No, I’m not going through some weird Benjamin Button reverse aging process, it’s my 8-year anniversary of being discharged from a second round of in-patient treatment for anorexia and obsessive-compulsive exercise and when I began my life in recovery.
In so many ways time seems to race by and at the same time, looking back at the person I was 8 years ago, walking off that plane from Utah in the cold December air, it feels like life times ago.
One of the hardest parts about being in recovery or recovered from an eating disorder, was discovering there weren’t a lot of people I could easily relate to once I returned home. There were many times I felt alone in my recovery and the times I would talk about my past struggles, I often received the impression that people were uncomfortable and just didn’t want to go there because they assumed I wouldn’t want to talk about something I should be embarrassed or ashamed about. (The stigma of mental illness) Shouldn’t I be uncomfortable discussing my struggles?
In the beginning I was. A lot. But the more I spoke up, the less shame I felt and this is how I began to erase stigma on a personal level.
The truth of the matter is, the lessons I learned about myself and about life through the recovery process are lessons everyone can benefit from. In fact, I sometimes joke and say that everyone should be required to into in-patient treatment for 3 months and just work on themselves 24/7. I bet we’d see a BIG improvement in our society. Just a thought…
So in honor of my 8th birthday, I wanted to share 8 lessons I’ve learned thus far through my 8 years of recovery. These are lessons I’ve learned that have not only helped me heal but have also made me stronger than what I believe would have been the girl without the eating disorder. They are also lessons applicable to everyone not just those in recovery from addiction or living with mental illness. Because in the end, we are all the same; no matter who we are or what we’ve been through, we all want to be loved, accepted and celebrated for exactly who we are without having to prove our worth. We are all enough and worthy of love.
1. Avoid looking back with regret. Only look back to appreciate how far you’ve come.
I lost 10 years of my life to an eating disorder and there are so many things I used to regret and beat myself up about. This never benefited me in any way. It wasn’t until I learned to forgive myself that I was able to move forward in my recovery and in my life.
2. I may not always be where I want to be, but I’m always where I need to be.
We’re always where we need to be in life no matter how painful or frustrating it may seem. We reach certain points in our life to learn a lesson and if we fail to learn it this time around we end up repeating the same painful and frustrating experience over and over until we finally learn and make a change.
3. I won’t always get the happy ending, but that’s OK, because sometimes there’s something much better in store.
Many of the things I thought would make me happy and be my “happy ending” when I was deep in my eating disorder did not end up in my current life. But that’s OK. I didn’t fully comprehend what feeling happy and fulfilled was really all about at that point in my life. The beautiful thing about hardships and struggles is that if you learn the lesson, you eventually find the grace and the gratitude in not just the past but the outcome as well.
4. When I’m not having a good day, the best thing to do is something nice for someone else.
Body image is still something I work on everyday. The one thing that always turns around my negative body image is when I do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return. And this works for almost everything.
5. Focus on all the things you hope will happen, not all the things you’re scared will happen.
What you focus on becomes your destiny. When I think of and focus on all the things that could go wrong, they usually do or I don’t do my best because I’m living in and reacting to fear. This doesn’t mean I’m careless about my actions, it just means that I’m not living authentically and purposefully. When I focus on what I want and can visualize the best outcome possible, I’m filled with energy and end up doing my best, which is all anyone can really ever strive for anyways.
6. Putting your authentic self out there is ALWAYS the best decision.
People may not always agree with who you are and what you believe in or stand for, but that’s NEVER a reason to betray yourself or abandon your truth.
7. Children are our best teachers. My son has been my biggest blessing not because of the love I feel for him, but because of the challenges he has made me rise to. I am a better person because of him. Enough said.
8. Once you discover your purpose and live it in your heart, you will never make a wrong decision.
This was a life changer for me in so many ways. I always thought I would never really know or embody my “purpose” and that this was just something people talk about in philosophy class. Thanks to Mastin Kipp for helping me discover mine. You changed my life.
So the next time you think mental illness is something you would never be able to relate to, understand that the universal truths learned from any form of human suffering are lessons we can all benefit from. We are all connected. We are all worthy.