Before I start this post, I wanted to give a little clarification (that will make more sense as you read). I in no way, at all, feel that those who are “that person” struggling are bad people, weak, or anything else negative. I have compassion and empathy for them, and I get how hard it can be. When I’m talking about how I feel being “that person” is a negative thing, this is solely my perception of MYSELF. I’ll explain that more, but I just want to clarify how these thoughts/feelings/judgments I’ll be sharing don’t apply to others. It’s a very personal fear.
“Emily, it’s time to get your Ensure”
“All of my clients are kicking butt, but it doesn’t sound like you have been”
“I’m doing pretty well.” “Me too!” “How about you Emily?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to eat with the group and have more support?”
These are some of many blurbs I wish I never had to hear.
I have had 7 supplements in the past 4 weeks at IOP. Four of those have been in group because I couldn’t manage an entire lunch plus supplement at one time. I hate it.
Sometimes I wish things were like when I was in PHP the first time around. For whatever reason, I felt very comfortable in my struggle then. I wasn’t concerned with being this perfect person. I allowed others to see my struggle. I didn’t finish meals because I couldn’t always handle that at this point. I didn’t for nearly two weeks of lunches. Despite all of this, I never felt embarrassed or wrong because of it. There were others doing way better than me, some around the same, and a few having a really hard time. I didn’t pay attention to that, though. The only way I judged my progress (somewhat) was when it came time to meet with the psychiatrist, and that’s only because he held my fate. If I didn’t improve I would be forced inpatient. Luckily, I kept making progress and that never came up again. I felt proud of myself at the end and that was it.
I don’t know if I was naive or truly didn’t care or something else, but the next time I found myself in treatment yielded different results. I was inpatient the last week of summer before I moved in to Calvin. I knew I had basically zero time and I wanted to make the best of it, since I figured a week IP would be a cure-all. I decided I absolutely was not allowed to refuse any Ensure, which quickly became never be offered one. My reasoning for this was valid: there was a serious threat to my schooling if the doctor felt I wasn’t making progress. It was a mix between the motivation for school and drive to just get out of there that helped me that week. I don’t think I fully realized what changes my decisions then made.
Fast forward to residential round 1, November 2015. I went in with a completely different attitude. I (falsely, oh so falsely) believed that being “good” was going to get me moved up levels/further into my recovery. It was then that I decided I would never do anything that could come with a consequence: not finish a meal, get caught using a behavior, failing to complete a snack pass, etc. Again, some of this came from a valid and reasonable place. I did want recovery and I was putting in the hard work. I even earned the nickname “Challenge Queen.” My drive for perfection mostly helped my recovery to a point, and I never did get offered a supplement or forced to do a chain analysis.
A year went by and then I began coming to groups then IOP at my current treatment center. I’m not sure why, but this only increased the shame when I showed I was struggling in any capacity. There were countless meals/snacks where I was having a really hard time but looked fine to everyone. Everyone assumed I was doing okay because I never said otherwise. One time that stands out is when we had a random food challenge. It wasn’t a snack or anything, but we were each given a bowl with peanut butter, a couple of apple slices, and some pieces of chocolate. I was terrified. I hadn’t eaten peanut butter in a long time. Instead of reaching out for support, I choked it down. I finished a little before everyone else. One person was particularly outwardly struggling. I remember her saying something like “I’m the only one having a hard time.” This was far from the truth, but I couldn’t own up to that.
This summer I tried to let go. I challenged myself to be more open about how I’m really doing. I knew that my recovery depends on it. No one will know what’s going on unless I tell them. It took a lot of work and vulnerability, but I slowly began to speak up. Much of the time this was with staff and not the other girls, but that’s still a huge step for me. By the end of the summer I was no longer afraid to be “that person,” and I truly wasn’t. I found strength in recovery. I didn’t struggle like before, so I had no reason to be dishonest. I felt safe to share. I am truly proud of myself for how much I faced my fears of being imperfect.
I have been terrified of being “that person” again for a few months now. I think it stems from how much I’ve slipped backwards when I *should* be far into recovery. I don’t want to show that I’m struggling. I avoid the topic if at all possible and I’ve flat-out lied to so many people. I find it hard to share the truth in a group setting (although I can with my treatment team). Often times what I’ll talk about in group one hour after therapy is a completely watered-down version of the truth. That way, I don’t bring attention to myself. I can pretend and fit in with how others are doing.
Drinking my supplement in art the past 4 weeks has cracked open my facade. No one is given these just because. It’s an obvious clue that someone isn’t doing the best in recovery. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, disgusted with myself. I’ve wanted to cry every single time, but that would draw attention to me, too. So I sit there and pretend that it’s all fine, hoping no one else will notice.
I have been terrified of what consequences would come if I dare spoke my truth. Wouldn’t that just expose my brokenness and lead to judgments? While some EDs desire to be the sickest in the room, I am the exact opposite. I would rather no one know anything and keep the disordered parts all to myself. I hold in a lot of guilt and shame this way.
In order to put off this image of doing well, I am ignoring some of my core values: namely honesty, connection, and authenticity. Without exposing some of my truth, I am choosing to hide behind my fears of being “that person.” This is only harming me. I don’t need to share every intimate detail of how I’m doing, but I think it would help to at least open up a tiny bit.
First, I need to let go of my belief that perfection is necessary in recovery. I don’t need to have it all together. Why else would I come to these groups? I’m not there for ~6-8 hours a week for fun, but to grow and get help. I can only receive as much as I decide to.
If I don’t judge others when they’re experiencing what I am so afraid of, why am I holding myself to these standards? Why am I so convinced that the truth is going to prove I’m a terrible person? It’s time for me to challenge this. I can leave space to struggle. It’s okay to be “that person” sometimes.