January 5, 2016 by Deanna James, LPC, CEDS in Alumni and Family, Testimonials Guest Post by Alumnus, V. C.
The moment I made the most difficult decision of my life was the moment I decided to value and love myself enough to always put my recovery first. This was the decision that lead me to seek treatment and a decision that I learned I would have to make each and every day for the rest of my life.
While I was in treatment, putting my recovery first meant challenging fear foods, working hard both in and outside of sessions and groups, following my meal plan, and establishing healthy boundaries with all of the individuals in my life. It also meant laughing with my friends, crying to my friends, going for walks in Castlewood State Park, and falling in love with art again. It meant learning to live, breathe, and stay connected to both myself and others during the highs and lows of this life. It meant all of these things and so much more that could never be expressed. And while none of it was easy, it felt possible because I was immersed in a recovery oriented community that provided me with safety and freedom from my triggers and life back home.
As I began to contemplate my life after treatment, I began to explore how I could continue to put my recovery first in the “real world” where I would no longer be surrounded by the support and safety of a recovery oriented community. At first I considered relocating to a new city where I could have a fresh start but eventually fear crept in and I decided to move back to my home state. I had worked hard establishing boundaries with everyone in my life. I had decided to move into a new apartment and start a new job. I had identified a strong network of support and I had an incredible outpatient team to return to. In my mind I was walking into the most perfect scenario back home and I couldn’t be bothered by the concerns my team and friends still had about the situation. Then during my last days in treatment I began to question my perfect plan, but because I had already signed a lease and scheduled several job interviews I felt obligated to follow through with it.
At first everything was incredible. I was experiencing a life in my hometown that I had never before dreamed was possible. I was maintaining healthy boundaries, laughing with my friends, and experiencing authentic connection. For the first time in years I was actually present for every new and exciting experience I was having. I was able to hold and experience every emotion that came my way without feeling flooded and overwhelmed; everything felt fluid. Most importantly I was following my meal plan and felt complete freedom from my eating disorder. Then, the newness of home faded and reality set in. I began to see that just because I had set boundaries with people in my life it didn’t mean those individuals would respect those boundaries. I began to understand that just because I am healing from my past it doesn’t mean that the memories and triggers magically fade from the environments that created them. I realized that while I was changing and growing, I could no longer expect my hometown to do the same. Just because I had decided to become healthy it didn’t mean the community or environment surrounding me had decided to do the same. I began to feel trapped and I could see myself slowly slipping away. I started to feel like I had failed myself by deciding to return home and then I remembered something I had learned in treatment. Just because I had made the decision to return home and it wasn’t working out did not mean that I had failed, it meant that life was simply providing me with the chance to do something new and begin again.
In that moment I decided that the risk of prioritizing and protecting my recovery by entering into a new, unfamiliar beginning was nothing compared to the risk I would be taking if I decided to remain trapped in a life that felt completely familiar yet entirely unsafe. So in a matter of two weeks I got brutally honest with the people in my life, quit my job, broke my lease, packed up my entire life and decided to set out for a new life in St. Louis, over 1,000 miles away from my home. When I arrived in St. Louis I had a temporary place to stay, a job interview scheduled and I had established quality treatment team but nothing was guaranteed and I had no backup plan.
In the month since I arrived in my new home I have experienced more life, authentic connection and freedom than I ever dreamed possible for my life. I’ve found a job that I love and am passionate about. I’ve found a great place to call home. I’ve laughed with my old friends and found incredible joy in making new friends. I’ve experienced the excitement of second chances and new beginnings. But I’ve also experienced heartbreak that comes with any change and transition. I’ve spent time crying about the relationships I’ve left behind in Vermont. I’ve had to face the pain of celebrating the holidays away from my family and the only home I have ever known. I’ve had to sit in the deep despair caused by the death of an immediate loved one.
In the past month I’ve been reminded that recovery provides you the chance to grow through learning to live and breathe again: To grow through experiencing true joy, self-love and authentic connection with others. And to grow through the fear that comes with new beginnings and the sorrow that accompanies loss and change. While none of it has been easy, I’ve been reminded that it is always possible. Possible because I’ve surrounded myself with a supportive community. Possible because I’ve learned to create safety in my life. Possible because I’ve decided to cultivate a life of freedom. Possible because I’ve worked hard to take what I learned during my time in treatment and apply it to my day to day life. Possible because daily I’ve made and continue to make the decision to value and love myself enough to always put my recovery first.