Reclaiming My StoryWritten by L.M- Castlewood Alumnus “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené BrownI’ve spent most of my life running from my story, using an eating disorder as a way to disconnect from feelings of fear, shame, and worthlessness. Recovery never made sense to me because I understood it only to mean the absence of behaviors, following a meal plan, and using skills. When I would attempt to get better, I was at war with myself. I knew what was “right” for recovery, but recovery never felt “safe” inside. Consequently, I cycled back and forth between residential treatment programs and relapse for 14 years. I felt defeated and hopeless. Shame was reinforced. I grew up in a shame-bound system. Denying my experiences, disconnecting, and appearing perfect were essential to surviving. Secrecy and silence perpetuated the shame. I was 26 before I was able to disclose that I had been sexually abused as a child. I had blamed myself for the abuse because I had no idea how to make sense of what happened to me. I believed I was broken. My body became a constant reminder of that brokenness, something that I needed to control. I learned to survive by disconnecting from my body. When I entered treatment for the seventh time two years ago, I was experiencing constant flashbacks, nightmares, and painful body memories. I had hardly slept, and my body was depleted. Perhaps it was in this state of desperation that I found the courage to stop running. Initially, I listened more than I shared. As I realized I was not alone, I began to take more risks sharing parts of my story. There was not one specific moment when everything shifted, but rather many moments that over time changed everything about my life. I remember the first time I fully expressed anger and how shocked I felt when I realized I was still okay. I remember the first time I understood that the abuse was not my fault and the intense grief that followed that realization. I remember sitting outside on the concrete with the sun in my face feeling connected to God. At that point, I knew I was going to be okay. As my team helped me to unburden more and more of my trauma, I grew to understand and appreciate my story. The process itself was difficult. The work unfolded in layers. Some days I grieved so intensely that it felt like my heart was literally being torn out of my chest; however, I knew that I was healing. I knew I was not alone anymore. In my marriage, I stopped feeling undeserving of my husband’s love. In our relationship, I learned to respect myself while also respecting him. This transition was not easy. As I started accepting love from others, I got scared and overwhelmed. I found myself disengaging from treatment. I was afraid of being hurt. I questioned, “Could someone really care about me?” Often these external struggles reflected deeper internal struggles. When I learned to reconnect and acknowledge my internal experiences, I began to feel okay again in my relationships. I remained in treatment for 8 months, completing residential, day-treatment, step-down, and intensive outpatient programming (IOP). When I returned home, I felt less scared of relapse and more excited about life. I didn’t set expectations around when I needed to work or how my recovery needed to look, and as a result, things just fell into place. Initially, I did IOP at home for two weeks before transitioning to individual and couples therapy. Over those next several months I transitioned from seeing my therapist four times a week to twice a week. When I was offered a job, I accepted it knowing that if it didn’t work out, I was okay with leaving. It wasn’t until a few months after returning home that I had my first and last struggle with the eating disorder. When I did, it was heartbreaking. My first thoughts were to pretend it didn’t happen; however, I chose to call my team instead. The eating disorder thoughts remained strong for about two weeks, and I slipped several times. I kept talking about it with my team despite the frustration. In those two weeks, I realized I was not being authentic in all areas of my life. I was managing a project at work that hit too close to home, and I did not have friends outside of treatment who understood me. Ultimately, I opened up with my husband, friends, and several coworkers. In owning my story, the eating disorder voice disappeared. Recovery is having the courage to live life authentically. It’s allowing oneself to take risks, be vulnerable, and walk through life with others. In recovery, love is present in my relationships. Internally, I am connected and aware. I am compassionate towards myself and trust my experiences. When life is hard, I reach out. I like who I am. I am connected with my emotions. I love my body. I feel safe in my body. My faith is strong. I love going out to eat with friends. I love to laugh. I love being able to cry in the midst of friends and family who understand me. I am congruent in my life. I love that my story is broken, and I love that I can share it! We all have brokenness in our lives. However, it is in this brokenness that we come together. We need each other. We need authenticity. By owing our stories, we allow others to do the same. We become empowered. Our lives are transformed. Today, I own my story. It’s broken. It’s imperfect. It’s beautiful. It’s a story about finding love, connection, and faith after years of pain, suffering, and darkness. Your story is equally important. Reclaim it! It’s yours to tell!