Monday, February 9, 2015

Seven Years

When I picked up the phone to call the Emily Program just over seven years ago, I wasn't even sure I had an eating disorder. However, I was sure that I had absolutely horrible self esteem, out of control eating behaviors and no self worth to speak of. I was deeply depressed and lost. The only other thing I knew for certain was that I wanted things to be different - I didn't want to feel that way any more.

Little did I know, that phone call was the beginning of a journey that I could have never imagined. My initial testing and assessment revealed that I did, in fact have an eating disorder: Compulsive Overeating was the official diagnosis I received. Based on my assessment results and one on one meeting with their intake psychologist, I was matched up with a therapist that they felt would be the best fit for me. I'm not sure if they have professional psychics doing their match-ups but I've got to say that they absolutely nailed it when they assigned me to Kate.

Kate. How do I begin to describe this incredible woman? This may be a bit of an obscure reference, but if Jennifer Nettles from the band Sugarland and Eve Kilcher from the TV show, Alaska the Last Frontier had a love-child, that child would be Kate. Physically, I think they resemble her but even more so in personality and energy.

I liked Kate the moment I met her. She is just so real, down to earth and easy to talk to. She somehow manages to balance genuine sweetness and caring with being totally honest and upfront. She is the epitome of support and encouragement while also not being afraid to challenge me or call me out on my bullshit. In many ways, she almost feels like the big sister I always wanted.

I had the notion when I started therapy, that I would walk in, talk about what's wrong with me and then would be given a recipe for how to "fix" it. I thought we would go down a neat little check list and fix them all, one by one. Then, PRESTO-CHANGE-O; I'd be cured after a few months! Ha - was I ever in for a rude awakening. When Kate told me that the average time it takes for a person to recover from an eating disorder is seven years, I nearly fell out of my chair. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "Seven years?? SEVEN YEARS?! I don't have seven damn years - I need to get myself figured out like yesterday!" Coming to the harsh realization that therapy would be a messy, scary and unpredictable process felt incredibly overwhelming. The unknown was terrifying to me. I wanted a clearly defined map to show me the way in a "reasonable" amount of time. Instead, I found I had an incredible guide and mentor to walk with me on a long, bumpy, complicated and often scary path to re-connection with myself.

When I first met Kate, I wouldn't have known a healthy boundary if it jumped up and bit me in the ass. I believed that it was my responsibility to take care of everyone in my life - I took their problems upon myself and believed it was my responsibility to help solve them. I gave of myself constantly and completely. I was absolutely drained emotionally from it and while I was busy taking care of others, I had no idea how to care for myself. I grew up with the false belief that self-care was selfish and that boundaries were unimportant. Kate helped me define those boundaries, recognize when they were being violated and how to handle it. She believed in my ability to heal and become the person I've always wanted to be.

Kate has celebrated even my tiniest of successes and has seen me at my best: self assured, centered, completely grounded and full of confidence. She has also seen me in some of my darkest moments; when I wasn't even sure I was worthy of the air I breathed. She was there during the loss of my first husband, Simon, my father and other very significant losses. She has provided me with unwavering encouragement and incredible perspective. She always believed the best in me and has been a priceless anchor through so many storms: a beacon of hope guiding me through some very intense darkness.

Last month, I reached my seven year treatment anniversary. Kate and I spent time looking back at my journey, remarking at how far I've come. "Did you ever imagine that you could accomplish all the things you have and feel as good as you do?" She asked me. No. Never in seven million years. When I walked into my first appointment, I had no idea the amount of work I had ahead of me. It's probably a good thing because I might just have turned around and ran out the door. I also had no idea that the payoff for doing all that work would feel this amazing either. If I were to bump into myself from seven years ago, I don't think I'd even recognize her. I'm fundamentally and forever changed - there is no way I could go back to who I was before, even if I tried.

"So, how do you know when you have actually recovered from an eating disorder?" I asked Kate. While recovery is as individual as the person, she explained that it is being in a place where you are aware of your eating disorder in the context of your life. It is knowing that you will live the rest of your life with it but that it no longer controls or defines you. Recovery is learning how to manage your eating disorder in a healthy way. By that definition, I suppose I could consider myself in recovery. While I still have symptoms flare ups and times when my disorder is highly triggered, I know that I have the tools to manage it. It isn't always easy though. There are still times when I get completely knocked off center and I feel like I'm spinning in a whirlwind of disordered thinking and behavior. There are still moments when I still feel like a complete mess and utterly defeated. The difference is that now I have a deep sense of knowing; I KNOW who I am and how to take care of myself.

Starting therapy and sticking with it is absolutely the most precious gift I've ever given myself. Having Kate as my therapist is the most precious gift the Emily Program could have ever given me. She is kind, supportive and all around amazing. She came to both of my weddings, Simon's funeral and treated me to coffee when I graduated nursing school. While our sessions have often been raw, sad and anger filled; we've also laughed a lot as well as celebrated my successes along the way. She has shown me that I have the power to make my life better, to find happiness and love myself. I can't imagine taking this weird and rewarding journey with any other guide by my side and the amount of gratitude I feel is infinite. However, my journey doesn't end here. I may have achieved recovery by definition, but I feel like there is still a ton of work to do. I just want to keep becoming the best version of me possible. Because, you know what? It feels damn good.