Recovery is tough, no question. It might feel damn near impossible when you’re in the throes of it, but as many can attest, it can be done! Whether you’re struggling with drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder, sex, gambling, or even in some cases depression, the psychological underpinnings are very similar. I can’t speak to all of those addictions from personal experience, but I can share a bit of my story.
My struggles with depression started at the ripe old age of 9. I had no idea what was happening, I just knew something was wrong with me. I felt like my mere existence was wrong. In the interest of ensuring no one could tell that I was some kind of cosmic mistake, I pretended everything was fine, and I did a pretty good job of it. I put on a smiling face for the world, but by the time I was 13 I was crying myself to sleep every night.
It became more and more difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning, and often times I just pretended I was too tired, or sick so that I didn’t have to. I was “sick” a LOT. At 16 I started starving myself and exercising excessively to cope with the negative swirl of emotions. When I couldn’t keep that up any longer, I started binge eating, and shoving my fingers down my throat to throw it all up. I was hooked immediately. The restricting, the binging, and the purging became my drug, and I couldn’t stop. This cycle continued for the better part of 12 years, and only in recent months have I publicly acknowledged that I struggled with bulimia and depression for so long. Since then, I have often been asked how I managed to break the cycle. I could write a dissertation on the subject, but at the end of the day it really boiled down to three key elements:
1. Perseverance – When it comes to recovery, there is no such thing as “one size fits all.” I read stacks of books, spent countless hours with different coaches/counselors/therapists/doctors/energy healers, and participated in a variety of group treatment programs before finding a combination of things that worked for me. Treatments others swear by didn’t help me at all, and methods I found effective don’t work for other people. You just have to keep trying. Had I given up after a few failed attempts, I never would have gotten better. It may only take you a handful of therapy sessions, or it may take you a decade of trial and error, but there IS something out there for you. Don’t stop until you find it! If you’re not sure where to start, I created a program that brings together all the best tools I found on my recovery journey. Click here to find out more.
2. Vulnerability – Being vulnerable is one of the hardest things for human beings to do. I get it, and trust me I don’t take that lightly. However, in recovery it is necessary. There are people out there who want to help you. There are people trained to be able to handle your truth, no matter how horrible it may seem to you right now. Take the plunge, and let that truth be known. I tried to sugar-coat how I felt, and put on a happy face for the people in my life. I hid the severity of my destructive behaviors from my therapists for years. Closing myself off slowed down my recovery significantly. I’m not saying you need to tell your mailman when you’re feeling triggered, but holding back with the people who are there to support you is doing yourself a disservice. Be honest with your therapist/counselor. Be honest with yourself! If you don’t have access to professional help, start with a trusted friend or advisor. Just start sharing with someone, because the longer you keep it to yourself, the more power your addiction will have over you.
3. Compassion – Practice having compassion, both for the people in your life, and for yourself. It’s easy to write people off as not caring enough or loving you enough. It’s easy to get upset and frustrated with people for not understanding you. The truth is, they probably don’t understand. How could they? Unless someone has been through exactly what you’ve been through, their understanding will be limited. People have a broad range of reactions to things they don’t understand–some react with anger, some react with fear and worry, some just disappear. Regardless of how they react, remember that everyone is fighting their own battles. Be as kind to them as you can. The same goes for you. Being a person is hard. Being a person recovering from an addiction is REALLY hard. So be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can right now. You might be able to do better tomorrow, and you might not, but I guarantee you that beating yourself up about where you are will not help move you forward.
Vulnerability and compassion (particularly for myself) took a while for me to cultivate, so thankfully I had perseverance in spades. If you’re brave enough to embrace vulnerability and compassion earlier in the process, you will likely recovermuch more quickly than I did. Whatever you’re fighting doesn’t have to take 12 years of your life.
All photos by Daryl Henderson. Model: Katherine Crawford.