I’m having a hard time. I’ve been sad a lot, and crying a lot. I just feel so volatile all the time. Last night, I had a full blown flashback, crying about how alone and awful and scared I felt. I can’t stop thinking about therapy ending and abandonment. The attachment issues are blowing up in my face and it’s a constant struggle. Previously, I isolated myself and pushed people away. But now that I’m reaching out to people more, I’m so needy and I just need reassurance that I’m not being abandoned and I need people to show care. I’ve been talking to Callista a little, I stayed with Twinnie last night, I’ve been talking to Kelly and Eunice, as well as the other interns.
Being in the office still makes things hard though, because I’m surrounded by people that I trust and want support from (Grace and Katie.. maybe even Anisha or Laika or Salina) but it feels like nobody cares. It triggers the attachment issues so much. I can’t bring myself to ask, because ‘I can’t be a burden’ so I just wait for them to ask but they never do because everyone is so busy. It’s gotten so much worse now that everyone is going on leave. I was waiting for Grace to come today, but she didn’t and that really left me disappointed and upset. I really miss her. I didn’t want to ask her for a session because I was wondering if she would ask me instead. But she hasn’t, so I don’t know. It’s also hard because Katie is important to me, but I wonder- what if she sees me as just another client? I don’t want that. I don’t really need more ‘therapeutic relationships’ right now, that’s why I feel like I don’t need psychotherapy. I care about Katie, she feels like an older sister to me and what I need (or want) is to spend a bit of time with her, or just checking in- small ways of showing care. I need a safe space where I can be reassured that I’m cared for and I won’t be abandoned and it’s okay to feel. With Grace there is slightly less attachment anxiety and more security? I don’t know why but I just feel safer with her, she’s like a mum, and I can feel cared for in our sessions because there isn’t that much of a distance so I trust she cares about me.
I’ve been thinking a lot, naturally. Last night I had a long conversation with twinnie and we talked about 2018, about how much we’ve changed. It’s so hard to wrap my head around just how crazy this year has been, and Dr Kelly hit the nail on the head when she said ‘two opposite things can be true, and there is no doubt you are in a lot of pain now more than ever, but you are also doing so much to help yourself’. It means so much to me that she felt my pain and saw my pain, but she also saw my effort and progress, and validated both of it. She knows me. Therapy left me with so many thoughts. I told her about how 2018 has just been an absolutely crazy year- it’s been the year where the puzzle pieces of my life finally started to come back to me one by one over the course of the year. My childhood isn’t a blank anymore, everything finally fits and that has helped me so much. I told her how it’s helped me be better able to point to the origins of some negative thoughts & beliefs that I have, which makes it easier to go against them. It’s so much easier to feel angry for myself, to feel compassion for myself…if I allow it.
Remembering, unfolding, unraveling has been one of the most painful processes I’ve ever been through, but also the most important part of helping me heal.
Remembering, in itself, has taken so much effort. I told Dr Kelly how I had to be really really soft and kind with myself so that I could start to put the pieces together. I had to choose to care for myself, choose to feel. If I never stared recovery, I would not have remembered what happened because my brain wouldn’t have felt safe enough to let me feel. My brain would have just shut it off. So to even get here has taken all this work to feel safe with myself and be kind to myself despite the awful thoughts and feelings. Last night I was telling twinnie that I think acknowledging trauma is something that has and will play a huge role in my recovery. Because whether I face it or not, whether I minimize it or not, trauma has shaped a huge part of my life.
Learning about, and remembering my trauma has been so important in helping me understand why I am who I am today. It’s helped given me some compassion to understand the pain that drove me to self destruct all those years.
Only when I started unraveling trauma, when I started allowing myself to acknowledge it and feel it, when I really thought about my parents and the incidents, then I could start to understand and untangle some of this shame and pain that I have carried for 15 years. I still remember in the hospital, writing that for the first time it isn’t an overwhelming ball of pain that I cannot carry, but an overwhelming ball of pain that I can start to cope with. When I can see that pain, I think that is when I can create even more distance between who I want to be and what my trauma has caused me to be. Even before I knew all of this, one of the biggest things that pushed me to recovery was Dr Kelly telling me I had a choice to choose my beliefs, and I had the chance to live my own life where I don’t have to be with my parents. I never thought about it like that before, and that really flipped a switch for me. I didn’t think much of it at the time but looking back, that was the first time I really took a step back and saw my pain. I remember how I had to sit down and force myself to face it and acknowledge the pain. I saw it, and I was told that I will still have to carry it, but I don’t have to act upon it and I don’t have to stay in these awful cycles, that I can actually choose differently. You see, I think I was sick for so long because I was never able to distance myself from this pain- I was never able to see it because it just overwhelmed me so much. Trauma causes so much learned helplessness. The inner critic and shame is so loud, so pervasive that I never once thought to question it.
I recently realized how much it means to be to be able to distance myself from my parents, because the thought of going back to family therapy and going back to them feels like a trap and it’s almost a promise of relapse. I always knew my parents triggered me and triggered the negative beliefs, but now I see it so clearly, how they drive all of the negative thoughts and how even just being with them is reliving my traumas over and over and over again- reminding me of how unloved, how alone, how unsafe I am, how inadequate, burdensome, awful I am. So the reminder from Dr Kelly that I don’t have to stay with them, that I no longer have to be trapped in the trauma- it means so much. It gives me hope, and that was one of the biggest takeaways from therapy. Hope.
For the first time I really sat down and looked at where I’ve come from, how far I’ve come and the trauma I’ve been through. Being able to identify trauma helps me to see that I feel the same as I did in the past but it’s no longer the same. For the first time I really saw just how much I’ve grown, how different I am, and how I am not stuck in trauma anymore. I can move on. It makes sense because initially, a huge part of recovery was trying to go against that learned helplessness to convince myself that I can cope. I’ve been slowly working on it in recovery, and that’s what recovery has been- hope, change, self compassion and being honest with myself. After all these years of self-abandonment and self-hatred and pain, recovery has been a step towards allowing myself to get the compassion I’ve always needed. It’s hard, it’s always been hard and it’s been 6 months of painstakingly slow change but therapy really helped show me just how huge that change has been.
It opened up the possibility that I no longer have to hurt myself to be seen, it confirmed that I am indeed changing and growing and outgrowing old coping strategies that have helped me survive these 15 years.
She asked me an interesting question about how this has changed the shame I carry and the way I’ve always viewed myself. I didn’t have answers, but thinking about it, I think the change is really really small for now but it’s there? I feel like my pain is less of a ‘big bad thing’ and more of.. just a thing. For all 15 years, I’ve felt so fundamentally broken and different and wrong. I’ve carried this pain without knowing that it was, I’ve carried all this pain thinking that it somehow made me uglier, less love-able. I remember how I’ve always been so terrified of showing people my pain, even up till this year. I carry so much pain, self-hatred, darkness & awful memories- I’m so broken and my pain is so horrific and ugly- that pain taints me & defines me. How could it not? It has been the only constant in my life. But now, I want to go back and hug my 14 year old self and tell her that people aren’t going to leave when they see her pain, her pain and everything she does to survive her pain, doesn’t make her bad. Now, being able to step back and see the bigger picture, it doesn’t make sense to blame myself for the pain I’ve been put through because now I finally, finally understand that this pain I’ve had to carry isn’t because of me, it’s because of what has been done to me. Why would this pain make me an uglier person, when all I’ve done was do my best to survive it? Just because I feel so broken, just because I have been so broken all my life, doesn’t mean that I’m fundamentally broken. I still feel like I’m a bad person & what happened was my fault but.. we’ll work on that. You know, in the beginning recovery was a struggle because I didn’t know who I would be without the ED, but it was also exciting and beautiful to know that I could be whoever I wanted. I had a clean slate to build upon. So maybe now that I am not just ‘broken’, I am not just my pain- I can make room to find out who I actually am outside of it.
I never, ever thought there would be hope. That I could be more than just this overwhelming pain, that there is more to life. I look back on the past year in itself, and I see how hard I’ve had to fight to pick myself up from rock bottom.
In a way I am grateful life has thrown me into the bottom of the ditch because it has forced me to have to claw my way out and fight, it has forced me to have to really truly think about life, about what I wanted. I started from nothing and I was forced to have to re-parent myself, to focus so much energy on unlearning maladaptive ways of coping and learning things how to cope with emotions, to carry them, to be with them, how to care for myself, how to show up, how to meet my needs. I’m still learning and it will always be a process, but I feel like having to start from ground zero has forced me to have to consciously learn all of these skills, whereas someone else my age wouldn’t have had to do this work. I’ve been forced to spend all my time just working on myself, working on changing and caring for myself in recovery.
Rock bottom forced me to find something to hold onto, it forced me to really truly think about what I needed to do and face. Being in recovery forced me to find the strength and tenacity to keep trying despite the extreme fear and discomfort.
This year has just been something else entirely. I started off the year with the ED being really strong. I’d been toying around with the idea of recovery for a long time, yet I never did it because every time a trigger came up I would ‘relapse’. I didn’t even know it back then, but now I see how every time an attachment trigger came up, every time I felt unsafe or alone or inadequate or abandoned, it would push the ED. Self-abandonment is a vicious cycle. I also needed a baseline of safety, comfort and numbness the ED gave me. After that, I got triggered by my research paper and all the memories about my family came flooding back- it wasn’t the first time I talked about my family but it was the first time I actually realized that what happened wasn’t okay. It was (maybe) abusive and (maybe) traumatic. More and more memories came, the flashbacks came and I had no way of coping. I felt all of the pain, that unbearable lack of safety- I was seeing the trauma for the first time. It spiraled me into probably lowest and most suicidal I’ve ever been.
I spent months trying to survive it. February was the worst it has ever been, with constant flashbacks and no way of coping. The ED was really, really strong, mirroring the trauma.. I was also being forced into ED treatment at the same time and it was hell. That admission was the most painful few weeks I think I’ve ever had, dealing with the ED and the trauma both at 100% intensity is something I never want to do ever again. But that was also when I first started understanding more about complex trauma and how it felt like something finally fits. I started trying to recover a bit back then, but quickly relapsed because the ED was just too loud. Looking back, I know it’s because of the trauma- it tends to make the ED go crazy. I relapsed when I discharged, spending March and April in a lot a lot of pain. I did everything I could to run from it. The months passed in a blur, all I remember is constant self harm, starving and fasting and binging purging, the urges to drink and go out and hook up and put myself in danger, the voices in my head that never stopped yelling. It just snowballed, the pain, and I couldn’t cope anymore. I would rather die, I needed something- anything. It ended up in The Incident. 16th April. Everything from then on was a blur of dissociation, more pain than I have ever known possible, ED, flashbacks, fear, nightmares, anxiety- every trauma symptom. It was rock bottom. I was destroying myself.
23rd April was the turning point, the therapy session that changed everything. That was the lowest point in my life and I knew, even then in all that pain, that I couldn’t live with the ED anymore, everything I was doing to run from the pain wasn’t working. I didn’t even know what that pain was, and I didn’t want to know.
From then, it’s been up and down in recovery. I struggled so much, therapy ending has been the biggest trigger for my mini relapses- but I’ve always come back to recovery. I’ve faltered over and over again but I’ve grown in so many ways I never thought possible. Self compassion has been the biggest one. Accepting feelings. Choosing recovery. Building a home in me. Eating was living and it hurt-did it anyway. Starting recovery, I never thought it would end up this way, I never thought recovery would mean this unfolding and unnumbing and remembering memories but here we are. As I grew, as I started trying to learn how to find my compassionate self and healthy voice and wise mind, I grew to feel safer in my body and that left me remembering more. It felt like petals unfolding and every new layer hurt so, so much. I was getting better, I was putting in so much effort, more than I ever have in my life– yet I’m forced to cope with more and more difficult things, making it harder and harder on me. It’s hard to feel like the small changes I’ve been working towards make any difference but I have to trust that it does in the long term: I’ve connected with myself in so many different ways. My intuition and true self. My inner children.
That leaves us here. There are so many things I still struggle with, especially when it comes to acknowledging pain and memories. Denying and minimizing pain is still a huge coping skill for me- it partially comes from fear of feeling, and partially from my lack of self worth/being used to it. Dr Kelly said that it’s hard for my mum to accept and lean into my pain.. and it seems like I model after my Mother. That I’m scared of pain. She asked me what the drawbacks of pushing it away are.. I don’t know. I know it’s not healthy, but it makes the pain less real. But from everything I’ve written, it’s been so important to acknowledge all of my past and all of my trauma and see it for what it is. It is what helps me unlock self compassion. It hurts too much, to remember, but I also feel like I should validate my inner children. Even if I don’t validate myself.
Dr Kelly is right. I’ve come far enough in recovery to know what I want and I am genuinely making so much progress, my intuition is louder and it is guiding me to keep going in recovery. I can choose to listen or not. The only thing that’s stopping me from continuing to grow is fear.
With all the love I feel towards my inner children, I actually no longer hate myself. I can reassign this pain to trauma. I know what’s the right thing to do, and I want to do it, but I also feel so lost because I am hurting so much right now. I have never felt so much pain and grief, and I don’t know if I should allow myself to feel it or not. For a while before therapy yesterday, I was certain I needed to relapse to cope. I chose relapse and I abandoned myself and it’s made the ED so much louder. The constant ‘you don’t deserve food’. I’m in a place where I need to make a choice again and I have to choose to get better even though I’m in the middle of the worst storm I’ve ever been in right now and everything is falling apart and I don’t quite know how to move forward, I have to choose and I have to try. I’m just struggling to have the energy to bring myself to do it. I feel undeserving of recovery, I want to be noticed and cared for and it feels like relapse will give me that. I’m also just scared. Even though now, 6 months later, I’m so much better ED-wise and recovery-wise, I’m still so scared of ED recovery. The voice is loud and mean.
I need to give myself permission to help myself. I need to try. Stop being so mean to yourself, Ericia.
I wrote a poem today in support group about hope, and how I’ve made it through more than anyone knows. I’ve clawed my way out of this pit and my fire, my strength will lie in my compassion, sensitivity and vulnerability. It’s hard but that is what will keep me going in recovery, the compassion and safe space I can have for myself. I’ve felt this same fear before, this hopelessness, this abandonment and I’ve survived it. I’ve pushed on in recovery for 7 months because I wanted a life outside of pain, even if I couldn’t see it. I’m not who was. For now, doing my best is enough. I have to have grace with myself.