As we wrap up the first month of 2018, the cliche remains: “Where did the time go?”
How are we so shocked when we look down at the screens of our phones and realize we’re 31 days into a new year.
Where were we the last 31 days? Did we go into a mindless Instagram vortex and disappear?
OR… do I just tell myself that because right now, in this moment, I’m feeling that way.
ANYWAY. I detract.
I know it’s “new year, new you” and all that crap, and many of us are off starving ourselves or worshipping new gym memberships or trying to stick to the belief that are bodies “are fine as is” even when we want to act out… regardless where you’re at, there’s an aspect of these “life changes” that doesn’t get acknowledged or valued enough. And that’s the loss.
The loss of the life you were leading. I know we’re supposed to be all like “YAY recovery life. I don’t want that old life back.”
But, as Mark Manson says, you can’t change or grow without losing a part of yourself. And that loss, even when it happens for a good reason, it hurts. It shapes.
And that’s not even getting into losing something or someone for a bad reason.
Out of the hundreds of emails I read each month seeking recovery or ‘what next’ advice, I’d say nearly 50% relate to loss in some way. Loss of an eating disorder. Loss of a relationship. Loss of family. Loss of career. Loss of friendships. Loss of identity. “Who the hell am I without X?”
I’ve been there. Sometimes, I’m still there.
I went on a run last weekend in Boulder.
Boulder happens to be where both my exes (that I’ve documented periodically on this blog) reside.
While both relationships are over and done. The envelope sealed – the future plans discarded– I am always bemused by how easily I can still feel loss when back in their territories.
Ran along the path, through the creek.
Passed a rock overlooking the water that I sat with one of them. We had empanadas that afternoon – 9 months in. We talked about the flood of 2013.
I ran through the city center – past the Illegal Petes and that back alley I made out with one of them in when we were new and tipsy and had just played arcade games until midnight.
I stopped off at a coffee shop when I was done – waited in line for a vanilla latte.
One of them stands there, half smirking.
“Ah,” I think I said. I had a feeling you’d be here.
What an odd thing to admit, in retrospect.
He cocked his head. Stalking me?
More or less.
We caught eyes.
Why are you here? he asked.
Meeting, I lied.
Of course I lied. There’s someone else. He’s in Boulder too. My ex probably assumes that, knowing my history well.
He didn’t push.
We had coffee for 20 minutes. He asked me to read over a new blog post.
Some pains are better left unstated until they are direct.
If this becomes more serious, this new relationship, I will tell the truth the next time.
But in that moment, I don’t know that I was ready to establish the new chapter.
I left the coffee shop. And in that fundamental ex moment, I turned in the frame of the door.
He was looking – his head cocked to the side again.
Smiling in only a way I knew what he was thinking.
These are my ass pants, I announced, pointing towards it.
Don’t lose weight.
Images of us in that same coffee shop, months prior, locking ourselves in a private bathroom.
I grinned back.
He waved, softly.
I felt that faint sort of sadness; grieving, then, over a tiny loss of myself— the two people we were that day were now gone. And they would never come back.
Were we really not meant to be together?
Were things so ‘bad’?
I covered this recently in my last blog post, but a big part of recovery is identifying what ‘needs’ to be lost, implementing a plan, and then somehow getting over the losses and establishing a new identity. That means filling your life with new meaningful relationships or hobbies or adventures or beliefs where the old ones used to be.
I struggle with this. A lot of people struggle with this. As a result, we spend a lot of time feeling lost – or being pulled back to the known.
Pulled back to the known.
Relationships. Anorexia. Alcohol.
There’s a negative and a positive to all of those things – hence, why we have such a hard time staying away from them.
What can I say? We’re human.
When something is lost – no matter if it’s the anorexia, drugs, alcohol, person, job, city – it’s gone. And it will never be the same, no matter what you do. And this, in a real psychological sense, destroys a small piece of you. A piece that must eventually be rebuilt.
I always liken my eating disorder to my relationships. Probably because anorexia is a relationship.
Like my ex, anorexia wasn’t all bad. We had good times. Or at least what to me felt like good times.
No one would be anorexic or voluntarily be in a relationship if there wasn’t something positive (or at least, something that feels positive) coming from it.
And it’s that that pulls us back. We don’t want to accept the loss of that positive feeling – whatever it may be – because then we partially lose something about us – and have to rebuild it – or ‘fill’ it –
And that’s actually fucking terrifying.
What if we never find that ‘thing’ or ‘person’ to fill it? Or what if we never rebuild?
What if we will always live in the anorexia or bulimia days like a football coach who can’t get over the 1976 state championship?
What if we will never feel ”as good as” our anorexia days?
What if we just feel empty?
Sounds exhausting, even to me. And I’m 4 years into this evolving methodology.
This feeling of emptiness—or more accurately, this lack of meaning—is usually known as depression.
To quote Mark Manson again: Most people believe that depression is a deep sadness. This is mistaken. While depression and sadness often occur together, they are not the same thing. Sadness occurs when something feels bad. Depression occurs when something feels meaningless. When something feels bad, at least it has meaning. In depression, everything becomes a big blank void. And the deeper the depression, the deeper the lack of meaning, the deeper the pointlessness of any action, to the point where a person will struggle to get up in the morning, to shower, to speak to other people, to eat food, etc.
The healthy response to loss is to slowly but surely construct new hobbies, relationships, careers, exercises and perspective evolutions that bring new meaning into our lives. We come to refer to this as “a new me,” and this is, in a literal sense, true. You are constructing a “new you” by adopting new habits to replace the old.
So, here I am. All blah blah blah at you. Babbles McGee, people call me.
But, four years into this recovery business – what can I really tell you that I’ve found to be true? How do I actually go on with said above facts staring me in the face.
Lemme take a shot at this.
Hard truth: our minds have a tendency to only remember the best qualities of our past. This most definitely includes our eating disorders AND relationships. In fact, I’d say those two things top my list of “reframed memories.” We delete the tedious and monotonous and just remember the highlight reel.
Our memories aren’t accurate.
Our brain always thinks that there’s these ‘things’ that will make us happy. We want our instant fixes, which comes in the form of people validation, a meal skipped, or ‘weight lost.’ And in the same impulsive way, we ignore the ‘glazed’ over truth.
But in both cases, our mind is simply reaching for something to remove it from the present.
Relationships don’t end because two people did something wrong to each other. Relationships end because of two people are something wrong for each other.
Most of the time, we don’t leave bulimia or anorexia because it’s killing us (although the media likes to portray it that way.)
We leave it because it is something wrong for us – stripping us from being present or alive to every moment. Allowing a blanket to hide behind so that we never truly live or feel anything.
Starting recovery is full of grief.
You can ra-ra cheerleader dance all over it, but it’s still a loss of something.
It’s a loss of some part of you.
And loss is bloody uncomfortable at best.
People like to see growth as this euphoric, joyous thing. But it’s not. Real change brings a mixture of emotions with it— lingering sadness mixed (eventually) with a tangible presence.
And yes, an ability to feel content and joy. And grief again. And sorrow. And spontaneous happiness.
And new people into your life because you build a life that allows more people to find you.
I saw my ex again last night, dropping off a shirt to my best friend (his roommate, as it goes).
I was late to a date.
I’m buying land in Wyoming, my ex announced. I’m going to build a tire-bail house and live in it off the grid.
I stared at him – fights flooding into mind. We hardly agreed on anything, in retrospect, outside of our attraction.
It all seemed clear again. But, I could still love him for him.
The mushrooms are rooted and growing too, he exclaimed, showing me his mushroom garden in the den.
So am I, I thought – turning away.
I am growing, too.