My definition of “recovery” means that I am in the process of moving towards health and happiness. It means lessening symptom use. It means failing sometimes and it means forgiving myself. It means compassionate progress and gentle accountability. Recovery is fluid, a process in which I don’t mark a beginning or an end, but is slow, compassionate journey through which I slowly learn how to see myself, and others, more clearly.
1. REACHING OUT
Once I’d committed to the process of recovery, I realized I needed to reach out. I wrote the following letter in April 2010 to about nine of my closest friends, ALL of whom responded with the deepest love and compassion imaginable. This was probably the bravest and most important thing I’ve done.
Boy, I hate to be doing this in an email. But it seems that most everyone I love is across the pond/doing Shakespeare/going to a different school etc. so here we are.
I wanted to share something with you all both for my own healing and because I love you and want you to be involved in my life. As you all know, as a kid I struggled with a host of psychological struggles and symptoms, none of which were label-able and all of which took about five years to finally get in check. I found a medication that worked at age 14, and I took those straight through till December 2008, when I decided to go off them.
Right now, I’m struggling again. This has manifested itself in various ways, many of which are quite familiar from my early depressive days, but also including the most obvious way—my eating. I’m again obnoxiously un-label-able in this regard because it’s been a sort of confusing path, but the closest I’ve come to a diagnosis is EDNOS– eating disorder not otherwise specified. It’s embarrassing, it’s insanely hard to talk about, but telling all of you is a really, really important step.
So here’s the thing—I’m not telling you this because I want your pity, your concern, or even your help. None of that. I am working incredibly hard with a whole host of doctors right now (anyone need referrals? I’ve got ‘em!), and basically all I need are allies. You already are my best friends, but you couldn’t be my allies in my recovery unless you knew everything, which now you do. Congrats! You’re allies. And talking about it, for me, makes it less shameful and less powerful. So all I need from you is just to keep being my friends. Easy, right? I trust you all with everything, and goddamnit I miss you all like you wouldn’t believe.
You are welcome to talk to me about this or just to know and know that I know you know. It’s the sharing, that, for me, is really important. You’re all already doing what I’m asking you to do.
I love you all so so so much. Thank you for being there.
2. LOCKBOX AND QUOTES
Here are of some of the recovery tools I had in my apartment for the first year or so of recovery. Maybe they’ll inspire or inform!
This was my cabinet for dry food, bowls, plates, etc. On the left are quotes that inspire me, on the right is my weekly meal plan (all estimates, just so I could keep on track and not worry about planning).
The fridge. Cards with kind words, my ED Me/Soul Self chart, and a dry erase board for of-the-moment thoughts.
The ED Me/Soul Self chart is a great idea I got from a book. On one side, I listed all of the things that I am when I’m in my disorder (things I obviously don’t want to be) and on the other side, all the things I am when I’m at my best. It helps remind me that I am not my disorder.
My “lockbox.” Decorated with quotes from friends about how great I am, pictures that make me happy, etc. This was a fun project!
Inside my “lockbox”. Meal Plan templates, coloring items and craft supplies, alternative activities, crosswords, etc.
3. LETTER TO YOUNG B
I also wrote a letter to my younger self. Not only was the process of writing this incredibly powerful for me… but it’s almost as though I can reach the scared, sad little girl I was so many years ago, and somehow, inexplicably, it helps.
Right now, it seems like your entire life is somewhere “out there,” just waiting for you to come find it and claim it. You’ll always feel that way—that if you only stretched farther or dug deeper you could find the life you were “meant” to have.
But that’s not the way life, especially yours, will go.
B, you are as talented and brilliant as they say. It won’t always feel that way, but you have a gift of the mind and the heart, and it will give you great joy, even if it’s personal and never shared.
You will also never “get better.” Along with the brilliance comes the madness. It will never be the same as it was at 8, or at 12, or at 15, or at 22, but it will remain. You will cry, and starve, and stuff yourself silly with food or feelings or pills. You’ll take Zoloft until the day you die. You will feel lost and alone, you will fall down a deep well with parts and feelings clanking along the ridges on the way down. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are “cured.” You are not. But you will live in the world, and you will succeed. And you will possess a depth of self-knowledge that will serve you.
Stop fearing the people around you. It is lonely without people who understand and love you for who you are. I know that as you’ve grown up, you’ve had to build barriers to your heart and soul to protect yourself from pain. I don’t want you to put yourself in danger, but you can open the window to your heart when the sun is shining.
B, you will have amazing friends, and they will hold your hand when you fall down the cliff and they will clap for you when you climb back up. People will love you because you are worth loving.
Right now, you have exactly what you want to do all planned out. I’m proud of you for that. But I wish you could know that your life will look nothing like that plan. For the next many years, you will continue to plan, thinking, or hoping, that if the checklist or calendar says it, it must happen. But life’s not like that, sweet B. You must learn to drive on long and bumpy roads, full of hairpin turns and unexpected detours. You will get lost sometimes, and you won’t have a compass. In your life, you will be expected to continue on, in some direction that seems like it leads somewhere, even though you don’t know where that is or if it’s even worth it. You may never get used to this, but you will find ways to live in it. Your friends, and the love you have for your craft—those will help.
Cut yourself a lot of slack, B. You are lucky, but you are embarking on a difficult life. You will continue to fall and lose your way and shut down your heart—we are not perfect creatures. But B, when you get older, you will feel some shackles begin to fall and you will pick apples with three friends in a Prius zipcar, and you will be the founder of a successful theatre company, and you will meet Maria Irene Fornes, who you MUST listen to, because she understands.
You are amazing, but you are going to be lost for much of your life. I just ask that you navigate the world with curiosity and openness. You will find things you didn’t expect, and those will be the greatest things you will know.
Love yourself, B. You are enough.