By: Krystal Cook
I’ve found myself in a difficult place lately. A place I’ve come to reference as the In-Between. No one talks much about this place, but I have a hard time believing I’m the only one who has found themselves here. I’m in-between the old me and the future me. The sick me and the whole me. The addicted, disordered me and the real me.
You see, I dropped out of life at 13 when I began starving myself, self-harming, and living with depression. I retreated into a giant shell that was my armor for over 12 years. I dropped out of school, out of relationships, out of my family, and out of growing up. I didn’t know how to handle the pain, the chaos and all the feelings in the world around me so I did everything in my power to stop feeling anything. If you know me at all you know that when I get passionate about something I get very, very passionate about that thing. I give everything 110%. I feel everything to the extreme. This would be great if the world only dealt out love, joy and happiness, but we all know that is not the case. So I decided that even the intense love and joy I felt at times were not worth the intense pain, rejection, and sadness I also felt.
Fast forward through a dozen years of therapy, treatment centers, recovery attempts and relapses…and here I am today with over a year of true recovery behind me, and only traces of the sick me that surface in my brain every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, to be where I am is a miracle and I am so grateful to be out of the dark hole I crawled into so long ago. I am no longer obsessed with food, my weight or the scale. I don’t have to fight the urge to hurt myself anymore, and I get out of bed most days so thankful for my life. But at the same time I often feel like I woke up out of a dream and I am that 13 year old girl in a 27 year old body. I am married, self-employed and by all outward appearances handling myself pretty well as an adult. I’ve gotten really good at the “I’m fine” persona who has all her ducks in a row and is “just living and enjoying life!” But under the surface I find myself in low grade panic mode in many situations. Especially when it comes to relationships and interacting with other people.
As an introvert to begin with, and one who never learned how to make healthy relationships in my formative years, I find myself retreating into a different shell of isolation. So while I am not struggling with the behaviors of my sick self, I am also not what I would consider a whole self either. I even find myself struggling in my marriage because I was a different person three years ago when I said “I do” to the man who had won my heart and who (I thought) knew the best and worst about me. The truth is, I still put the “I’m fine” wall up with him more often than not. He says it is like pulling teeth to get me to open up and be honest about how I really feel. In many ways I feel like we’ve had to start completely over again in getting to know each other, and I know that is a process that will continue for the rest of our lives. But it is hard, frustrating, and has left me feeling confused and misunderstood many times.
I say all this to say that recovery from any addiction, disorder or mental illness is so much harder and more complex than I think people realize or want to admit. Just because the behaviors change or stop does not mean the work is done. Just because life is a million times better than it was with the addiction (I absolutely promise you it is!!) does not mean it is easy. Just because you are out of treatment and can call yourself recovered or in recovery, does not mean you no longer need help. When your entire identity was wrapped up in this thing for over a decade you emerge without a sense of who you are and where you belong now. And if you are not careful you will gravitate to defining yourself by mere labels and what your current role in life is (wife, mother, sister, friend, career woman, etc). You can feel like a ship without a rudder suddenly trying to navigate life, and all the emotions you stuffed down for years come at you like a hurricane. It can be incredibly overwhelming and it explains why relapse happens so often.
I realize the blessing in this is that I know where I am. I see that I am not where I want to stay, that I have so much more growing to do. I tell people I want to live a life of authenticity and yet I watch myself put up a front more often than not. I long for real connection that goes beyond the surface and yet I keep people at arm’s length. I tend to use my ‘introvertedness’ (if that’s not a word it is now) as another shell to hide under. I’ve spent enough years of my life feeling stuck and out of control. I’m ready to move on and move forward. I want to do the hard things (ok, I don’t really want to but I know I need to) and reach out and truly connect with others. I want to find out what it’s like to be whole me.
Brene Brown defines whole hearted living this way, “Whole hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.” I think this is such a good place to start. Addicts have so much shame to fight through even after they break free from the behaviors. Shame that the past ever happened, and fear that it might repeat itself in the future. That shame keeps us from believing we are worthy. And only until we believe that truth and begin to live out of it will we start to fully live and move out of the In-Between. So this is just to say, I’ll be working on that and here is a good list to start with if you are too.
This post originally appeared on krystalkaye.blogspot.com