I have never really considered myself a scardy cat. As a kid I was fearless and even a little reckless. I was the first one to accept a dare or challenge without even thinking twice. I looked for every opportunity to show my strengths and to compete. Although I never really thought about the consequences, I never doubted myself or took the time to think about what could possibly go wrong or that I may not know the outcome. I would be the first to jump in the pool without knowing the temperature or the first to hop on the new ride at the fair without hesitation. I didn’t fear the unknown. In fact, it was exciting to me. I loved the adrenaline rush of trying something new and not knowing how it may turn out. I was optimistic and I didn’t let fear hold me back.
Obviously a lot of this has to do with age. Most children are born fearless. They learn by testing their limits and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Most kids only need to touch a hot stove or iron once to learn to stay away and fear the heat along with getting burned. If they fall from a tree and scrap their knee or break their arm, they may think twice the next time they climb a tree.
It’s human nature to fear the unknown. Part of that fear is what keeps us alive. It’s what keeps us from doing ridiculous things that could have dangerous consequences and get us killed. It benefits us in life but is also what keeps us trapped, specifically me.
Although it’s a miserable life to live, being deeply depressed and engulfed in my eating disorder, I know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises. I have been here enough times in my life that I know the drill. There is no unknown. There is no confusion. It’s black and white. It’s awful and painful, but it’s to be expected. I know the rules, consequences and what it takes to play the game. There really isn’t anything new to discover. There is no room for growth or change but that is what makes it reliable. That’s the appeal. It’s a familiar and comfortable place to be in, even if it is slowly destroying me. What you see is exactly what you get, even if it is a lonely life of misery consumed by self-hatred and shame. I am not constantly worried about what may happen because I already know. It’s a mundane life of simplicity. When all else fails and I don’t know where to turn, the eating disorder will make those decisions for me. It makes the rules and I follow. No questions asked or room for debate. It’s plain and simple.
Although I have been in recovery before, I have always quit before most of the real work even begins. I begin to get my feet wet and maybe wade a little in the water, but never ever consider letting the waves sweep me off of my feet. I retreat as soon as things start to get hard and change. As soon as I can no longer see or predict the outcome, I run as quickly as I can in the other direction. As soon as I am asked to just have faith and believe without seeing, I panic. I no longer what to bother. I cling to the familiar and comfortable, no matter what the cost. I am a control freak who likes to know what’s in store and what to expect. I want to see a plan; a detailed instruction manual of exactly what is going to happen. A step by step guide, with an exact plan of certainty. If you can’t provide that for me, then I’m out. I want the known, not to have to test the waters and hope for the best or just walk blindly. I don’t trust easily, especially when I can’t completely see what I am getting myself into. And unfortunately for me this is exactly how most of recovery works.
I have struggled with an eating disorder for 10 years; through most of high school and all of college, 40% of my life so far. On top of that, a lot of the underlying issues for much longer. The depression, anxiety, perfectionism, seeking others approval and people pleasing have been present for as long as I can remember, way before the eating disorder even became an issue. Intertwined in my eating disorder are other labels that I have held on to for years. Things that I have continuously defined myself by and have pretty much become who I am. Letting go of my eating disorder doesn’t just mean learning how to eat right and better take care of myself, but breaking free from everything mentioned above and that’s hard to imagine. It means learning that there isn’t just one way to be and trusting that I will be ok if things don’t go as planned. It means finding me under everything that I have used as a security blanket and that is daunting to even imagine. Without the labels that I have clung to for years, I have no idea who I really am. And this is what makes letting go of the eating disorder so tricky and difficult.
It’s going to take a lot of courage and faith in order to even begin this process and my biggest fear of all: doing so without any idea of how things may turn out. I have seen glimmers of hope and freedom that give me some confidence but am still not completely convinced. I have so many questions that just cannot be answered, other then by experimenting; listening to my treatment team’s suggestions and guidance, along with trying new things out on my own. It means stepping out of my comfort zone into the unknown and praying for the strength I need to survive. Along with trusting the process, even when I am not sure what the next step may be.
The life that I am living right now isn’t really working for me. Although I have been hanging on to it for years because it’s all I have known, deep down inside I know that there is more out there. In the words of Stephen Schwartz, “it’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap.”