These are the Trenches Through Which Recovery Runs

Posted by on Aug 26, 2015

An Eater’s Agreement

 Written for my EDTNY graduation on August 24

Sarah walked into our therapy session on Wednesday holding a 50-foot spool of yellow rope. Looking at her, I couldn’t imagine what one could possibly do with a rope that would be therapeutic.

It turned out to be an exercise in boundaries. The idea was to use the rope to represent the boundaries I’ve created or would like to create. By the end, I’d discovered that when it comes to people, my boundaries are fairly permeable — a little too permeable sometimes.

But that’s not actually the problematic one. My unhealthiest boundary is the one made of my own skin and bones. This is the boundary with which I confine my “soul self.” It prevents me from grabbing hold of the kind hands that reach across it. It makes breathing hard some days. In this prison, I’m both jailer and captive.

Joanna Kay Recovery The Door Is Open

Drawings © Joanna Kay, 2015

But there is a way out, I’m discovering. Every so often, a small opening appears. I try to use those moments to connect, to tell other people what the boundary is made of and how they can get across it. That way, when the circle snaps shut again, it isn’t so lonely a place.

Right now, I want to invite all of you to what I am thinking and feeling as prepare to leave EDTNY and return, once again, to my “real” life without the support and structure of a treatment program.

I wish you could’ve seen the beginning of this journey. My life looked nothing like it does now.


The trenches through which recovery runs

By the time my recovery journey began in December of 2013, I’d been anorexic for 11 years and bulimic for one. Bulimia was my body’s way of trying to wrench back control from me by literally forcing me to eat. In fact, the binge and purge cycle perfectly depicted the battle raging inside me: the one between ravenous need and the illusion of self-control.

I was also drinking too much, which always spelled disaster with regard to food. I had very few friends. I kept my fiancé at arm’s length, partly so that he wouldn’t discover my fraudulence and leave me, as I feared he would, and partly because I had no idea what (or who) it was that I was trying to spare him from. I walked through life weighed down by an unshakable self-hatred and an inexplicable sense that I was “other,” that I didn’t belong in the world — that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

And yet, there was some small part of me — which I now know is that entity which Monte Nido calls my soul self — that refused to believe my eating disorder’s lies. By some miracle, it insisted I seek help. I did — though I still spent the better part of my  intake assessment insisting I didn’t have a legitimate eating disorder and that I merely needed a good nutritionist. They said: Residential Care; I said: Absolutely Not.

I left the intake, and no one expected me to come back. But I did. And I stayed — for six months — despite being tagged “extremely high risk” and expected to drop out, if not drop dead, any given week.

Those six months were painful. (Like, really ******* painful.) But they were also remarkable. With weight restoration came the restoration of vitality and focus. I learned what meals were composed of, and what feelings were and how to express them. In the presence of others, I began to admit my most painful truths, including my deep-set belief that there was only ugliness beneath the surface of me. That I was just another broken branch on a decrepit family tree.

What followed that first round of treatment were many good things. I was more or less healthy. I relapsed, but was able to return to treatment and left doing better than ever. I began this blog, which has enjoyed moderate success. I lobbied in Washington twice for improved access to eating disorder treatment. I marched on Capitol Hill. I’ve been interviewed by several media outlets and shared my story — which is all of our stories — about the injustices we face at the hands of our insurance companies.

Joanna Kay not afraid of truthIn short, I found my voice.

And then this winter happened. A minor trauma triggered depression. Personal struggles kept surfacing throughout the spring. In my weariness and reluctance to ask for help, I ultimately relapsed and wound up back in treatment in June, nearly seven months to the day that I’d finished Round 2.

But these last two months have been invaluable. I’ve begun to think, write, draw, and talk about all that had been previously unsaid, and I am consciously building a sense of self. Most important, I’m finally feeling the things I’d barred from my experience, no matter how frightening and uncomfortable, and listening to the secrets my body is storing for me until my mind is ready to remember.

It’s psychically draining. Most days I feel 15 years old again. It’s not a great way to graduate, admittedly. Last time, I left Monte Nido kicking ass and taking names. To leave now feeling sadder and in some ways more disordered feels like a failure.

But I know it’s not. It is real and raw and powerful. These are the trenches through which recovery runs, and here I am crawling through them with a tenacity I didn’t think I had. And what I’m left with is profound gratitude for the opportunity to make this journey and for the gift of having all of you by my side on the way.

It’s been 13 years now with this eating disorder. If nothing changes, then by this time next year I’ll have spent half of my life with it. That’s not a legacy I want. I choose a different path.

And so, I hereby renew the Eater’s Agreement that I first drafted on October 19, 2014, that I reiterated on November 20, and to which I agree again today, August 24, 2015:

The Agreement

1. I agree to keep eating, to keep feeling, to keep recovering even when it seems like life is working against me. I will remind myself daily that feelings are not facts. Thus, even though I feel unprepared to do this without the support of a treatment program, I acknowledge that I do not need to feel prepared in order to actually be prepared.

2. I agree to find a way to exercise my body for the sake of making it strong and powerful, not smaller and weaker. I will do this to maximize my physical energy so that I am equipped to participate fully in life.

3. I agree to communicate my pain with my words, not with my body. When my voice fails me, I will write what I need to say. And when my pen fails me, I will draw what I need to say. And if none of the above is possible, then I will seek out one support and simply say, “I need you.”

4. I agree to take up space in the world. I will not let any human being, no matter their status or position of power, to make me feel any less valuable or deserving of my space. I will speak when I have something to say and not demur from the statements I make. I will respect my need and desire to be seen and heard just as much as I respect this need and desire in others.

5. I agree to let myself get depressed. I understand that this may simply be a part of who I am, but it need not have the power to become all of who I am. When it wells up and steals my voice, I will not give in to it. I will simply let it come and go, even if it means losing my voice momentarily. I now know that I’m stronger than it, and that my voice will come back.

6. I agree to feel all other feelings that comprise human life, including, but not limited to, anger, joy, shame, guilt, elation, desire, frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, silliness, fullness, and love. I will let them visit me when they come and let them go in an appropriate time and manner.

7. I agree to speak out against the injustices that have contributed to all of our illnesses through no fault of our own. I vow to change how our insurance providers see us and treat us so that their indifference and greed no longer pose barriers to our recovery. I vow to speak up and not stop telling our stories until this change happens.

8. I agree to do all of the above from this moment onward and to not stop until I reach full recovery. And even then, I agree to do them anyway.

62 Days | 12 Hours | 35 Minutes | 34 Seconds

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