“There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and in doing so become free.”
~ Ajahn Chah
For me, rock bottom happened quietly.
If you have ever watched the fluff from a shedding Cottonwood tree—a fuzzy, white, wispy thing dipping and lifting like a pendulum, back and forth, up and down, even skimming across the surface of the Earth before finally coming to stillness—you would know what I mean by quietly. Like a little piece of wayward fluff, floating in the wind, stopping and starting, it took me forever to drift all the way to the bottom.
28 years to be exact.
I remember the poignant moment when I understood in my soul that I either had to change, or let my disease win. It was one or the other. I had to do something different, or concede my defeat. That is the painful truth. There was no major event, or embarrassing moment, or catastrophic health scare to set the healing in motion. In a very real sense, with half my life over, I finally and quietly came to a stop.
Addiction is a dismal, disenfranchised place. Addiction is prison.
In vain, I attempted to conquer my demons. I woke up each morning with hope and resolve, thinking today is the day I will change everything. But my eating disorder lived large and chaotic. It simmered and bubbled in the choked and shushed spaces of my being. As I consumed it, it consumed me. For 28 years, I ate, slept and breathed my shame. And I felt powerless.
On the outside I was funny, available and engaging, but on the inside I hid with my monster and continued to rage. It was an exhausting facade.
Food will always be my drug of choice. It’s how I deal with my emotions. In the trenches of my disease, I binged and purged away resentment, remorse, anger, disillusionment, and the conflicted feelings I had about my body. I stuffed down the hurtful experiences of my life, especially one particular memory that set the stage for a smoke and mirrors act I would brilliantly perform for so many years to follow.
Every time I tried to bat my illness away, I swung for the fences and missed. I struck out and trudged back to my dugout—the dark cave of my own mind where I wallowed in the misery of yet another failed attempt.
A stirring of change began when I became increasingly haunted by the simple concept of time passing. I woke up one morning and bitterly counted all the years I had already handed over to my illness. Years I would never get back. The fact that so much of my life had passed me by—filled with the daily struggle of secret behaviors I couldn’t seem to break—was mind-numbing.
Recovery begins as a tiny seed of truth. Recovery is not about will-power.
I started to own and accept that, in the clutches of my disease, I had abused my children and my husband. Neglect, isolation, mood changes, and narcissistic behaviors damaged them in ways I am still discovering. I can apologize, but I can’t undo the damage. And that is a row I will hoe until the day I die.
Make no mistake, self-abusers abuse others.
But in discovering a path toward change, I started to imagine what real happiness might feel like, and what “normal” might feel like. Swallowing my pride, I allowed my carefully constructed walls to crumble. I began to open up. The more humble and aware I became, the stronger I grew. And I made the conscious decision to let go of everything I couldn’t control.
The act of releasing the desire to control everything works if you let it.
For example, I knew I couldn’t change the volatile relationship I had with my daughter until I changed myself. I actively let go of my battle to steer the course of her life. I stepped away from being a know-it-all mother and gave her some room to grow and make her own choices. I stopped giving advice. I stopped projecting my disappointments on her. I couldn’t live her life. My own was such a mess.
And I knew I couldn’t go back in time. I couldn’t relive any of those wasted years. I couldn’t fight off or run away from my abuser. I couldn’t take back the lies I told, or all of the hours I spent hunched over a toilet. Nothing in the past can ever truly be revisited or resolved.
As I let go, I began to forgive myself. And as I granted forgiveness, I created room for change.
Small, steady changes tend to work, and they did. But what also worked was learning to channel my emotions into resolution instead. I put the strength and energy required to harbor negativity and secrets into a positive, different determination. I started to finally see my eating disorder as the cowardly way out of confronting the issues that blocked me from living my life as a whole person.
My personal rock bottom was dark and quiet. It wasn’t rocky, or rough, or sharp, or unforgiving. It was soft, and infinite and open. It was a relief. I knew I was there because the weight of what I did to myself for so many years finally pinned me down. And I was lucky to settle with a small shred of hope left in my heart.
Everything I did to get there remains jumbled. The points of hurt are countless, but I can still see them. The times when I lashed out, or didn’t talk, or hid in my room. Or covered my body, or faked a smile, or shut the door, or stuffed my face, jamming the food in even though my belly was full, swollen with fullness. And I can still feel the choking, shushing violence in the thousands of moments I spent bringing it back up and flushing my feelings away.
I know that it was the punishing violence of the act itself that somehow made me feel better. And by better, what I mean to say, is empty. Empty was what I wanted.
If that’s not fucked up, I don’t know what is.
But the bottom, dark and quiet, became a vast wonderland of possibility. I saw life and light swishing and swirling above me. It gave me the strength I needed to swim. It’s a version of hope that manifests when you know you can’t sink any deeper.
I realize that I don’t owe the world my words. I get that no one needs to know my personal, private business, and that telling my story makes me vulnerable. But my days of staying quiet are over. My days of stuffing it down have passed. Besides, my story is one with a universal theme—the truth-seeking struggle of simply being human. It’s the story of how events, and feelings, and words, and actions, and habits and everything that ever happens to us, or everything we do to ourselves, can change the course of our life.
The resilience and fighting spirit of one human being—like you or someone like me—who railed, and punched, and clawed, and tried, and began again, and again, and wept, and kept secrets without stopping for 28 long years, could very well be the story of almost anyone we meet. Rising above reactions to change the way we cope with the reality of our history is a story about truth, and courage, and slaying monsters, and straight up owning our shit.
Don’t we all have our own human, truth-seeking story just waiting to break free?
As it is for anyone fighting addiction, at the end of the day it is still just little, old, me acting to trip the current of the way my brain is wired. One small person, a mere piece of wayward, fuzzy fluff, who sailed and dipped through the wind for years. A person who quietly hit rock bottom with nowhere else left to go.
Today I feel liked and loved for who I really am, not for who I pretend to be. I no longer find comfort in empty. Instead, I seek a life that is filled to the brim. I know I will never be perfect. And I will never be saved by anyone but myself.
In this moment, I am the girl you know—the one you’ve always known—who woke up this morning, just like you. I sipped my coffee and looked out my window at a gloriously bright and beautiful day. One saturated with vivid, “God’s Country” colors and a heavenly blue sky. A day following the bluster of yesterday, rife with possibility.
But I am different somehow. You know me better now. I am the girl who swam to the surface and stopped living a lie. Today, I am the girl you know who looks you in the eye.