5 Years Clean, Sober, and FED
Um, I don’t know what to say about this, other than I AM SO HAPPY AND PROUD!!! And I am so deeply endlessly grateful to the people who have helped me through this. (I am also grateful for many assholes along the way who were really quite motivating.) My recovery is and perhaps will always be my greatest achievement, and it turns out to be the greatest thing I could possibly imagine doing with my life.
When I was a few months in and living in a sober house in Victoria, BC, Canada, I had a really impactful thought. I don't know where it came from, I can't remember what I was doing right before that may have inspired it, or if it simply was said to me by someone else. But I vividly remember sitting in the living room and thinking, "Regan, this is gonna take 5 years to see some real change. Give it 5 years."
(Later my counselor/house manager/favorite Scot told me you don't really see change until 10 years. I told him to stop telling newcomers that because it's fucking depressing.)
But I intuitively knew that eating disorders are deep and twisted and intertwined into literally everything, every part of your life, every thought pattern, every cell, and I knew I'd been quite literally born into anorexia, and I just knew it would take at least 5 years to make a solid foundation in becoming a person without it. And I was right!
So anyway, here are 5 of the most important things I've learned in 5 years!
1. You get to (and you HAVE to) figure out what recovery means to YOU.
I think recovery is the perfect word for it. To recover: to return, to revive, to restore, to regain. The prefix re- means to go back. I used to think recovery was about learning new things, changing, improving, moving forward. What it has actually turned out to be is a massive unlearning of a whole lotta bullshit.
Examples? I had to unlearn what my abusers taught me: that I was unlovable. I had to unlearn what society taught me: that I should be quiet and small. I've even now had to unlearn a lot of what was taught to me in early recovery.
The biggest recovery myth?
That we are defective, self-centered, and we can't trust ourselves.
I'm sorry, I don't buy it. I think we're hurt, and didn't get good tools, and feel overwhelmed by a really crazy world, and the "normal" way through it all (study, work, shop, reproduce, don’t have any feelings) doesn’t really work for us. And thank god, because it's not really working out for the rest of the world either, and we get to figure out different ways of doing this whole life thing.
And the biggest eating disorder recovery myth?
That there is a right way to eat.
Is it x calories? Is it 3 meals and 3 snacks? Is it clean eating?Nope. My body knows what it wants and needs. I'm still unlearning 25 years of telling my body otherwise, 25 years of not trusting each other. 5 years down and we have made so much progress, but the trauma of starving and controlling (aka torturing and oppressing) a body for that many years still needs more time, care, and love.
2. Asset-based healing is the only way for me...but I still wish it had a better name.
I first remember hearing the term "asset-based learning" in education school. We were taught that the most effective teaching happens when you help a student build on what they already know. (This is neurologically true: the more attachments/associations you can make in the brain, the more effectively new information is wired/remembered.) I also learned in a child psych class that most of us have the wrong idea about positive reinforcement; it's not positive as in nice, it's positive as in additional (think of a plus sign +). ANY response is positive reinforcement. Finally, we learned that in order to build a student's confidence, you must give them LOTS of small opportunities to succeed.
In wuwu speak, what you give energy to grows. You attract what you focus on. Positive affirmations. Attitude of gratitude. Years of meditation and a teaching degree turned out to be the education I needed to succeed in recovery. I focus on my assets, strengths, what I'm doing well. I am incessant, exhaustingly repetitive, and cheesy as hell in this endeavor. One of my biggest takeaways from my my first eating disorder treatment center was be your own cheerleader.
I encourage myself. I talk to myself litke I'm my own student, toddler, or puppy. You got out of bed, good job! Look at you, you're breathing! Wow, you are trying so hard, I am so proud of you. My sweet darling, I'm so sorry it hurts, I've got you, I'm here.
Am I embarrassed to say this stuff out loud or around other people? Yes, and how bullshit is that? That I'm afraid being nice to myself might be lame and laughable to others? Again, lots of bullshit to unlearn.
(Oh, and why do I hate the name? Because it only makes me think of investment brokers and capitalism.)
3. I am god's toenail. (Stay with me on this...)
I hate the phrase self will vs. god's will. I hate any suggestion that we are separate from higher power, less than, beneath. I don't buy it!
My idea of my higher power is largely based on string theory. One of the only things I remember from my high school physics class is watching a video about string theory, depicting tiny vibrating wiggles that might be what everything is made of, and may explain how everything connects and interacts. I saw it, and I felt it. I knew it. I thought, that's life. Years later, I gained more language, like spirit, or animating force. But I think about the entire universe like one big organism, and everything IN it is a PART of it.
When I worked my first set of steps with my first sponsor in Victoria, she had me go for a walk in this gorgeous park right next to the sober house and contemplate step 2—came to be believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity—and I walked and basked in the beauty of the trees and the miracle of how recovery had saved my life and I thought of those little strings and pictured them within me and the trees and everything, and I pictured myself as just one little piece of the greater whole, my higher power, and I remember exclaiming out loud, "I'm like god's toenail!" Then I looked around to make sure no one heard me.
4. I either manifested the shit out of my life or had a lot of psychic premonitions about it, either way I’ve learned I’m magical as fuck.
I’m just going to list a few things that I either wanted or intuitively knew would happen...that have happened.
- The 5 year thing. Six months ago my life and recovery blossomed. My best attempt at explaining or summarizing this would be to say I shifted from someone trying to take care myself, to someone who IS taking care of myself, and it only happened in my 5th year.
- I knew I would live in New Zealand one day. (Like, as a kid, when I barely knew what New Zealand was.) Kiwi is in a lot of usernames and passwords throughout my life.
- I knew my partner would be a brown man from another country who spoke another language. That one I had actual visions of when I was very young. After I got into recovery, and after my first three loves taught me a lot about what I wanted in a partner, I knew I wanted a man who had been through hell and came out a better person. Who was spiritually connected and on a journey of growth without being a wuwu yogi. Who knew how to fight but chose to not use his fists. Who already had kids. Who knew how to fish and hunt and build things. Who was around 35. Who was a Sagittarius (mature fire sign). Who had different life experiences but the same values. Who loves the earth and its creatures. Who is stubborn and fiery and argumentative and challenges me to use my voice and fully embody my own fierce power. I wanted a man who through and through worships my body. These things I prayed for, and I got every single one.
- I knew I would be a writer who writes about my own life struggles to try to help people. (I knew that really really young, like small child. And I literally remember thinking, this is a weird thing to know at this age.)
- I knew I would live on an island. A warm island.
- I wanted to live in a Commonwealth country. (I think this, and the island thing, is because I knew the two times I was happiest in my life were when I lived in Kenya and Canada. On islands.)
- I wanted a quiet and calm life. (You never know how the universe will give you things. I have quiet and calm now because I have anxiety and bipolar and NEED quiet and calm.)
- I wanted lush green nature and lush yummy food. Exhibit A, New Zealand. Exhibit B, because of my anorexia recovery, nurturing my relationships to food and cooking are top priority. And because food was so hard and scary my whole life, because each meal was like a battle and food felt like my ultimate failure, now I have a kind of appreciation for them that I doubt I would have without my anorexia. Food means love and pleasure and care and family and fun and confidence and success now (not 100% of the time but still a lot!) and I just sit and go holy shit, I can eat! I’m just eating, I’m not gagging or crying or hyperventilating, or going to bed hungry, or nearly passing out every day. I’m eating! Anyway.
- I wanted to write scripts and make movies. And I did!
- I wanted to publish my writing online and in print. And I have!
- I wanted a compost pile, a garden, to reduce my waste as much as possible. To have stray cats come by and become my friends. To hear birds outside my window but be able to walk to buy food. To have a life that blends having a home and traveling.
5. I don't know!
The last and most important thing I know to be true is...I don’t know! I don’t know anything for certain. Partly because everything is always changing. Partly because I’m just a human and MOST of existence is beyond the capacity of my brain to understand. Partly because I have been proven wrong an astronomical amount of times. I have pretty good guesses about what’s right for me, and I even have some insight into what may be right for the few people I know very well. But if there is anything I’ve learned from recovery—especially eating disorder recovery—it’s that there are no actual rules. What works for me may not work for you. What works for me today may not work for me tomorrow. I used to think I need to know what to do in order to do it. 5 years of recovery have taught me that you learn as you go and just hang on for the ride.