Learning to Swim
Recovery is something that was sort of thrust upon me. At 19, I’d run myself into the ground. Things were worse for me medically and mentally than ever and I chose treatment because I was scared. Not because I was ready. So when I discharged, the to recover or not to recover question loomed heavy. All I felt was ambivalence, but people who loved me pleaded with me to try. So I did.
Recovery began to feel like a duty to those who would suffer if I failed. It was a black-and-white choice - either recovery or relapse. There was no such thing as a slip-up. One mistake would’ve been catastrophic, so when I messed up, I’d hide it and let it fester in the shame I felt for failing. Secrets and shame are perfect fuel for the anorexia fire, so as was inevitable, I wound up back in treatment.
I was already learning the painful lesson that recovery wasn’t what I’d believed it to be when an incredible therapist gave me an incredible gift. She told me about Dr. Anita Johnson’s book, Eating in the Light of the Moon. One passage in particular resonated with me so deeply that I’ve planned to get it tattooed - a reminder of what recovery is to me. It goes like this -
“Imagine yourself standing in the rain on the bank of a raging river. Suddenly, the water-swollen bank gives way. You fall in and find yourself being tossed around in the rapids. Your efforts to keep afloat are futile and you are drowning. By chance, along comes a huge log and you grab it and hold on tight. The log keeps your head above water and saves your life. Clinging to the log, you are swept downstream and eventually come to a place where the water is calm. There, in the distance, you see the riverbank and attempt to swim to shore. You are unable to do so, however, because you are still clinging to the huge log with one arm as you stroke with the other. How ironic. The very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of where you want to go. There are people on the shore who see you struggle and yell, ‘Let go of the log!’ But you are unable to do so because you have no confidence in your ability to make it to shore. And so, very slowly and carefully, you let go of the log and practice floating. When you start to sink, you grab back on. Then you let go of the log and practice treading water, and when you get tired, hold on once again. After a while, you practice swimming around the log once, twice, ten times, twenty times, a hundred times, until you gain the strength and confidence you need to swim to shore. Only then do you completely let go of the log.”
Reading that passage shifted my perspective. Recovery wasn’t a single choice. It was a practice, and ‘failure’ wasn’t failure at all. I didn’t have to be all in or all out, and I was allowed to honor the places where anorexia had served me - where it had kept me breathing. Today, recovery for me looks like a daily practice, hourly conscious choices to practice floating and treading water and swimming. It’s about building up strength, and learning to take it easy on myself when I get tired and grab on to anorexia again. It’s about gaining faith in myself, in my ability to continue to build this muscle and make my way to the shore someday. It’s for me, not for anyone else, and It’s not perfect. I don’t want it to be.
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