Owning My Story
This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
Rebecca Witt is a former client of The Emily Program. She was born in India and lives in Olympia. She is a mother, educator, and photographer. She has her BA in addiction recovery and plans to become a trauma therapist. Her favorite color is glitter and gold. This is her first blog for The Emily Program and she hopes it helps to inspire others to break open and let their light shine.
When I fall short of finding words and when nothing else makes sense, I often turn to Brené Brown, a well-known author, researcher, and storyteller. One of my favorite quotes is:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brené Brown
It has taken me some time to “own my story” or to even accept that I have walked the uneven road of mental illness, addiction…and an eating disorder. I do not say any of this lightly. There are days I do not always believe it; I don’t believe I’m that person. Then I look in the mirror and look deep. After some time, I am still trying to accept there is no shame in being that person. If you are one of those people, a person who struggles with mental health illnesses, you’re not alone. A good friend of mine often reminds me that I am not the only person who has gone through; experienced, or felt (fill in the blank). I believe all humans struggle with something. I have not met a soul yet who does not have a story to tell.
When we can find common humanity amongst one another it can change the course. If I have learned anything, it is that recovery, of any kind, is not linear. There is nothing like meeting a person you’ve never met, who is from another place with different life experiences and learning to be vulnerable. It was through the listening, the quiet, the tears, the laughter, and the sharing with another human being that I felt a sense of belonging. I have never experienced this type of belonging—a deep connection that only some understand. There is nothing as powerful as hearing, “me too.” All of the times I’ve heard or said “me too” has lessened the shame and broadened acceptance. Opening up with another person has become slightly less scary over time.
I grappled for the “right” words when I saw the Instagram post from The Emily Program to write for their blog. The thing is, there are no right words when it comes to recovery. Be bravely authentic. That is the title of the blog I began over a year ago when I unexpectedly found myself learning how to live life in a different way. So, being my vulnerable authentic self, I am here to say: I am not fully recovered. Not yet. The everyday hope and goal I keep somewhere within me is that I want to create a life worth living (in recovery). If you have ever experienced treatment, you’ve most likely heard the phrase “create a life worth living” more than once. That phrase resonates with me more now than it did previously. For me, the most important part about creating a life worth living is to be as present as possible so I can spend time with the people I love.
Recovery can vary and look different for each person. Not everyone’s path is the same. I feel like people are expected to be fully recovered if they are going to share their story. Perhaps that is another societal implication regarding mental health. And it is one that’s not true. Share your truth. Even if your voice shakes, even if it’s painstaking. Being recovered or striving towards recovery is part of this individual, yet collective path that many people share. It’s the people who still struggle and show up every day that I look to and think, “Maybe I, too, can do this one more day.” And one day turns into another and another. Each day I am searching and grasping for the little things life offers: positive role models, ideas, creativity, self-acceptance, and stillness; all of which play a part of surviving in this world. I have acquired a remarkable amount of insight over the past two years about who I want to be and how I want to show up in the world. Showing up is the first step to anything we face. And possibly one of the bravest. There is a lot of falling down that occurs and being willing, which comes with continuing to show up through the pain, is not an easy choice to make.
There are days I think everything is at bay and nothing is wrong. I think, “I’ve got this”. Then there have been days I have found myself living on the 3rd floor of residential treatment centers. I never thought living there would be have been so life-altering. A piece of my soul was left there. I spent 50 days and nights fighting life (or death), all for the hopes of living. Most often I could not see what was going on within me. It took a team of amazing clinicians to tell me the truth. They told me things I didn’t want to hear. They asked me the hard questions. They showed true, tough love. They broke me open. Once I was broken open, I could begin to let the light in. That’s when I could begin to hear them. That is when I learned to be more willing.
I struggle with willingness and being open-minded often. My life is far from “put together.” I strive for connection and honesty in my life and I’m trying to let go of perfection. I hang onto my passion for helping others. I try not to lose sight of my values. Values draw me in, they draw me closer. Values connect me. Values help me set boundaries. Values drive me either towards or away from the life I want to live.
You may all be wondering what my “story” is. I am still trying to navigate that myself. This all really began years back when I went to a support group at The Emily Program to support a friend. I certainly was not there for myself. It was slow at first, then suddenly, that something was wrong; yet I was oblivious. People have asked me how long I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and for a while, I couldn’t give an answer. My conclusion with the help of many providers was that I have struggled for at least 15 years and I just didn’t know it, nor accepted it when the diagnosis finally surfaced. My thoughts, emotions, and behaviors were never tied to an eating disorder. At least I never thought they were. Now, I can see more clearly the connections between things that I could not see before. I have a Registered Dietitian to thank for noticing and observing and encouraging me to have an intake done (this was after having gone to that support group for my friend). I had a clinical director and therapist tell me I needed residential care. I was completely beside myself. I did not understand. I was not “sick enough”, or sick at all. I fought against their recommendation(s). And yet, I went.
And I went again, and again. And each time I left as a different person. A person who gained more knowledge and insight. And, I struggled. And I lived through the struggle. In the end, it was the best decision I made. Only I can save myself. But I have to thank the people who were on my team who were extraordinarily caring, compassionate, and protective. I learned I don’t have to do this entirely alone. A lot of sacrifices get made when you stop life to go to treatment. But life doesn’t actually stop. It continues. Reintegrating into life is far from simple. I’d like to think I’ve come out stronger than I did before walking, or sometimes crawling along this path. There have been many ups and downs along the way.
Where am I now? I am living each 24 hours as they come. I’m falling down, I’m getting up, I am fighting fiercely with everything in me. I say all of this and no, I don’t have it all right. I am not perfect. Progress not perfection… so I keep hearing. I still need help in a multitude of ways. And that’s okay. Asking for and accepting help is not a weakness. It’s admirable and it takes courage and vulnerability. And it is something I do not like to do. And at times, I do it anyway.
So you, yes, you: Your story is important. You matter. You are worth it. What drives you? What do you hope and dream for? What are you afraid of? What will break you open so the light will shine in? Who is your recovery hero? I have mine and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’m holding hope for you, as people have held it for me. Still, we will rise.
If you’re reading this and you’ve been a part of my journey, thank you. Thank you for fighting for me, with me, and beside me. I have had amazing people supporting me throughout this process and I am beyond grateful. To all of the unbelievable, wonderful providers and other recovering warriors, you have been life-changing. I would not be the same without having met you. Your heart will always be carried in mine.
And if I fall down, I know where to go…and I hope anyone who reads this knows where they can go—to loved ones, to support groups, or to treatment. Connection is a basic human need. It is a key piece of this journey because you do not need to do this by yourself. You are loved and worthy of belonging.