Written by Ellen Sanders
“A fine glass vase goes from treasure to trash, the moment it is broken. Fortunately, something else happens to you and me. Pick up your pieces. Then, help me gather mine.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
For the past month I have been thinking about how to write this essay. I have outlined my thoughts and gone over sentences in my mind, but have only today started putting it to paper. It hasn’t been a writer’s process that led to all this “preparation”; it was procrastination. I do not want to talk about what I need to talk about. You see, I am tired. I am tired of not being whole. I am tired of still having something significant I need to work on. I want to be done with the big problems of recovery and just be in complete maintenance mode. But that’s not where I am today, so now I have to come clean or else stay stuck.
So, here it is: I was emotionally eating for the past two years in order to “escape” from the stress, fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability of life. The catalyst was my cancer diagnosis in March, 2014. What I not only realized, but accepted recently is that this is the next incarnation of my disease of addiction. And while I have done this before for short periods, this has been the longest, most consistent phase I’ve had.
I have known in my gut for a while that I “use” food to escape, but I have rationalized it. So, I eat handfuls of candy right before bed. Well, I have given up every other vice, after all. I deserve some sort of indulgence, don’t I? And when that doesn’t work, I go to: Well, I’ve gained 25 pounds in two years, but I had cancer and had my thyroid removed. My body is still adjusting to the trauma of surgery, hormone replacement, follow-up cancer treatment, and weaning from breastfeeding. This is all true and probably somewhat relevant, but the fact is I am not using food in the manner it is intended, which is to fuel one’s body. I am using it to numb myself, to avoid my feelings, and on some level, I’ve discovered, to harm myself. What has happened is what happens with any addiction: I got sick — emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. And now I’ve reached the bottom (I hope!).
About 6 weeks ago, I decided enough is enough. I looked at myself in the mirror and what I saw saddened me. I’m not extremely overweight or at risk for health issues at this point, but all I could see when I looked at my reflection that day was self-destruction. That may sound extreme to some, but there’s a next layer of this for me (and probably all addicts): I had trouble fully coping with my circumstances and so I sought escape and the method I used eventually stopped “working” and now I see the damage, which for me is that a part of me doesn’t believe I deserve to be ok.
This revelation made me so sad. I didn’t feel entirely hopeless, but like I said before, I felt tired and frustrated. After all, I have worked hard to overcome my demons, I have cleaned up my past and built a new life, and I have helped others. But, what I learned is that in me there will always be a remnant of this illness; I am not cured and I am not exempt from it returning in some form. And when life circumstances crop up that are stressful and scary, or sometimes just new, I need to be particularly wary because that is when I am the most vulnerable. That is when I will look to run because I’m afraid to feel.
So, when I realized I had come to my end with this particular expression of my addiction, I went to god and decided I need to really figure out, to the extent I can, what’s at the root of this. I prayed and meditated and asked for guidance. What I discovered is that there’s still a piece of me that thinks I am broken, will always be broken, and so doesn’t deserve to be better. There’s a part of me that thinks I take up too much room, that I should be different, that I don’t fit. With all the work I’ve done on building my self-esteem, there is a remnant that doesn’t fully accept that I belong in this world. It is astronomically smaller than it used to be, but it’s there and I can’t ignore it anymore. I have been carrying this mentality around in varying measure my whole life and now it’s time to put it down. I give up acting like this isn’t harder than I make it look sometimes. I give up pretending my disease doesn’t have other faces and they taunt me. I give up being afraid of what you will think of me. I give up trying to be “more well” than I am today. I am going to try to just be where I am…today.
I’ve asked god to help me and I’ve asked my friends in recovery to help me. I had to come clean with this because silence around addiction equals perpetuation of it, for me. It was hard, but since doing it I have felt like I can breathe a little more. I can’t say that my mentality has completely changed yet, but I know I am being more mindful and that I feel a little less trapped.
I don’t want to live in spiritual captivity in any form. I want to embrace this life that god gave me and not wish I were different. I remember when I was pregnant with my children and people would ask, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” and truly I had no preference. I felt so blessed that god was entrusting a little soul to us to guide in life that I felt it would be offensive to put a restriction on that “gift”. Well, perhaps I need to start looking at myself like that. I need to stop aspiring to be different and therefore more acceptable. I need to embrace who god created and show up as me, with this body, and this personality, and these beautiful flaws that make me human and real. I need to see myself through god’s eyes. When I do, perhaps then, I will be able to really live and really breathe without restraint or expectation.