Growing up, I moved every few years, sometimes more often. No, my family was not in the military. It is a rather complicated story, but basically my father worked away from home in an industry that made him move frequently. I bounced between my mom and dad, sometimes several times within the same school year. On one hand, this made it difficult to develop substantial relationships with friends, always being the new kid on the block. I tended to be guarded against becoming too attached to people, because I knew it would not be long before I would leave. However, I eventually adapted by deciding moving would be a chance to start over with a clean slate.
I maintained this pattern of moving even when I became an emancipated minor in my late teens. It became a fairly predictable cycle. Move. Start fresh. Get stale. Move again. At seventeen, I picked up and moved from Maine to Washington State. Today, I would probably be terrified of making such a drastic change on a whim, but I was officially an adult, at least according to the courts, and I was more than ready to start over –again! When I moved to Washington, it took less than two months before my fresh start became stale.
You see, I had already established myself as a revolving door patient, in and out of one eating disorder program to the next. I always had a team of therapists, doctors, dieticians, etc… My friendships started out where I presented myself as a young and intelligent go-getter, and I was. However, I also tried to pretend I did not have any issues. Eventually, I would “purge” out all of my deepest, darkest secrets, usually overwhelming the one or two people who I would allow to know the real me. Once I burned out the friends, treatment providers, and programs in the area, I would start looking for the next place to start fresh. I honestly thought I would eventually move out of the eating disorder and into recovery.
The problem with my theory was this; you cannot run from yourself! “Wherever you go, there you are!” It took a good ten years (and at least ten more moves) before I realized my theory of moving away from my problems was not an effective remedy. For all of those years, I had hoped I would find the magical therapist or treatment center that would cure me. It never occurred to me that I was the one who had to save me. I was never actually taught that I held the key to change. Perhaps I was and I just could not swallow that in my fairy tale version of recovery, where someone was supposed to sweep in to rescue me from myself.
I have had ample opportunity to gather tools, resources, and skills. Treatment centers, such as Mirasol, provide a chance to break free from unhealthy and ineffective patterns while in a safe, supportive environment. Hopefully, you develop a positive relationship with the treatment providers who arm you with recovery tools and skills that you can utilize when you leave treatment. You gain insight, confidence, and an opportunity to exercise your recovery muscles as you experiment with applying your new skills before you graduate and venture back to your life outside of treatment. This is what a great treatment program does best! You are taught how to accept, cope, and thrive in the ebb and flow of life. You learn that when push comes to shove, you are your greatest ally as much as you were your greatest enemy.
Here is where I had a major disconnect. My tool belt looked a little too picture perfect. I had all of the tools in the right places, but I never used them on the job. Basically, I had a really hard time helping myself. I just kept gathering tools and not using them! I thought I would be a whole new person when I found the right treatment program. They were going to take all of my issues, crumble them up, and do away with them completely—you know, like magic! Ta-dah! They were going to transform me! After an effective treatment experience, I am realizing the magic of recovery is being willing to take what you are given and work it. You have to grab the tools out of your tool belt and continue to build your new identity and lifestyle one brick at a time. If you want to recover, there is no way around this.
There is a lot more to building a home than laying a foundation and framing the structure! There is also a lot more to the process to building your recovery than going into treatment. Starting treatment is a courageous first step, but the journey requires putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over, especially when you leave treatment.
Chances are that you (or your family member) will not leave treatment cured, completely free of all urges, forever. Recovery presents challenges, especially during periods of transitions. Even if outdated and no longer useful, there is often an urge to retreat to old ways of coping during times of change. Graduating from treatment is one of the first major transitions that will call upon your recovery tenacity and patience. You will have to apply and re-apply your skills, even when no one is watching. You do not have to make the commitment forever. Today is enough. When things are especially difficult, I always seek comfort in the fact that today is the only day I really have. Stubborn and tough as nails, I can get through anything, at least for today.
Shaping new behavior and thought patterns are not easy tasks. We are creatures of habit, so it is only natural to require a lot of practice and repetition to unlearn one habit and replace it with a new behavior. For example, I have been using “paper or plastic” at the grocery store for over a decade. I have had reusable tote bags in my car for well over a year now. I want to use less plastic, but only over the last few weeks have I ever remembered to bring the canvas totes into the store with me, so I could actually use less plastic. I would usually only remember my totes while checking out or while loading groceries into my car. I am finally learning to enter the store with tote bags in hand.
As you pack your bags, whether figuratively or metaphorically, remember this…Wherever you go, there you are. Break open your tool box, put on your tool belt, grab the tools you need for the job, and build your life one day at a time.
For my next guest blog contribution, I am going to introduce to you a coping tool that is also always with you wherever you go, so stay tuned!
Heather Purdin, M.Ed., RYT (Guest Blogger)