On January 1st, 2015, I sat at a little writing desk in the brilliantly sun-lit, second-floor landing of my dear friend, Veronica’s house outside of Boston, weeping tears of joy and gratitude. The large Victorian was built in the mid-ninteenth century. How many people before me awoke to a new year under the shelter of its mansard roof? “Welcome hope! Welcome health! Welcome change and courage!” I wrote. “Welcome confidence! Welcome flexibility! Welcome forgiveness! Welcome love!” I was a mere six days away from concluding my six weeks of partial hospitalization for my eating disorder at Walden. Soon, I would drive the 800 miles to Vanillasville to re-enter life circumstances that I once considered unbearable but came to appreciate as less than ideal during those weeks.
“So long self-loathing, adios shame and guilt, toodles fear without faith. From now on, each ‘mistake’ is just another opportunity to learn so that I can go right on progressing. I will experience setbacks, not failures,” I continued. “I’m ready to move on! I’m leaving all my old baggage behind!”
The years before 2015 marked my progressive decline. My physical health finally failed in 2013, when I succumbed to an infection that my body simply could not fight off. I battled against it for nearly a year, and there were many times when I thought that I would never know wellness again. As I slipped deeper and deeper into despair, the most significant resolution that I made on New Year’s Day 2014 was to finally seek help from a mental health professional for my lifelong depression. I did not foresee that doing so would completely unravel what was left of my meticulous self-constructs. Before I could begin to rebuild, I needed to level the shoddy bastions and defilades that I lived within all my life, right down to their fractured and leaky foundations. Unpacking and disassembling the pieces of my past and present was the work of that year. It wasn’t a pretty process. It nearly killed me. I nearly killed myself. When the year began, my body was wracked and weakened by disease and malnutrition, and my mind and spirit were broken. By May, my doctor and I were finally desperate enough for a last ditch, relatively new procedure, which, miraculously, worked to treat my infection. At last, my body began to slowly heal. My mind was another matter. It took until November for me to hit my rock bottom psychologically. When that moment came, I found myself at Walden, terrified and on the brink of hopelessness. Then, bit by bit, I found myself at Walden, scared but struggling onward anyway, with growing hope and a glimmer of light glowing inside me.
In my writing from a year ago, there remained the underpinnings of my all-or-nothing thinking. (And it’s still present today). Obviously, I didn’t step out of 2014 and into 2015 as a radically altered person, with all of my “old baggage” in the past and only a future of self-compassion and wholeheartedness gleaming before me. Yet, I set very different resolutions for myself on that day. Upon reflection, I managed to live up to each one. I discovered it’s far easier to realize a goal when it is unmeasurable, non-specific, and flexible. I wanted to make recovery my #1 priority. Check. I wanted to socialize and to try group activities, such as an art class. My eating disorder kept me isolated for far too long. Check! It was extremely uncomfortable in the beginning. I felt anxiety bordering on panic during those initial painting classes, at my first few Bible study groups, and on many, many dinner occasions. Yet, I DID it anyway! “Work on growing even more mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy through reading, prayer, journaling, exercise, and ongoing group and individual therapy. Try to find a level of exercise that is comfortable for me and at which I can be consistent,” I wrote. Again, not easy. At times, downright horrifying. Yet, I DID it anyway!
It’s a work in progress.
As December 31st, 2015 approached, I looked forward to this New Year with eagerness and excitement. I spent several days journaling about how much I changed over the past year and contemplating my 2016 resolutions. One idea built upon another, and soon I was imagining what it would be like on New Year’s Eve. I pictured myself attending my usual Thursday evening eating disorder group, where I would complete perfect reflections, bringing the year to its full conclusion and opening the next with rounded balance. From there, I would join friends for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I envisioned myself in a shimmery dress, under twinkling lights, radiating beauty and effervescent with joy.
New Years’ Eve arrived at last. All was as anticipated. Then, at 5:15 pm, as I climbed the stairs to the bedroom to change clothes for the night, I broke out in hives.
I have an established history of stress urticaria and angioedema. It occurs much less frequently now than it once did, perhaps once or twice every few months, but sometimes it takes me by surprise. When it catches me off guard it is usually because I am deftly denying or negating that I am under any stress or anxiety until my body makes it impossible for me to ignore.
“Why am I putting so much pressure on myself?” I asked the face in the mirror. I didn’t want to wear an uncomfortable, constricting dress to dinner. It was 30 degrees out! The friend that I was meeting would probably be sporting a cardigan, and the restaurant where we booked reservations was far from elegant. I wanted to wear dark leggings and a sweater in which I could wrap myself up. I didn’t want to set a litany of resolutions. I wanted to keep the same simple resolutions that I made last year. I didn’t want the night to be special for its glamour and unique meaning. I wanted the night to be special for its simplicity. I abandoned the elaborate concoction of images that I created about what New Year’s Eve is supposed to be and popped some Benadryl. I pulled on a soft, new sweater with gold buttons on the shoulders that was a Christmas gift to myself and slid my feet into shearling-lined Birkenstocks. With my group, I sipped club soda and toasted New Year’s resolutions like, “To cultivating imperfection,” and “To loving-kindness for ourselves and others.” Afterward, I joined my friend for a late meal. I was back in my apartment and snuggled in bed long before any countdowns or fireworks.
This morning, I slept late and woke up feeling warm and rested. I laid under the covers, in the cocoon of my own heat, for a long while before I finally stirred. In the kitchen, I fixed a cup of tea and the same bowl of oatmeal that I eat on most mornings, and I jotted down in neat, block letters, “This is not a beginning. Nor is it an end. My life is fluid, ever shifting as I grow and become.” Here is to another year of becoming. Thank you for being with me on this journey.