I love fall. This time of year always gets me; the changing leaves, the crisp smell in the air, the scarves and boots and warm drinks. It is one of my favorite times.
But fall is also a challenging time for me. Not too long ago, fall is when my eating disorder reached its lowest point. It's when I reached out for help and started my recovery. I think about it every year as the leaves start to turn: how lonely I felt, and how harrowing it was. How much it hurt. Each year, the memory grows a little softer and a little less painful. But it still hurts, just a little.
This fall will be five years since I started recovery. I use that phrase a lot – starting recovery, continuing recovery – because it's a process. It can take months, or years, or decades, to rise from the depths of an eating disorder.
This fall been one of the hardest of my life – on par with that difficult transition into recovery five years ago. It started with all its excitement and activity and commitment. And then we moved. And then I injured my knee. I struggled under the weight of my job and my schoolwork. And as piece after piece of pressure and challenge added itself to my life, I began to crumble.
I spent hours a day crying. I began to eat less, just a little – just enough for me to notice, but no one else. I fantasized about how little I could eat; commended myself for being “strong enough” to live on the bare minimum. I knew what was happening, but with everything I was dealing with, I didn't have the energy to fight anymore. So I gave in.
That period of relapse – a slip, an episode, whatever you want to call it – only lasted a few days, amidst a months-long sea of sadness. But it was the warning shot. I could see that I was reaching the end of my rope – physically, spiritually, emotionally. My “slip up” showed me that I couldn't live like this anymore. I needed to make a change. So I decided to go home.
It hurt. The choice to go home – to take a leave of absence from school, to live with my parents for a few months as I tried to get well – was a blow to my ego and my sense of self. I was a student and a college blogger. I was the smart girl with the A's and the prestigious college. Who would I be without those things? The thought stung.
With the choice to go home, I felt like I was disappointing everyone around me. My friends, who had moved to my side of campus to live near me. My co-workers, who trusted me. My amazing supervisor, who had believed in me so much.
But when I talked to my pastor about it, he put it this way. You can't choose whether or not you'll disappoint people in your life. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, you'll always disappoint someone. That's not up to you.
But you do get to choose whom you'll disappoint.
In the end, I know that my friends, my co-workers, and my supervisor were not disappointed in me. My parents, my brother, my professors weren't disappointed. The one who was disappointed was me – the part of me that felt I should be living up to a certain standard, should be fulfilling all my commitments, and should be doing it with grace and ease.
Three weeks in, I can see that the choice to come home is one of the best I have ever made. Just these few weeks have been a time of rest and healing, of passion and creativity, of enormous gifts in the form of my parents and friends, my boyfriend and my book. And as this tiny idea for something fun and creative and spiritual, which started as a blog post just two weeks ago, has transformed into an eBook and a print book and a challenge of 1300 people, I know that some of this is providence.
I needed to come home so this could all fall into place. I needed to come home so I could focus on myself. And I needed to come home so that some part of me – that girl from five years ago, who fought so hard for herself and her survival – could be heard again.
Part of me may have been disappointed in myself for coming home. But there's a large part of me that's proud, too. Proud that I made a difficult choice. Proud that I prioritized my health. Proud that I put myself first.
I don't know what's next for me. I have good hours and bad hours as I continue to get well and take care of myself. But whatever is next, I know I can handle it.
Today, I am five years into recovery. Sometimes the journey is easy. Sometimes I struggle. But I know that those struggles don't make me weak.
Today, I am five years into recovery. On that day and this one, I stand strong.