From Surviving to Thriving: Five Years On
Let's rewind five years. A young girl, just 17, her bags packed, sat in the car trembling with fear. Where was I going? What is this place going to be like? Did I really need to go?
Just seven months before, I dropped out of sixth form. My partner in crime, my own secret world inside of me that no one else could see or hear, was exposed. They had noticed. They noticed the baggy clothing was hiding something. The early morning dedicated to exercise that escalated to the entire day. They noticed I passed out every time I stood up. They noticed the holes in my lies, where I had been, who I ate with, had I eaten. They noticed how increasingly stubborn, distant, lonely, low I became with this demon who lived inside me. They noticed their daughter was no longer present. They noticed this world of destruction I was living in. The most heartbreaking part is that I did not care.
I was introduced to the diagnosis of anorexia… depression… PTSD, EUPD. Sitting opposite from a psychiatrist, the words poured out of her mouth: 'A life-threatening illness… severely unwell, see a dietitian… need to make changes before it’s too late.' And so it began. Dietitian appointment after dietitian appointment. Psychiatrist appointment after psychiatrist appointment. Therapy appointment after therapy appointment. Throughout I intended to make no changes. After months of progressively getting worse, the ultimatum was set: if I don't gain weight over the next few weeks, I would have to go to hospital. Who was I trying to kid when I started at a new college? This was no solution as I found out three days in.
And so I entered treatment for an eating disorder and addiction. Little did I know I would spend the next four months there. Little did I know I had to eat a supervised breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. It was food overload. Little did I know I had to attend group therapy all day every day and attend recovery meetings every night. Little did I know that I had to expose my whole life history, my darkest thoughts, my behaviours, routines and rituals. Little did I know that my drinking was out of control, my anorexia was out of control, my self-harm was out of control, my mood was severely worrying; it was my normality. It was clear someone would listen here, perhaps even understand my mind, but the words were so hard to speak, I felt silenced. I thought that they would see I was worthless, I was beyond help and not worth their time. All I knew is that I did not want to get better. I did not want to be part of the world of recovery. I just wanted to die. All I knew is that I would go to any lengths to achieve this. But that was not an option here.
As the days and weeks passed, the closest of friends came and went, my four months drew to a close, my flight to the Utah dessert approached. Open Skies Wilderness Therapy. Hiking, making food over a fire made by a bow and spindle, showers once a week with a bucket of water over the head, therapy, nature, letters, no technology, no distractions, nowhere to hide, no nothing. Nothing but ourselves. Learning to live with ourselves, nourishing our bodies to fuel the day ahead. After three months there, enter the doors of The Priory. Yet another place surrounded by the philosophy of recovery.
By now I had gained a wealth of knowledge about recovery and myself. I can't say by this point I wanted to fully recover. I dedicated my life to faking it: half-hearted recovery on the outside to please everyone else, but the battleground inside remained. I would recover, if I could remain thin. A brutal beating of myself. It was such a twisted relationship; she was the abuser I could not leave. Recovery, relapse, recovery, relapse, recovery, relapse on repeat. The addict inside of me took any form: drugs, drink, restriction, purging, excessive exercise, cutting, overdose, suicide attempts. Our secrets keep us sick, they say, and they most certainly did.
Then the day came. That one day that my dear family and friends had been waiting for. It was so overdue. I couldn't keep living this life. The utter guilt I felt for destroying my family’s sanity. I was done with the appointments, the blood tests, always being cold, x amounts of steps per day, brittle hair and brittle bones, body checking, laxatives, excuses, pounds and kilos. Drinking as soon as I woke up, being blackout drunk, waking up places unknown, cursing at everyone, anger and aggression, a bottle of vodka a day. Putting not only my life at risk because of drinking but my friends’ too. Hiding scars. The hatred I had for myself. I had become totally scared of what I was capable of. Flirting with death every damn day. I didn't want to just survive in this insanity-ridden game. I was done. It was finally time that I put all I had learnt in place. Time that I stopped letting that voice in my head bully me. That this time I really did stick to recovery. Relapse was not an option.
I am so thankful for that day. It was the day I began to cherish life. How damn precious it is. I started to believe that I deserve more than this survival mode. I wake up every day and choose recovery, no matter what lies ahead.
I am grateful I don't wake up dreading the day ahead.
I am grateful that everyone kept fighting for me when I didn't
I am grateful for the treatment centres I went to.
I am grateful my body survived the hell I put it through.
I am grateful addiction did not kill me.
I am grateful for being surrounded by fantastic people.
I am grateful for recovery.
From a world so small encapsulated by darkness, I have fallen in love with living and see the bigger picture. I have learnt to be kind and gentle to myself. That I am courageous, brave and resilient. I see a bold girl that made her way. I have taken the time to do a lot of healing; the memories that haunted me have been put to bed. I learnt to forgive others but mostly myself, letting go of the past hurt and worries of tomorrow, and living for today. I am sober, and all that I have gained cannot be measured by a number on a scale. I am alive, thriving, not relying on any form of false high addiction gave me. My value is no longer determined by my appearance. I have found dignity and respect for myself. I love myself enough that I never want to go back to that way of life. The chaos I lived with no longer incites me. My sanity, inner peace means the world to me, and I will not let anything destroy that, especially when that evil voice rears its head, tries to niggle in and grab the freedom I have found.
I am a friend, a daughter, a girlfriend, a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, not just a diagnosis. I have found my identity, my voice, my passion. I will never deny the crippling experiences that led me to self-destruction, from those I grew and continue to learn. I used to wish I never struggled with mental illnesses, but now I realise it has built me into who I am today, and would not wish it any other way. I have learnt to let go of the comparing, be true to myself, to be authentic and not to hide my truth. My relationship with myself is the foundation on which my life has been built. I am happy, content, loved, and free.
I made it through my final year at university, getting a First – holy hell!! This is the girl that is a 'failure, useless, worthless, stupid, ugly…' I work at the Priory where I once was an inpatient – a total transformation. In September I started my masters in Addiction Studies at Kings College. I'm excited for the future. To learn. To support. To give back. To break the stigma of mental illness.
I do not write this for praise. I write it because I am proud. I was never proud of anything I had done. So now I take the time to recognise I have come far on this journey. For myself this is important. I also write this because I want others who struggle to know that recovery is possible. It really is. It is possible to grow from suicidal to thriving in life.
All of us have mental health. One in four people will struggle with mental illnesses in their life. It is nothing to be ashamed of.