’m walking  around with no skin. Everything is terrifying, but life doesn’t just stop because you’re scared. I have a lot of free time on my hands since I’m not in school, and unfortunately, I often use that free time to think of all the horrible things that could happen to me and also how every horrible thing that has already happened to me is completely and totally my fault.

I went back to work this week, which I had been dreading. I actually love my job (I’m a cashier in a grocery store.), but I was terrified to have to spend all day in public with no close friends or family members around to protect me should I need them. I know these fears are unrealistic. In all likelihood, no one is out to get me, or is even thinking about harming me. Still, they linger. I was surprised to find that work was actually a great distraction from my fears once I got into the routine. I’m realizing the obvious: the less time I spend ruminating on my problems and everything I dislike about myself, the easier it is to get through the days. I’m very glad I spent some quality time with my dad tonight instead of looking at posts of seemingly perfect lives and yearning for that perfection in my own life, even though I know it’s all just an illusion. I’d much rather have my own imperfect life with all its little twists and turns. Do I wish I was already finished with my Associate’s degree? Do I feel like I should be on my way to a “real job” by now? Do I regret some of my relational choices? Yes, yes, and yes. But that doesn’t have to stop me from enjoying the small things on the road to the bigger things. Being mentally ill doesn’t mean I don’t have goals or the means and desire to achieve them. It does mean that I may achieve them differently than many of my peers. I know high school students who will graduate with the same degree I’m still working on three years after graduating high school. I know teenagers who are living on their own and paying rent, while I’m in my twenties and still living with my parents. I don’t have a fancy diploma to hang on my wall (yet), but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be proud of the things I have accomplished. Progress isn’t always a new car, an engagement ring, or a graduation ceremony. Sometimes it’s throwing out your box of razors. It’s calling someone instead of doing something self-destructive. Progress is getting out of bed in the morning without dreading what the coming hours hold, but instead wondering how you can make the day everything it can be.

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Small Steps Forward

I am not the same person I was at age fourteen. No, I am taller, smarter, more widely-read, more experienced, happier, healthier, and yes, I am heavier. But why shouldn’t I be? Can you imagine how dull life would be if all progress stopped at fourteen? No driver’s licenses, no college graduations, no weddings… In my current state of mental wellness, it seems silly to want to pause my life in 2010, but when I was in the grips of anorexia, I was obsessed with the idea. If you have ever been fourteen, you’re probably wondering what in the world was so great about that age for me, and the answer is simple: nothing. My first two years of high school are a blur of poor study habits, subpar boyfriends, and waking up too early. The only clear memory I really have from that age is my weight. That’s what was so great about being fourteen; I was comprised of a very small amount of mass.
As my adolescence wore on, my eating disorder tagged along. I lived in a constant fog of hunger, and very quickly forgot how miserable I was at my lowest weight. As I sat in a treatment center during my sophomore year of high school, I thought, as soon as I get out of here I’ll start restricting again. I’ll get my fourteen-year-old body back. During my senior year, when I bought the biggest pair of jeans I’d ever worn, I gazed at pictures of my fourteen-year-old self. She looks happy, I thought, ignoring the tired eyes and the fake smile the photos depicted.
The truth is, I was not happy. I was prioritizing weight loss over friends, family, school, my writing, and everything else. It wasn’t worth it. I missed out on a lot of what high school had to offer. I missed out on parties, friendships, concerts, publications, and life itself. Today, at nineteen years old, I am proud to say I am a completely different person from that anxious, miserable fourteen-year-old. I’m finally learning what it means to have a normal relationship with food. I’m learning to accept my body unconditionally—not when I hit a certain weight. My mind is sharper and more creative, and I actually feel in control of my life, not just in control of my food. In fact, it was only when I relinquished control of my food to a treatment team with my best interests at heart, that I was finally able to take control of what really mattered. Today, my fourteen-year-old self is just a memory, not a goal. I joyfully embrace change and growth, and I am excited to see where life will take me next—without anorexia in the passenger seat.