This October and November mark a one-year anniversary of a plunging spiral, and I am processing what that means for me now, in my current state of recovery. Though my decompensation was prolonged, my “rock bottom” and the beginning of my climb toward the light followed shortly one after the other. In October, I was binging daily, was barely functioning on any level, be it cognitive, emotional, or physical, and was afraid that my suicidal ideation might become something more. By the end of November, I was taking my first, shaky steps into this strange, bizarre, foreign land of “recovery.”
Isn’t it funny how the way we might experience something in a moment differs from the way we record it into our memories like an odd collection of snapshots, sound bites, and video segments, and differs yet still from the way it appears to us if we are ever able to examine objective pieces of that moment a long time later, such as an actual photograph or recording?
I remember that it was a struggle for me to accept the meal plan that was individually tailored to my needs when I entered partial hospitalization. I recall arguing with my first nutritionist, Olivia, and I recollect that it took me a little while to trust her. I can flask back to the leap of faith I made when I began eating carbohydrates and snacks. I can revisit snippets of events – for example, the conversation that I had with myself in the shower after my second day at Walden, as I tried to talk myself into doing things “their way.” The intensity of my emotion is lost on me, though. I can only vaguely imagine what it must have felt like, how anxious and distressed I must have been to relinquish that stranglehold of control.
A few days ago, I cracked the spine on the journal that I kept while I was at Walden. I was forced to dig through a pile of journals to find it, because since that time, I filled up about eight black Moleskines with line after line of black ballpoint in careful cursive. My life bridges two lives, “before Walden” and “after Walden.” In my memory, they are distinct, but staring up at me in not-so-careful cursive was something that was anything but distinct. On my first day at Walden, I wrote, “The only negative interaction that I had today was with Olivia, the nutritionist/dietician. The diet that she wants me to follow is HORRIBLE!” What ensued across the page was a word-for-word recapturing of a confrontation that I can only picture, knowing myself. I could imagine how frustrated, enraged, indignant, and righteous I felt, but the intensity of that moment was gone as I read the words that I scrawled in capital letters and double-underlined. In its place, I found only surprise and knowing laughter. I was surprised that I forgot what it was like, and I laughed with heartfelt empathy for my confused, conflicted self.
I’m a scientist by training and profession. Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My reasons for refusing carbohydrates were grounded in fact, but were so distorted, black-and-white, extreme, rigid, and, in retrospect, ridiculous, that when I read what I wrote with my own hand, I couldn’t help but break into laughter. Later, I showed the journal page to my therapist, and we laughed together. At the same time that I was accusing Olivia of being brainwashed by the grain industry, my brain (which only uses glucose for fuel) and body were craving those complex starches that I refused to permit myself to eat.
Regardless of the path my life takes, my partial hospitalization will always stand as a bend in its course. Yet, the clean division that I created in my recollection did not bear forth in my re-reading of my journal entries during those days. There is no old me and new me, there is only this one me, all messy and merged. I cringe as I type out those words, because I so want it to be otherwise, but denial won’t create reality. And, so, I accept that there was no “aha!” moment, and there probably won’t be. I hope that I keep climbing toward the light, but it isn’t a straight climb, and it never was. I’m on some narrow mountain pass that twists round and round, and I only gain elevation by coming back across the same face of the mountain that I crossed three times already. Sometimes the trail takes a dip or a drop, and other times the ground is level and the going seems easy.
It only took a few weeks for me to begin to, first, trust and, then, to like Olivia. She once admitted to me that she was the one counselor at the center that all the patients hated. “I’m the one who makes them eat,” she sighed. “They love the therapists, they don’t fight with the psychiatrists, but everyone always hates the nutritionist.” Her tone was accepting, not resentful or bitter. She never gave up on any of them, just as she didn’t give up on me. She worked away at my inflexibility with steadfast persistence, never yielding. When I fought, she held her ground. I hated her, and she helped to save my life. So, to Olivia, and all the others like her, I want to say, from the depths of my heart, “Thank you.” Thank you for pushing me, for confronting my demons with me, and for showing me my own capacity for folly. At this time next year, I can’t help but wonder what I might be laughing at about myself as I am today.