keeper of the keys

It’s a difficult thing to do – to take responsibility for your future without shaming yourself for your past. It’s not easy to welcome what I know now without turning around and feeling guilty for not seeing before. It’s been hard for me to grasp that moving forward doesn’t in any way invalidate where I was.

It seems that with each step forward I’m worrying about what I’m walking away from. I fight the urge to take two steps back – to retreat to familiarity. Hope and nostalgia tug me in different directions but treating the uncertainty like possibility and holding close my motivation for moving forward help keep me from sliding too far back.

I don’t have to scorn where I was in order to appreciate where I’m going. There is in fact, enough space to make room for all of my story. My history is just that which was once my present, and it is as legitimate now as it was back when I lived it.

All or nothing thinking was a flavour of my illness. It’s what got me into trouble. It makes sense that my recovery is laced with it as well, but I’m trying to learn to leave it behind. I can’t view my recovery through the same lens I viewed my disease.

I know things aren’t just black and white, but it’s tempting to think things might be easier if they were. As much as believe in the significance of nuance it’s still hard not to get overwhelmed at all the different areas of grey.

I’ve reached a place where I now have more control over my disease but that doesn’t mean I always did, nor does it mean my illness was something I could just choose to “get over” and believing so undermines everything it took to get me here.

I can appreciate the small steps that were monumental in instigating change, even when they felt like losses at the time. I am grateful for the previous version of me who chose, however begrudgingly, to finally look my demons in the eye. I wouldn’t be where I am today without fifteen year-old me fearfully admitting she needed help. I wouldn’t be here without those who noticed my suffering – without their offers of support in response to my unwitting cries for help. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t let myself accept them.

Not every step in recovery feels like it’s taking you in the right direction. In fact, it often doesn’t feel like what you think “recovery” should be like at all. But only in retrospect can you truly appreciate the twists and turns of the maze you navigated when you didn’t know the bigger picture.

Taking responsibility for my healing doesn’t mean my suffering was my fault. I might hold the key to my health but without the proper awareness, accessibility, and support no amount of effort would have allowed me to use it before. I wasn’t less capable back then, neither was my disease more valid just because my symptoms were more severe.

You can work as hard as you want but without working at the right things you’ll never get where you want to go. I was working hard to survive back then. I’m working hard to live now. One doesn’t negate the other. My experience and my struggles are equally valid – they’re just different. Likely different in a good way though. I still struggle now (and I always will) but I’m being challenged in a way that gives me the opportunity to move forward. I’m struggling more sustainably – struggling for the “greater good” of my health and happiness. Suffering doesn’t make your pain any more real.

Choosing a different kind of pain from what you’ve ever know is terrifying. Giving up the safety of the familiar for the promise of something better isn’t surrender – it’s bravery. It might feel like you’re walking away but doing so is reclamation. With each tentative step you’re actually walking towards new possibilities. Possibilities previously inconceivable within the confines of darkness. A life it’s time to discover unbound by shackles of suffering while still honouring the boundaries I learnt from pain. 

I used to think that recovery meant I was “giving up” because I was too weak to live with an eating disorder, but having lived it now for over a year I realize that’s couldn’t be farther from the truth. Living with an eating disorder is hell. And so is learning to live without one. The latter just comes with a promise of something better. A light at the end of the hellish tunnel. Footfalls that begin to land lighter. Weight you realize you don’t have to bear.

In life, many good and bad things alike hurt and I think that’s why it’s all so challenging. Sometimes you get to choose what’s worth the pain, but other times you don’t. Often it’s a matter of holding on and savouring whatever lessons you can until you once again have the opportunity to choose in favour of the better.

I now have more autonomy than ever before but it’s not something that just appeared. As much as its already hard to remember the rocky road that brought me here, I know I didn’t just one day say goodbye to my illness. Nor did I feel like my struggles meant something at the time. I was scared back then and I know I’ll be frightened in the future, but somehow understanding that hope was enough to lead me to a safe place once is reassuring for what’s to come.

“Trying” looks different today than it did last month and it will very well might look different again tomorrow but that doesn’t mean my effort is any less important. I might be able to hold myself to a different standard now, but expecting the same from myself two years ago would have been downright unfair. 2017 me simply didn’t know what I do now. And she had to endure a very tough time to learn it. Her relationships were just beginning to blossom back then. Trust develops on its natural course.

Getting better doesn’t mean I wasn’t good enough before. 

The relative “ease” I know now navigating a dinner pate isn’t a sign of a lack of effort or challenge but the opposite. It’s a sign of how hard I’ve worked to get here. All the effort I put in is proving to be worth it. All the slips and falls, bruised knees and split knuckles, were lessons being learned.

I’ve done much of the heavy lifting and laid a good foundation, but there’s still a lot of work ahead. Work where completion isn’t really the point. Instead, maybe it has always been about getting to a place where you can put effort towards different things – letting your energy take root in what nurtures your spirit. Energy I can use now because with stable footing comes growing courage to finally begin to truly explore. 

 

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