It’s funny the things I can do when those evil voices in my head are usually silent. It is a hard won, and much appreciated silence. A silence that allowed me finally to finish my book, after 10 years of struggling to get it on the page. A lifetime reimagined and, most of the time, neatly filed away under “done”.
Still, there are moments, days, that try to throw me back into that hell.
One big trigger for me is getting corrected, especially by an employer. Doing something wrong (even if it should be minor or neutral) can cause my thoughts to go tumbling down. In the past, I would have taken it to the extreme. Fears would crowd my mind, vying for attention.
I would become sure I would lose my job. Without my job, I’d have nowhere to live. I can’t/won’t go back to that. Perhaps it would be better if I were dead.
Suddenly, all my visions of myself would come into question. Everything I believed, I knew, about myself would be subject to revision. I would need to hurt myself just to hang on.
Now I still feel badly in the face of correction. My heart still races, and I can feel the blood rushing to my face. I want to defend myself. Though the words are screaming on the inside, I know, from experience, that I remain calm but withdrawn on the outside.
My focus will narrow. I will obsess over what food I am going to buy, and sneak eat.
By the time I get away and to a store, my rational mind is getting the upper hand. The last time I took that tumble, I ended up in the pharmacy buying a box of cookies.
I ate them there in the parking lot. One by one, methodically plodding through them. I was far from ready to taste them, let alone enjoy them. The tug inside of me, broken/whole/broken, played out with each bite.
By the time I was 6 cookies in, the fire was dimming. The newer, healthier, and often happy me reemerged. I kept eating, but more slowly. I struggling to enjoy each bite. Finally, there were only 5 cookies remaining. They had served their purpose. I didn’t need to finish them.
If you’ve never had an eating disorder, never binged on thousands of calories in a sitting, you might miss the significance of this. Especially the part when I allowed myself leeway. Because, for most of us, you can’t just binge a bit. It gets ugly, regardless of whether I vomit afterward. It’s an addiction and one misstep can send me back to the thick of it.
As I am learning, all recovery comes in spurts. I can forgive myself for my bad days and rise to meet the good ones with a song on my heart. Well, maybe not quite like that…
But, anyway, it will always be possible to trigger me. I can choose how I frame that trigger. The choice to keep up my hard-won progress or to fall into the trap.
For me, most of those triggers look like rejection or disapproval. Deep fears from the deepest pits of my younger self’s despair. In those moments, it takes everything I have not to become hog-tied by the shame.
Don’t get me wrong. Most days, I don’t struggle with shame. Considering how pervasive it was until just a few years ago, that is almost a miracle. A miracle hard won, anyway.
So how did I get here? There really is no secret formula. Not what I wanted to hear back then. It really is a matter of finding the techniques that work for you and keep doing them. Doing them when everything is going well and doing them when the walls are closing in.
At church, we are told to pray, study the scriptures, and go to church. If you regularly doing that, you will stay on the path to where we all want to be. There is nothing mysterious or complicated about it. But boy, when you are in the trenches… Still, that gives you something to hold on to.
Beating back shame is the same for me. I am vigilant in my thoughts. I don’t let the self-talk of shame creep in. Every day, I listen to my subliminal recordings. I stay connected to the most important people in my life (my village). I do something for other people every day. And I journal. Or, at the very least, write something I am grateful for. Every Day. And I know when to seek out a professional.
In the beginning, I had to do so much more. Because I had so many triggers, there was far more to keep ahead of. Sometimes not giving in to shame was the only thing I could think about. Times when self-mutilation or suicide were long time best friends I didn’t think I could ever give up.
However, I am here, standing tall. I want to tell everyone that this is possible. My life is not expansive, compared to many. That I have that life, and that I can feel content most of the time, is my miracle. I’m going to hold on fast.
Logic says I should not have made it. There was every reason to expect me to die, become addicted to drugs, or be lying in a room curled up in a ball. Though I like to think I am special, I am not. Not in this, anyway. It takes a village, and a willing you. I firmly believe that. I hope you can, too.